The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a fun, buoyant adventure following the tale of Arthur Dent as he narrowly escapes the earth’s destruction in the wake of a new space super-highway being built in its place, hitching a ride with interstellar researcher Ford Prefect aboard the ship of the very alien bureaucrats whom destroyed his planet. From here unfolds the winding and absurdly improbable tale which will take the sole survivor of earth’s destruction from the one side of the galaxy to the end of the universe, stopping along at every time and space in-between.
The storyline itself is almost secondary to the individual parts which make it up. While the reader’s curiosity is continuously kept, wondering what the answer to the mysteries will be, it is really the individual events which keep the reader going – that is, all the little bits of humor which wander throughout the universe and coalesce to form the light-hearted narrative which is the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Light-hearted is probably one of the best ways to describe the main body of the story. As I said, the actual objective and end goal the characters are trying to achieve in each book is only a backdrop for the multitude of smaller moments which serve to convey Adams‘ humor. This can especially be seen in the periodic breaks in the text, which serve to elaborate on some seemingly irrelevant piece of information on the universe such as the specific recipe or way of serving a special drink.
Most of Adams’ humor comes through the innovative, unexpected and interesting scenarios that he lays before the reader. The exact plot being of little importance to the book I won’t bother going into it here, such analysis would seem to defeat the purpose of what Adams is trying to achieve, which is simply a fun, twisting ride through the crazy universe which lies beyond our solar system.
-“Come on,” he droned, “I’ve been ordered to take you down to the bridge. Here I am, brain the size of a planet and they ask me to take you down to the bridge. Call that job satisfaction? ‘Cos I don’t.”
-“The story so far:
In the beginning the Universe was created.
This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move.”
-“To summarize: it is a well known fact that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem.”
I don’t have any criticisms of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It is fantastic, end of story.
That said, I think it is worth pointing out that as the series goes on – beginning in the third book (and especially in the forth) – Adams’ tangential ramblings begin to get monotonous and tedious. In the first two and most of the third Adams’ extended quips and sidebars are amusing breaks in the main body of the story, which sometimes served to elaborate on some quasi-pertinent part of the story. In the third these sidebars begin their conquest of the main body and by the fourth book they’ve all but taken over. By the end of the third book I found myself skimming over and skipping chapter after chapter simply because they offer absolutely nothing to the content of the book, nor is any particular humor gained in reading them – they amount to nothing more than the author rambling nonsense in order to fill up space. What begins as a fun novelty in the first books quickly becomes drudgery in the latter.
I believe this effect is aided by the loss of the over-arching backdrop of a central story in the latter books. Without this backdrop to give meaning and centrality to the events taking place it’s simply hard to find a reason to care about what’s going on.
I will say that many times this tangential rambling is used for the purpose of world-building, such as giving an extended explanation of Vogon poetry. It doesn’t necessarily progress the plot but it better helps you understand what’s going on. Others, such as listings of certain drinks and their contents, do nothing apart from take up space and serve to wear-out the novelty which Adams so craft-fully pulls off in the first books.
On a positive note, Marvin the robot is probably one of my favorite fictional characters ever: