Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Book Review: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, #1)The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There are some books which need to be read at their publication time. Anything which is the first of its kind, relevant to current events, or just odd can sometimes only be truly appreciated at the moment in history with which it’s existence coincides. Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (thus referred to as Hitchhiker) may fall into all three of these categories; but it’s solidly in the last.

To say there is plot in this would be like saying there is substantial fruit juice in gummy candy. It’s such a small, minute amount that it’s barely worth categorizing or referencing. I couldn’t tell you what the plot is in Hitchhiker to save my life. All I know is there’s a book about the galaxy, Earth is blown up (in opening chapters) and we follow around this random human who has no real business being in space. None of these things are truly plot. In fact there is no real reason to tell this story that I could find; except to maybe write some ridiculous (and sometimes amusing) science fiction.

Historical Context
I was not born when this book was written by Douglas Adams. As a child of the early 80s and a teen of the 90s, there is something about the 70s decade that eludes me. I believe this is likely one of the main reasons I don’t “get” Hitchhiker. Sometimes you need to be in a moment, or understand how little of something existed in order to appreciate the mind boggling change when a new innovation, trend or piece of writing comes along that changed everything. Hitchhiker seems like a text that requires you to appreciate and know the exact state of the world at the moment it was published. I would never presume to say it isn’t an important book for its time period, as I wasn’t there to know and trust those who were that its publication was a significant turning point in literature.

I think everyone can agree there are a lot of philosophical inferences and statements to be taken from this novel. I have long loved the idea that the meaning of life is 43, for example. It’s a random, nonsensical thought; and yet isn’t it comforting to think 43 might truly be the answer to the universe and everything in it? The same as I love the idea of the world being transported on the back of a turtle through the galaxy (see Discworld). And so there is no way anyone could argue that Hitchhiker doesn’t have value in some way today given it has sooo much room for interpretation. However, at this moment I am (perhaps) just not intelligent enough (or I don’t care enough) to sit down and derive what many of the lines in Hitchhiker are truly about. Good news for readers; there are many books and papers written about it, all by people more talented in this area than I.

I feel very “meh” about the whole book; and am most thankful it’s a short read. Maybe it’s a lifetime of hype around Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy bringing my expectations too high? Maybe I’m just not in the right generation to truly appreciate what Adams had to say. Or perhaps it’s that Hitchhiker is special to a generation because it was released at the perfect moment. If this last is true, I absolutely respect the importance of any novel to a time period (even if I can’t experience that importance myself).
While I’m unlikely to read Hitchhiker again or carry on with the rest of the series (especially after reading that it’s not in sequential order and grossly contradicts itself throughout the remaining books) I do want to say that it’s a unique and clearly pervasive piece of literature that every bookworm and/or science fiction reader should delve into at least once. Even if it’s only so you understand pop culture references and have a moment to wonder what it might be like to be the last human in the galaxy.

Side note: I have to wonder if Adams had heard of the concept of the internet (as was being developed by the US military in 1970s; or if he thought up a device, that provided the user with all the galaxy’s data at their fingertips, on his own...)

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Sandra B. said...

I love the Hitchhiker's Guid to the Galaxy. I love the sarcastic British humour (I'm British), and the irreverence that the book pokes at normal everyday life. The series started out as a radio play. The tv show, or movie might help you visualize some of the concepts.

P.S. the meaning of life is 42, not 43.

Leonore Winterer said...

42, it's 42! Haha.
I was late to the Hitchhiker-Game myself (I was born ten years after the book first released), and read the first couple of books in my early teens (so, more than fifteen years ago) and loved them. I recently started reading them all again, and while I have to agree that there is very little plot and some contradictions too, I still really enjoy the humour and some passages have me loving out lot (to my husbands great bewilderment). So I think it's not just a generation-thing, but I can totally appreciate that the Hitchiker books don't 'get' everyone...
It's very much like the Monty Python movies, some people love them (me, me!), others hate them.