Seven or eight years ago I had the privilege of hosting Douglas Adams at my home in San Francisco for a brainstorming meeting on a game project (which eventually became Starship Titanic). I had heard of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, aka H2G2, but hadn’t read it. What I had heard was that it was very funny – Monty Pythonesque humor applied to sci fi. Wanting to get a rise out of Douglas, I made him some tea and served it in a ceramic mug from Japan with a little ceramic frog hiding in the bottom of the cup. Douglas sipped his tea coolly, and when the frog emerged from the depths of the tea Douglas gave a little startled grunt, caught my eye and laughed, and continued to drink his tea. As I expected, unflappable.
Now years later, and three years after Douglas’ untimely passing, I am finally enjoying what brought Douglas his initial fame. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the first book in a five book trilogy in which our unsuspecting hero Arthur Dent narrowly escapes the Earth seconds before it is demolished to make way for an interstellar highway. Arthur escapes with his colleague Ford Prefect, who reveals to Arthur that he is actually from another planet and was working on a guidebook to the galaxy before getting stranded on Earth. Catching a lift with the cooking crew of the Vogon ship that destroyed Earth, Arthur and Ford are subjected to the torture of Vogon poetry before being ejected into space, only to be picked up by Zaphod Beeblebrox, the galaxy’s BMOC, with his Heart of Gold improbability spaceship.
Thus starts the string of ever more unlikely events in this romp through astrophysics and the hilarious imaginings of Douglas Adams’ mind. Adams is a master storyteller, rarely letting his readers rest before hitting them with another plot twist or belly-acher. His humor is quintessentially British. One could easily imagine a young John Cleese in the role of Arthur Dent, deadpanning his way through the most absurd of events. Even if you have never read or enjoyed science fiction in your life, if you have any sliver of a sense of humor, you will enjoy this book.
Since the combination of a lot of driving, an iPod purchase, and a subscription to audible.com, I’ve started to listen to more books than I actually read. The Hitchhiker’s Guide is one of those books, read outloud and with great fourish by the author himself, Douglas Adams. As I understand it (someone correct me if I’m wrong) H2G2 was originally broadcast by radio. Thus it is ideally suited to be listened to as an audiobook. Adams has perfect comic timing in his delivery, though the book moves so quickly and covers so many diversions and plot twists I may want to listen to it again just to make sure I catch everything.
The next book in the H2G2 5 part trilogy is The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Equally funny and absurd, Dent and his co-horts escape total destruction once again and set off to find this fabled restaurant.