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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

by Douglas Adams

(4/5 stars)

This is another one of those books I'd long heard about and meant to get around to reading at some point. Finally I was at the bookstore to get some gifts and decided to just buy the thing and read it. Since my edition was only 215 pages it didn't take very long. This is the kind of book you could read at the airport while waiting for your plane or in an afternoon at the beach, if you aren't too afraid of people judging you harshly for reading a sci-fi book on the beach.

Anyway, a concern of mine was that this book would turn out to be too British. By that I mean British humor is often so dry and strange that it's hard for people from other countries to understand it. I have to say there probably is some of that stuff I just didn't get, but there was also enough I did get for it to be a hilarious read.

In the universe according to Adams, poetry can be used as a weapon, Earth is demolished to make room for a new galactic superhighway, and mankind is only the third most intelligent species behind dolphins and another species I can't reveal without giving too much away.

As for the story, Arthur Dent is a typical suburban Britisher whose house is about to be torn down to make room for a new road. This parallels Earth's fate as a race of ugly bureaucratic aliens swoop down to announce Earth is to be demolished to make room for a new galactic highway. (The plans were available in Alpha Centauri for decades. Didn't we get the memo?) Arthur is narrowly saved by his friend Ford Prefect, an out-of-work actor who's actually an alien. At the same time, the president of the galaxy Beetlebrox and his lovely human companion Trillian steal a new ship that runs via the Improbability Drive, which seems to cause highly improbable things to happen whenever it's used. The two storylines become intertwined in the search for the Ultimate Question.

The Improbability Drive was the one thing I really didn't fully grasp in this book. The rest of the sci-fi terminology was easy enough to understand if you've ever watched "Star Wars" or "Star Trek" or anything like that. So it's not really a challenging read that way. The real challenged as I mentioned is picking up on the subtleties and nuances I'm sure are buried in there. Some scholars out there I'm sure have broken down all the novel's symbolic elements and all that.

The only real problem I have with this book is that it's too short. I didn't feel like I got a good enough grasp of the main characters, their conflicts, and relationships. Because the book is only 215 pages it seemed like we only got an overview of Arthur, Ford, Beetlebrox, Trillian, and Marvin without delving any deeper. I suppose that will be for the sequels to delve into. At some point I'll have to read those as well. (I haven't seen the recent film version either because I was afraid it would spoil my eventual reading of the book.)

Still, as mentioned this novel is a hilarious read and since it takes so little time to breeze through there's really no excuse to keep putting it off if it's been on your list.

That is all.

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