As a big science fiction fan, I have avoided the Hitchhikers Guide for a long time, mainly because I associated it with the 80’s BBC series and remember hiding behind the couch every time it was on. I think all those 70’s latex alien suits had a lasting effect on a timid 4 year old kid in country Australia.
In 2005 the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy movie came out and with this I started being dragged into the trajectory of Douglas Adams. I downloaded all five books and began my quest to understand the adventures of Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect and in a way Douglas Adams himself.
The books go in this order:
Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (1979)
The Restaurant at the end of the Universe (1980)
Life, the Universe and Everything (1982)
So long and thanks for all the Fish (1984)
Mostly Harmless (1992)
It’s worthwhile just letting those dates sink in and reminding ourselves that these books are firmly a product of the early 80’s. There are times within the series where you are painfully reminded of just how 80’s these books are.
The books are still a great enjoyment and it was a great pleasure as I whittled through each page usually over a bowl of hot noodles at work during my lunch break. The central draw of the stories are it’s main characters: Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect and to a lesser degree Marvin the Robot, Tricia Macmillion and Zaphod Beeblebrox.
Adams is distant at times from the protagonist Arthur Dent and feels as if he develops a quiet loathing for him which can only be a result of Adams imagining Arthur as himself. Arthur blames Ford all the way through the series for all his misadventures. However most of the time Ford seems like a harmless sometimes difficult but essentially likable guy. This works out to be really important because its the relationship between these two friends that is the glue that holds the series together.
The multi-verse under Adams is big, super massive with a million naughts. It has a kind of Monty pythonsesque style that is heavily dependent on irony which gives it an English private school ring to it. Often like in Monty python you catch Adams out repeating his style. He likes to do this: “The universe is so super-massive so huge so mindbogglingly large that the only possible thing that can comprehend the hugeness is the brain of an ant.”
Sometimes you feel Adams is doing a speech at TED and it is a formula he repeats quite often in all the series. It is Adam’s style, and it get’s pretty tiresome especially when it gets entwined in his own logical wordplay and begins to swallow up part of the plot.
The universe under Adams is confusing but intelligent mess of crazy logic, weird planets and talking mattresses. The clever invention of the infinite probability machine drive creates an excuse to write whatever he wants and not have an adequate linear storyline. Often Adams makes unique commentary on things very English like the Vogon’s which reminds us of an old barrister or someone from the house of Lords there is lots of talk of cricket and cups of tea.
Within each book I read little snippets about Adams and his style, some of it reads like more of a defense than an appraisal. Apparently they had to force Adams to write the series and it was a difficult road to get him to pump out each novel on time. I found this hard to forget when reading the series.
It becomes painfully obvious in ‘So long and thanks for all the fish’ where Adam’s seems to pursue a story about a love interest Fenchurch and drifts so far away from the original story and characters you begin to wonder if your reading a book from the same series. He even tries to make a kind of defense for why his story line was disjointed in the actual novel, as if he totally gave up writing the novel and said to the reader……hey I don’t care what you think. (Never a good novel writing direction)
Hitchhikers is a much loved series, people have been reading this now for 20 years or so and have very fond memories of it. As a whole Adams style is original and creative, but it also lacks a bit of discipline and the plot sometimes seems to go horribly awry.
Overall Adams is a great science fiction writer, who is witty, humorous sometimes deadpan and a little depressing but also occasionally upbeat mainly about things relating to science and the universe.