Saturday, September 25, 2010

Blog Post No. 42


That's right! This is my 42nd blog post. As such, it's only fitting that I devote it to Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Trilogy, the series that first made 42 a number people cared about.

By now, most people should know that 42 is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything. If you aren't one of those people, try entering "what is the answer to life the universe and everything" (without the quotation marks) into Google Calculator and see what happens.

First things first: that green planet guy depicted up there with his tongue sticking out that all Hitchhiker's Guide fans have come to know and love? Douglas Adams hated that guy. I know, he's so adorable. But it's not like he appears in the book. That's why Douglas Adams created the "42 puzzle" that appears on more recent editions of the books.


This is a special puzzle, because no matter how you decode it, you always get 42. There are 42 spheres. The location of the Earth is in sphere 42. That barcode? Using the interleaved 2 of 5 symbology, you get 42. You may also note that every column contains either a red sphere or a blue sphere but not both. Well if red denotes 1 and blue denotes 0, you get 42 in binary. There are lots of other ways of decoding it. See for yourself how you can get 42.

Now that that's taken care of, let's get on to the appreciating. If you want help appreciating the Hitchhiker's Trilogy, I would recommend a little book called Don't Panic: Douglas Adams & the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Neil Gaiman.

This was the third book that Neil Gaiman wrote, the second being a book of quotations and the first being a history of Duran Duran. The most recent edition of the book has some extra sections going up to just before the sixth book came out.

The book has lot's of interesting information about the making of the trilogy. For instance, did you know that the whole concept was inspired by an actual travel guide called The Hitchhiker's Guide to Europe? Or that the original radio show was supposed to be an anthology series where the Earth gets destroyed in each episode? Or that the whole point of Doctor Who is that, if you take the second letter of each of the fifty-ninth words of all the episodes over the last twenty years of broadcast and run them together backwards, the original location of the lost city of Atlantis is revealed? Well now you know.

It has occurred to me that there are more and more people coming into this world who have no idea what the Hitchhiker's Trilogy is. You'd think they would have instituted a law by now forcing all feti to read the books and listen to the radio series, but apparently no such law exists. As such, I feel it is necessary to provide a brief (in a manner of speaking) overview of the trilogy. That's all six books and one short story, five radio series, the TV series the movie, the computer game and the Starship Titanic computer game/novel spin-off.

With that in mind, I present to you, humble reader, a guide to the guide.

Dramatis Personæ

First you should get to know the characters. There are a lot of characters, so I'll focus on the more important ones.

Arthur Dent: Our protagonist. He's you're typical everyman who just has strange things happen to him, leaving him with no time to change out of his dressing gown. Sometimes that means having a mile-high statue of him throwing a cup built on an alien world. Sometimes it means causing two warring alien races to declare war on the Earth, but who get eaten by a small dog before they can make their attack. He's one of two humans to survive the destruction of Earth (an event which rather upset him), and finds that he may or may not be the key to finding the ultimate question of life the universe and everything (to which the answer is 42). He also makes a great sandwich.

Ford Prefect: A man who always knows where his towel is. He's Arthur's best friend, who's secretly an alien from somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse, and not from Guildford after all. He's a researcher for the Guide, who is investigating Earth. Based on his limited research, he decided that the name "Ford Prefect" would be nicely inconspicuous. When he learns of the impending destruction of the planet, he rescues Arthur. Given his position, he knows a lot of the ins and outs of the galaxy and can be quite helpful, but he'd much rather drink a lot and dance with girls.

Zaphod Beeblebrox: The two-headed, three-armed playboy president of the galaxy, recently voted Worst Dressed Sentient Being in the Known Universe for the seventh time. Also Ford's semi-cousin (they share three of the same mothers). He was meant to be launching the starship Heart of Gold, powered by the new Infinite Improbability Drive, but stole it instead. It turns out he planted the idea into his own head as part of a plan to find out who really runs the galaxy. But mostly he gets drunk on pan-galactic gargle blasters. Also, he's the most important person in the universe (but which one?).

Tricia "Trillian" McMillan: Because it wouldn't be science fiction without a sexy astro-physicist. She's the only human other than Arthur to survive the destruction of Earth. She ran off with Zaphod (from Arthur) shortly before the event. More impulsive and less stubborn than Arthur, she finds it easier to adapt to the extra-terrestrial lifestyle, plays a key role in saving the universe from destruction, and eventually finds a nice job as a time-traveling news reporter, which causes her to neglect her daughter somewhat. Also, she's very cautious, which caused Zaphod to leave without her, leaving her stuck on Earth, wondering what might have been (but that's in a different universe).

Marvin the Paranoid Android: Zaphod's robot assistant was designed by the Sirius Cybernetic Corporation™ (a bunch of mindles jerks who'll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes". He was fitted with the corporation's notorious "Genuine People Personalities", to make robots show emotions. This means that Marvin is constantly depressed, complaining about the pain in all the diodes down his left side and generally pissed off that he has to spend all his time serving these worthless carbon-based life forms. There are other, less prominent robots in the series with "Genuine People Personalities", who are more bright and cheerful. Marvin doesn't like them either. Radiohead wrote a song about him.

Slartibartfast: A designer of custom planets. He helped design the Earth. An expert in coastlines, he won an award for Norway. After the collapse of the galactic economy he went into stasis until the destruction of Earth two minutes before revealing the ultimate question (to which the answer is 42). He had to re-awaken and help design the Earth Mk. 2, but was assigned to design Africa, which he naturally covered in fjords, because that's what he likes, and he'd rather be happy than right. Unfortunately, he's usually right. He sort of got forced out of that job, and devoted his later years to the Campaign for Real Time.

Oolon Colluphid: The author of several controversial books, notably the trilogy of philosophical blockbusters, Where God Went Wrong, Some More of God's Greatest Mistakes and Who is This God Person Anyway? He doesn't actually appear in the series as a character, but he inhabits the series by other means, namely being name-dropped in the Guide a few times.

There are a lot of characters like Oolon Colluphid who the Guide mentions, but who never appear as actual characters: for instance, Eccentrica Gallumbits, the triple-breasted whore of Eroticon Six, and Judiciary Pag, the Learned, Impartial and Very Relaxed. This sort of stuff helps give the Hitchhiker's universe a nice, lived-in feel.

There are also some great minor characters. There's Eddie, the Heart of Gold's cheerful computer. There's the man who really runs the galaxy. There's Shooty and Bang Bang, the sensitive cops who go around shooting people gratuitously and then agonize about it afterwards to their girlfriends. There's Wowbagger, the Infinitely Prolonged, who uses his immortality to insult the entire universe. There's Fenchurch, who was not found in a handbag in the Left Luggage Office at Fenchurch street station, but was conceived there (not the Left Luggage Office, of course, the ticket queue.). There's Wonko the Sane, who, as his name suggests, is completely sane. There's Random Frequent Flyer Dent, the teenage daughter of Arthur and Trillian, who is forbidden from ever marrying a Vogon.

But the most important character in the book is the book. Namely the voice of the guide. In the first two radio series and the BBC mini-series, he's voiced by Peter Jones, and he provides all of the narration. These include all the random notes and asides that are only tangentially related to the plot. He's the one who elaborates on what the universe is like and, in general, provides the entire series with an extra few layers of awesomeness.

And speaking of the universe . . .

The Universe

The first thing you should know about the universe is that it's not a universe, per se, but is just a way of looking at what is technically known as the WSOGMM, or Whole Sort of General Mish Mash. The Whole Sort of General Mish Mash doesn't actually exist either, but is just the sum total of all the different ways there would be of looking at it if it did.

Especially in the later entries of the series, the WSOGMM plays a vital role, but it's treated as a legitimate science fiction concept, and not a cheap way to explain away continuity errors, like all those superhero comic book "events" they have every summer. The book and radio versions have slightly different events, but Adams never tried to shoehorn them in together. There is only one cheap ret-con in the entire series (the Secondary Phase of the radio series).

As for the contents of the universe(s), the Earth that we know and love is a completely insignificant part of the whole thing (except for being the key to the ultimate question). The series is filled with guide notes covering every aspect of the universe, from uses for towels, to the grammatical tenses used in time travel, to sex (the latter of which is covered in Guide Chapters seven, nine, ten, eleven, fourteen, sixteen, seventeen, nineteen, twenty-one to eighty-four inclusive, and in fact most of the rest of the Guide.

Our beloved characters mainly come into contact with the Vogons, an alien race that is not evil, so much as completely committed to bureaucracy to the point where they might as well be evil. These are the aliens responsible for the destruction of Earth (to build a hyperspace by-pass), and the ones who keep hounding our heroes throughout most of the series, in order that they can fulfill their orders. The Vogons are also the third worst poets in the universe.

One thing you may notice about the universe in which the Hitchhiker's Trilogy is set, is that it's rather silly. Another thing you may notice about it, is that it's rather profound. When Neil Gaiman asked Douglas Adams what message he was trying to get across, Adams's reply was
"I just wanted to do stuff I thought was funny. But on the other hand, whatever I find funny is going to be conditioned by what I think about, what my concerns or preoccupations are. You may not set out to make a point, but points probably come across because they tend to be the things that preoccupy you, and therefore find a way into your writing."
This is apparent throughout much of the series. There are some exceptions to this, like the environmental allegories and jabs against Ronald Reagan in "Young Zaphod Plays it Safe" and Mostly Harmless. But for the most part, it's like he says.

For example, Adams was a self-proclaimed "radical atheist" and environmental activist, inspired by Richard Dawkins (see above). He once remarked "Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?"

But the universe of the Hitchhiker's Trilogy is decidedly theistic. There are Gods all over the place, like Thor, who hit on Trillian at a party. There's also a single God who left his last message to his creation in thirty-foot high letters on the Quentulus Quazgar Mountains. But these Gods are not treated with reverence, as evidenced by the following quote from Mostly Harmless:
"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has, in what we laughingly call the past, had a great deal to say on the subject of parallel universes. Very little of this is, however, at all comprehensible to anyone below the level of Advanced God, and since it is now well-established that all known gods came into existence a good three millionths of a second after the Universe began rather than, as they usually claimed, the previous week, they already have a great deal of explaining to do as it is, and are therefore not available for comment on matters of deep physics at this time."
So is he trying to argue for the existence of God by including them in his books? Of course not. Is he trying to prove there isn't a God? No. He's trying to be funny, and succeeding I might add. But that humor comes with a dish of philosophizing on the side which makes it extra fun.

Of course, some of it is just fun. Perhaps the single greatest creation of this universe not directly related to the number 42, is the Infinite Improbability Drive. This is the machine that powers the starship Heart of Gold and lets it exceed light speed without mucking about in hyperspace.

You see, the ship is powered on improbability. You enter the improbability of you ending up where you want to go into the drive and it will take you there. But, in order to achieve full infinite improbability it will cause other improbable events to happen. This results in a whole bunch of crazy coincidences (sorry, staggering coincidences), throughout the series.

The best part of the Infinite Improbability Drive is that the technobabble used to describe it almost seems to make sense, while at the same time, being patently absurd. The same is true of the Babel Fish, a fish that feeds on brainwaves, and, as such, can act as a universal translator when stuck in one's ear. Adams's ability to do stuff like that is part of what makes the series so entertaining.

So, without further ado, let's take a closer look at the series.

Radio Series: Primary Phase (1978)

The first radio series tells the story that most of us know as The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Arthur Dent wakes up one Thursday to find his house is about to be destroyed to make way for a by-pass. He tries to stop it but then the whole Earth is destroyed by the Vogons to make way for a hyperspace by-pass. He's rescued by Guide editor Ford Prefect who takes him on board the Vogon ship. They're caught and thrown off the ship after being forced to listen to the Vogon captain's poetry. By a staggering coincidence they're picked up by a passing spaceship, where they meet Zaphod, Trillian and Marvin. Zaphod then discovers the legendary planet Magrathea that builds custom-planets and lands there. Arthur meets Slartibartfast who informs him of the computer Deep Thought, made to calculate the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything, which turned out to be 42. So the Earth was built by pan-dimensional hyper-intelligent beings (mice) to find out what the question was, but the Vogons destroyed it. And they try to build a new Earth. But they get attacked by cops looking for Zaphod because of the stolen ship, and get blasted into the Restaurant at the End of the Universe where, after a quick meal, they steal a ship, which turns out to be a terrible idea, so they teleport off the ship, which malfunctions, sending Arthur and Ford to a space ship led by a crazy guy in a bath tub who lands on prehistoric Earth where the passengers moronically abandon all their technology and end up as our ancestors.

That last part is also the ending of Battlestar Galactica. Oh, and it turns out the question is "What do you get when you multiply six by nine?"

Incidentally, fifty-four, the actual number you get when you multiply six by nine, is written as 42 in base thirteen, but Douglas Adams didn't know that at the time. The reason he chose forty-two as the answer is, according to him, "fascinating, extraordinary and, when you think hard about it, completely obvious".

So, yeah. Everybody knows all that. But it can be difficult nowadays just to realize how revolutionary The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was when it first started out. This was the first science fiction comedy the BBC did. It was also the first radio comedy to use stereo. Supposedly a comedy couldn't work on stereo because the audience wouldn't know which speaker the punch line would come from.

In a world where comedy meant a series of set-ups followed immediately by punch lines followed immediately by a laugh-track, something as surreal and erudite as this naturally seemed rather strange.

The radio series was also tied to electronic experimentalism, dating back to the Darmstadt school of the 1950s. This was an experimental music school that brought certain composers, like Stockhausen, Ligeti and Boulez to fame, and placed some emphasis on incorporating electronic sounds into classical music. The first two radio series use a lot of these electronic concepts to produce the sound effects and create alien worlds and robot noises. They also incorporate some of the music from these composers, such as Ligeti's "Lontano" and Stockhausen's "Mikrophonie I" as incidental music. And also the Eagles.



Okay, the Eagles are not part of the Darmstadt school. That tune was selected because Adams wanted the theme to be something spacey-sounding, but with a banjo, and that was the only such piece of music in existence. Nonetheless, the Eagles music does fit surprisingly well with the Stockhausen music.

Beyond the music, it's got great characters and a great story, as Arthur and Ford go through a variety of adventures, come to the conclusion that "something is fundamentally wrong with the universe" and wander of into the sunset on prehistoric Earth while Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" plays. This is the radio show to which all other radio shows aspire.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979)

A year later, Douglas Adams turned the radio series into a book, which is now the best-known incarnation of the series. Peter Jones's narration now became the usual narration one would expect in a book, but in that unique Douglas Adams style.

To be precise, however, he only turned the first two-thirds of the radio series into a book. This is because Douglas Adams procrastinated too much and couldn't finish it in time. Even with cutting the book short, he didn't finish it until past the deadline. This began a legend of Douglas Adams's always missing deadlines. Neil Gaiman investigated this urban myth in the writing of his book and came to the conclusion that it was completely true.

At the end of the fourth episode, Arthur, Ford, Zaphod and Trillian are being shot at by police next to a computer bank that explodes. Then in the fifth episode they appear at the restaurant at the end of the universe, which is explained away by some techno-babble.

In the book, they are able to get away by different, cleverer means, that I won't spoil, but the book just ends there. So, no restaurant at the end of the universe. No getting stranded on prehistoric Earth and no finding the question to the ultimate answer. Those would have to wait for the second book.

We do get some extra stuff, however, intended to explain away some unanswered questions about why Zaphod stole the Heart of Gold. It involves his realization that the position of President of the Galaxy holds no real power and his attempts to find out who's really running the galaxy. Both this and the ultimate answer stuff end up being continued in the second book.

Because the book cuts short without answering any questions it lacks the same epic scope of the radio show, at least taken on its own. But it also gets to touch up a lot of the details, like the aforementioned exploding computer scene and a nice added bit during the house-demolition scene concerning the function of by-passes.

I'd say the Primary Phase of the radio show is slightly better than the book, but they're both pretty much classics, and will be regarded as such through all eternity.

Radio Series: Secondary Phase (1980)

I mentioned that the first book introduces the question of who really runs the galaxy. With all the ultimate question stuff taken care of in the Primary Phase, the Secondary Phase of the radio show focuses entirely on that. The main character is no longer Arthur, but Zaphod. Arthur still plays an important role, though.

It's a nice change of pace having a lead character who's less of a pushover and more actively lazy and egotistical. A particular genius bit is the introduction of the "Total Perspective Vortex" a torture device that shows you a picture of the universe in all its infinite glory with a dot saying "You are here". The realization of your own significance will then cause you to go mad. When Zaphod is subjected to this, he becomes the only person to make it out all right, because the vortex said he was a great guy.

We also learn more about why the Earth was destroyed. The psychiatrists were worried that knowing the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything would result in an end to mental problems, so they decided to make sure it was never found out.

And of course, we learn that "Belgium" is the single worst swear word in the galaxy.

The real gems in the Secondary Phase are the things that never made it into any other incarnation of the series. While the Zaphod-centric parts of the story were incorporated into The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, a lot of the Arthur-centric parts were abandoned, because he was still trying to find the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything.

For instance there's a scene where Arthur throws a cup of "tea" made by Sirius Cybernetics Corporation appliances. An image of this gets beamed to an alien planet, whose population learns for the first time that it's okay to not like malfunctioning technology. When Arthur later lands on the planet, he finds a mile-high statue of himself throwing the cup. The best part is that the cup part of the statue is being suspended in the air solely by its aesthetic merit.

We also have a different version of Ford and Arthur leaving pre-historic Earth than the one from the books. It involves two different timelines flitting back and forth: one where they get rescued and one where they don't. But they can't figure out how to assure that the good timeline happens, so Arthur decides the best he can do is wave his towel at the spaceship. The towel then gets caught in a lava flow, preserved until the present drive, where Zaphod picks it up via the Infinite Improbability Drive and goes back in time to rescue them, resulting in a strange loop.

One of the most intriguing parts of this radio series is the ending, in which Arthur finds out via the man who really runs the galaxy, that Zaphod had a hand in ordering the destruction of Earth. In a fit of anger, he steals the Heart of Gold, leaving Zaphod and Ford stranded, resulting in a cliffhanger ending. It's a neat turn for the series and it's kind of a shame that they never got to go deeper into it. There were eventually more radio series, but they were based directly on the books and ret-conned the entire Secondary Phase as one of Zaphod's "psychotic episodes".

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980)

The second book is, in some sense like the second radio series, and in another sense, like the end of the first. It ends with Ford and Arthur trapped on pre-historic Earth and finding that the ultimate question is "What do you get when you multiply six by nine?" And you get the sweet poignant bit where they realize that the world is a pretty nice place and it's a shame that it's going to get blown up in a few million years.

Getting there, we have a mixture of the Milliways stuff from the first radio series and the stuff about the man who really runs the galaxy from the second series. This is the best book of the series, and the one that brought the Hitchhiker's Trilogy to fame in the U.S., where nobody listens to radio comedy.

One interesting thing I learned about this book from Neil Gaiman, it was written backwards, like The Hunting of the Snark. He started with the ending from the Primary Phase, and wrote each earlier scene until he got to a good beginning. This means it has the series-of-adventures-and-asides feel that makes the Hitchhiker's Trilogy so fun, while still having a clear focus.

As before, he doesn't introduce too many new concepts that weren't in the radio shows, but he does get to refine them. I mentioned the Total Perspective Vortex from the Secondary Phase. There's also a character in the Secondary Phase named Zarniwoop who works for the Guide and who, along with Zaphod, is trying to figure out who really runs the galaxy. In the radio version, it's mentioned as an aside that he set up his own personal universe in his office so he could do research on the Guide without ever going outside.

In the book they combine those two bits, by having Zaphod go through the Total Perspective Vortex in the universe in Zarniwoop's office, that Zarniwoop created specifically for Zaphod. And that's why the Total Perspective Vortex said Zaphod was a great guy.

We also get a few new concepts, like the cow that's genetically engineered to want to be eaten, because that would be more humane than eating a cow that doesn't. We also meet Hotblack Desiato, lead singer of the Pink Floyd-inspired "plutonium rock" band Disaster Area, which is not only the loudest rock band in the universe, but the loudest sound.

Another nice change is how they get to the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. After the ordeal with the Total Perspective Vortex, Zaphod orders Eddie, the ship's computer to take him to the nearest restaurant. So the ship doesn't move at all but jumps into the future, where the restaurant has been built in the exact same place where they left off.

The first two books really work best when read back-to-back as a single book. They both deal with the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything, and with the question of who really runs the galaxy. But you need to get to the second book before either of those are resolved.

The first two radio shows, on the other hand, work a lot better as stand-alone stories in the same universe with the same cast, since they each have their own separate goal in mind.

The TV Series (1981)

Before going on with the series in either written or audio form, there was a BBC mini-series made, that covered the same material as the Primary Phase of the radio show. A lot of fans, and Douglas Adams himself, considered this to be the black sheep of the series, at least until the movie came out. The reason for this is as follows: Douglas Adams kept on getting into fights with the director, which left him feeling bitter about the whole thing. That's why he didn't like the mini-series, and the fans took his word for it.

Doulas Adams explains the reason for his unhappiness with the TV show, quoted in Gaiman's book:
"The Hitchhiker's television series was not a happy production. There was a personality clash between myself and the directpr. And between the cast and the director. And between the tea lady and the director . . ."
Despite all that, there isn't anything dreadfully wrong. Mostly people complain about the special effects, but those are kind of charming. Yeah Zaphod's second head doesn't move very well, but that sort of thing happened on Doctor Who all the time.

There are a couple of changes in cast that have some effect. Ford Prefect is now played by David Dixon instead of Geoffrey McGivern. Dixon looks perfect in his role (which McGivern doesn't) and his voice sounds similar enough to McGivern's that you might not notice, but it is a bit slower-paced than McGivern's. The change in Trillian from Susan Sheridan to Sandra Dickinson is much bigger, since Dickinson is American. But they both play the part suitably bubbly.

The troubles on set with director Alan J. W. Bell stemmed primarily from Bell wanting to completely change the cast, and completely redo the script, which never actually happened. But he did force through one particular change that ended up being particularly successful. Specifically, he came up with the idea that Arthur would stay in his dressing gown for the whole series, making for an iconic image of Arthur Dent. This ended up being part of all later books and radio shows and other incarnations.

Another interesting change is the theme music. It's still The Eagles' "Journey of the Sorcerer", but with the guitar parts replaced by synthesizers (the banjo part is still a banjo part) so it fits in better with the rest of the music.

But the part of the TV series that everybody admits is awesome is the part of the book. During the Guide narration we see a mixture of video images and "computer" graphics depicting what is being described. While the "computer" graphics look a lot like pre-Macintosh computer graphics, they were actually animated by hand.

The graphics provide all sorts of hidden details that couldn't fit in the radio or written versions. For instance, in the section on Vogon poetry and the other worse forms of poetry, it includes samples scrolling at the bottom of the screen. Here is the worst poem in the world, according to the guide, written by Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings of Greenbridge, Essex (in real life it's a poem by Paul Neil Milne Johnstone of Redbridge, Essex):
The dead swans lay in the stagnant pool.
They lay. They rotted. They turned
Around occasionally.
Bits of flesh dropped off them from
Time to time.
And sank into the pool's mire.
They also smelt a great deal.
Isn't that just delightful? But if the radio show or the book had taken the time to include that it would have interrupted the flow. The TV show was able to put that, and lots of other stuff, as quasi-Easter eggs to look out for.

The only real problem with the mini-series, beyond the cheap special effects, is that it's limited to six episodes, so we don't get any of the search for the man who really runs the galaxy or any of the stuff that comes afterwards. There was supposed to be a second TV series based on a mix of the second radio series and the third book, but it never happened because of the arguing.

Life, the Universe and Everything (1982)

The first two books in the trilogy are almost pitch-perfect read back-to-back. But there are three more books to go, which are all generally regarded as weaker entries in the series. They're still all good books, but they don't necessarily achieve the same level of perfection as the earlier ones.

The third book, Life the universe and everything, is the most novelistic book in the trilogy, but it's also the least directly related to the overall plot. Despite the title, there is no searching for the meaning of life, or the man who really runs the galaxy. Instead we get a stand-alone story about a bunch of robotic cricket-players trying to destroy the universe.

This is because the book was originally a Doctor Who episode entitled "Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen", that was rejected for being too silly. Gaiman's book includes an excerpt from the original story as an appendix.

The transition from Doctor Who episode to Hitchhiker's book ultimately made it a better story. Part of this was that Arthur essentially got the part intended for Sarah Jane, while the Doctor's role was split between Slartibartfast and Trillian. Since Slartibartfast and Trillian were some of the less developed characters from the first two books, this gave made them into more rounded-out characters. And Arthur was already pretty developed, so it was okay that he mostly hung around.

There are two main problems with the book. First of all, it's pretty inconsequential compared to the rest of the books. There's a bit at the end about a character named Prak, who brings in some of the ultimate question stuff again, but it doesn't really matter. Second of all, there's the issue of what happened to the Tardis. Rather than use the Heart of Gold, the book introduces a new ship called the Starship Bistromath powered by a system called Bistromathics. This is explained in the following guide entry:
Bistromathics itself is simply a revolutionary new way of understanding the behaviour of numbers. Just as Albert Einstein's general relativity theory observed that space was not an absolute but depended on the observer's movement in time, and that time was not an absolute, but depended on the observer's movement in space, so it is now realized that numbers are not absolute, but depend on the observer's movement in restaurants.
This is fine for a one-off joke, but it's not as clever as the infinite improbability drive, and it gets drawn out a bit too long.

However, Life, the Universe and Everything also has some of the best bits in the series. Most important, we meet a character named Agrajag who finally answers the lingering question of why the bowl of petunias in the first book said "Oh no, not again!".

We also meet the Campaign for Real Time, devoted to responsible use of time travel. And Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged, an immortal being who, out of boredom, decided to insult everybody in the entire universe in alphabetical order. And we learn the vital information that "Eddie's in the space-time continuum".

Although it has a lot of strong points, it was not well-received by critics, so Adams decided he would no longer write any more Hitchhiker's books. And that's how the series got the name Hitchhiker's Trilogy.

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish (1984)

While Life, the Universe and Everything is a well constructed story that feels somewhat inconsequential, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish is an important mess. Gaiman points out that Adams was essentially forced to write the book by the publishers and he was struggling to come up with a story. Ostensibly it's about his search for God's last message to his creation, which was mentioned at the end of Life the Universe and Everything, but that's kind of tossed in there.

The part of Gaiman's book dealing with So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish is one of the more interesting parts of the book, because it includes press releases written before the book was finished. Since Adams has severe writers block, he gave the publishers plot summaries based on his notes, which ended up bearing little relation to the finished product. So you have all these adds that promise "An Ultra-Walrus with an embarrassing past" and "Noslenda Bivenda, the Galaxy's greatest Clam opener" who never appear in the book. Or any other book in the series. Or any other incarnation of the series.

The main part of the plot involves the sudden reappearance of Earth, having slipped in from an alternate universe, and Arthur's relationship with Fenchurch, who has something wrong with her feet. Like on the old Earth, all the dolphins fled the planet (hence the title), and Arthur and Fenchurch are trying to figure out what's going on. This ends up being very low on science fiction elements and humor (but high on drama), so the sci-fi and humor come from elsewhere.

So you get a rain god working as a very depressed lorry-driver, Ford dealing with a bar with a nasty reputation that it wants to keep, a race of people in a lizard-led democracy, Marvin's cathartic death, the aforementioned search for God's Last message to his creation and, the best part of the book, Wonko the Sane.

Wonko the Sane is a Californian marine biologist who everybody claims went crazy after the dolphins disappeared, despite the fact that his name clearly indicates that he is sane. Really, he became convinced after reading the instructions on a set of toothpicks that everybody else had gone crazy and he was the one sane person left in the world. So he calls his house "the outside of the asylum" and decorates it like an inside-out mental hospital.

The bit about the lizards is also pretty good as an aside. There is a race of people who are ruled over by lizards and the people hate the lizards. But they live in a democracy and keep voting for the lizards anyway. When Arthur asks why they don't just vote for a person, Ford explains that if they don't vote for a lizard they're worried the wrong lizard might win.

While this is the least coherent book it is nice that it is aesthetically quite different from the other books. Life, the Universe and Everything often felt like more of the same, So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish was definitely not that. The more character-driven dramatic bits with Arthur and Fenchurch annoyed some people and pleased others. Ditto for the complete lack of Zaphod and Trillian.

These two books are different enough that it's hard to say which is better. It also sort of depends on what mood you're in.

But Adams's experience writing these last two books was not too fun, and he vowed once again not to write any more Hitchhikers's books.

Young Zaphod Plays it Safe (1986)

After So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, he turned to non-Hitchhiker's-related writing, in particular, the amazing Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. He would eventually get talked into writing one last Hitchhiker's book, but that took some time. He did, however, write a short story during that time, Young Zaphod Plays it Safe.

It's not all that important a story, but all in good fun. It takes place before The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and involves Zaphod trying dealing with some Sirius Cybernetics Corporation bureaucrats who are tracking down a dangerous robot, who is strongly implied to be Ronald Reagan.

This story is also the most prominent instance of Adams's environmentalism in the Hitchhiker's Trilogy. This comes in a story about people realizing that the one place with completely untapped resources was the past. The corporations responsible for this brushed off complaints about it until people from the future started tapping the present for resources, and they changed tune. According to the story:
"They claimed it was for the sake of their grandparents and grandchildren, but it was of course for the sake of their grandparent's grandchildren, and their grandchildren's grandparents."
It should be noted that, throughout Adams's writing is a sort of vague weariness of encroaching bureaucracy. In particular the main villains in the Hichhiker's Trilogy are a race of bureaucrats. These days, people assume that bureaucracy is exclusive property of the elected government, but deny the existence of corporate bureaucracy. You see this especially with the health care debate, where opponents of free health care claim it's putting our health in the hands of bureaucrats, as if the HMOs aren't.

This short story, and the book that followed, make it pretty clear that Adams had a much more thought-out view of what constituted bureaucracy, and businesses were by no means excluded. And Reagan, with his claims of fighting "big government" was not treated too kindly.

Mostly Harmless (1992)

The fifth and final (or is it? (no it's not.)) book in the trilogy is the one that receives the most inexplicable hate. This stems entirely from the ending which is kind of bleak. Adams had gotten kind of sick of everybody asking for more Hitchhiker's books and made sure that this would completely preclude any chance of future entries (or did he? (well, he tried, at least.)). But really, this is easily the best of the last three books. All the loose threads come together, and there are plenty of great concepts introduced and, despite the bleakness of the story, it's still pretty damn funny.

The book itself is about why Ronald Reagan is a horrible person. Part of the bleakness of the book naturally stems from the fact that Ronald Reagan is an incredibly horrible person. The title stems from two things. First of all, in the very first book, Arthur looks up the Guide's entry on Earth and find it contains only the word "harmless". Ford assures Arthur that this he was researching Earth for the guide and wrote a much longer entry that hadn't been introduced yet. The longer entry: "Mostly harmless".

The other semi-origin of the title comes from real life. The Reagan administration had come under (completely justified) criticism when it was revealed that Nancy Reagan had professional astrologers give her advice. There was concern that Ronald Reagan would be making policy decisions based on his horoscope. But Reagan apologists defended the first family saying astrology was "harmless". Adams adjusted this assessment in a manner similar to Ford's adjustment of the Guide entry for Earth.

While So Long and Thanks for All the Fish is a collection of great ideas that don't entirely cohere, Mostly Harmless is a collection of great ideas that inexplicably cohere. Amongst these are
  • An alien race called the Grebulons who had their memories erased and try to figure out who they are by watching Earth TV and checking their horoscopes.

  • An alternate version of Trillian who never went to space with Zaphod because she wanted to pack her bags first.

  • The Trillian and Arthur having a daughter named Random who rapidly becomes an angsty teenager because of Trillian's carelessness with time travel.

  • Arthur forbidding his daughter to marry a Vogon.

  • A big, evil corporation called Infini-Dim Enterprises taking over the Guide and trying to destroy all the Earths in the multi-verse (more Reagan-bashing).

  • Calling the multiverse the "whole sort of general mish-mash".

  • An incredibly depressing planet called "Nowwhat" named after the first words spoken on it.

  • The domain of the King.

  • Arthur becoming the official sandwich-maker on a backward planet, thereby finally finding his niche in life.
That last bit ends up being particularly touching. The most touching part of the series since the end of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Especially when Random shows up. Beyond the Reagan-bashing and astrology-bashing, this book is centered around finding your place in a universe that makes no sense, and it handles those issues really well. I think had this book gone on to end on a happier note it wouldn't be criticized nearly as much as it has.

As it is, it's the last Hitchhiker's contribution that Adams himself wrote, and a perfectly good ending to the series.

Posthumous Work

There other Hitchhiker's-related things Adams was working on that he never finished due to his premature death on May 11, 2001. He had readily admitted that the ending of Mostly Harmless was rather bleak, and intended primary so he wouldn't have to write more sequels. But he was still considering writing a sixth book. He also had been periodically trying to get a movie made, but it kept on not working out. And then there was the matter of writing radio series for the last three books.

All of those ended up happening after his death. First, in 2003, the BBC Radio 4, in cooperation with Above the Title Productions began work on the remaining radio series, with a lot of the original cast. In 2005, a movie was finally made and in 2008, the sixth book came out.

The remaining radio series were called the Tertiary Phase (Life, the Universe and Everything), the Quandary Phase (So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish) and the Quintessential Phase (Mostly Harmless). The reason why they didn't use the correct terms "Quaternary" and "Quintennial" for the last two is, according to Gaiman's book, because those words are silly.

Radio Series: Tertiary Phase (2004)

In some sense, the radio series had the least to worry about, because Douglas Adams had already written the books, so the task was merely to turn those into scripts. The scripts were completed by Dirk Maggs and are mostly faithful to the books, with some necessary changes to make it work on radio.

But Douglas Adams was not the only person involved in the radio series who had died. Richard Vernon (Slartibartfast), David Tate (Eddie) and most importantly Peter Jones (the book) had also died. And Bill Wallis, who played Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz was unavailable. The rest of the main cast returned to their roles.

Peter Jones was replaced by William Franklyn. Jones pretty much defined the role of the book, so there was no way Franklyn could compete. Franklyn is a bit more emotional in his presentation than the matter-of-fact Jones, but you get used to it. Most importantly, in the Tertiary Phase, they came up with a good way to make the transition, in which the voice circuit was being updated. So at the beginning, they flipped back and forth Franklyn's voice with old recordings of Jones talking from the earlier radio shows, and ultimately settled on Franklyn's.

The other big change was in the music. Gone are the Darmstat-inspired background noises. In their place, there's a John Williams-esque score by Paul "Wix" Wickens. This means the later radio series sound very different from the earlier ones, limiting the thematic unity. But it does work with the more coherent story of Life, the Universe and Everything.

In the Tertiary Phase, the only real problems are those that stem from having to replace actors. But you can't really complain about the lack of Peter Jones, because you can't bring back the dead. Or can you?

One of the most amazing parts of the Tertiary phase, is the character of Agrajag, who is voiced by none other than Douglas Adams. They did this by mixing in recordings from the Life, the Universe and Everything audio book, and mixed it in with the live actors. If I hadn't told you that and you didn't know what Douglas Adams sounded like, you probably wouldn't know they did that. Even given that I have told you, you may refuse to admit it, because it's done so well.

While I think Mostly Harmless is the best of the latter-day Hitchhiker's books, I think the Tertiary Phase is the best of the latter-day radio series.

Radio Series: Quandary Phase (2005)

Then we come to the radio version of So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. Once again, it's pretty faithful to the book. There's some unspoken stuff between the fourth and fifth books that's added in here, which is nice. But there are also a few additions that don't work as well. Dirk Maggs decided to add a bunch of references to modern technology and culture, like PDAs, downloadable ringtones and reality TV. A lot of that comes off like a cranky old man and gets in the way of the other stuff.

The change in mood, focusing more on romance and drama and less on sci-fi and comedy is rather well-served by the Wix Wickens score. Jane Horrocks also does a fine job as Fenchurch. And Marvin's final moments are great.

But once again, the highlight goes to Wonko the Sane who is played by none other than Christian Slater. A lot of people claim that Slater hasn't done anything good since Heathers. Those people have not listened to the Quandary Phase of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Radio Series.

A nice touch is that TV's Ford Prefect, David Dixon appears as an environmental campaigner who's pissed that the dolphins are all gone and he can't save them anymore.

Radio Series: Quintessential Phase (2005)

I mentioned Mostly Harmless as being my favorite of the last three books. The radio version mostly lives up to it but there are a few issues that cause the Tertiary Phase to stand out better in my opinion.

First is the way they handle the two Trillians. They have Susan Sheridan play the main Trillian from earlier in the radio series. Then they get Sandra Dickinson from the TV series to play the alternate universe Trillian. This is a great concept, but the two actresses sound nothing alike, which makes it a bit weird when people instantly recognize them both as Trillian.

The other issue concerns Vann Harl, the leader of Infini-Dim Enterprises. There are some attempts to use the "whole sort of general mish-mash" concept to bring in some bits from the Secondary Phase of the radio show that had previously been ret-conned. So Zaphod shows up (we wasn't in the book) still looking for Zarniwoop (who he had found in the second book). And it turns out that Zarniwoop's full name is Zarniwoop Van Harl, and they're the same person, even though they had completely different goals.

But those are minor quibbles. Samantha Beárt gives a perfect angsty performance as Random Dent, and there's a great bit in the Domain of the King where Ford gets Elvis to sing a song that appeared in Life, the Universe and Everything.

What's most noteworthy, however, is the coda. Realizing that Douglas Adams regretted the bleak ending of Mostly Harmless, they add a bit in which everybody gets rescued by the dolphins through a bit of technobabble and taken back to the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. They even get a chance to reintroduce the cow that wants to be eaten (who was missing from the original radio series). It's kind of replacing an extreme downer ending with an extreme upper ending like in the novel The Princess Bride. Also like that, you can choose to pretend that the truth is somewhere in between those two versions.

The Movie (2005)

Of course, the biggest posthumous entry in the series is the movie, which has now surpassed the mini-series as the black sheep. It is definitely the weakest incarnation of the Hitchhiker's Guide, but I will still take the time to at least partially defend it.

The things that are wrong with the movie aren't really bad things, per se, just things that were better in other versions. Mos Def did a perfectly fine job as Ford Prefect, but unless you look like David Dixon and sound like Geoffrey McGivern, you're not Ford Prefect. Similarly for Martin Freeman's Arthur Dent and Zooey Deschanel's Trillian. Sam Rockwell was great as Zaphod, and Alan Rickman was great as Marvin.

The big problems tended to be things that they added to the movie, namely Zaphod's rival Humma Kavula and the "Point of View Gun". They weren't problems because they weren't funny. They were problems because even funnier jokes had to be removed to make way for them. The main problem people have is that a lot of the jokes get cut off before they finish, like the flying saucers that "hung through the air the same way that bricks don't".

This is not to say that those weren't problems. It was expected going into the movie that they would have to cut a lot to make things fit, so I'm not sure why they decided to add stuff rather than just not cut as much. But if the rest of the series didn't exist, I don't think anyone would have a problem with the movie.

However, the rest of the series does exist, so the movie, fun as it is, doesn't have much of a reason to exist.

Well, except for the opening credits. Those have every reason to exist.


And you get a few inspired visual bits when the Infinite Improbability Drive is used, like the cast turning into yarn.

There is one scene that points to the movie's biggest weakness as well as it's biggest strength. This is a continuity nod in which a Vogon grabs a scintillating jeweled scuttling crab, smashes it with a mallet and eats it. The books and radio series both mention that the forces of evolution on the Vogon's homeworld of Vogosphere were so disappointed that they had produced creatures as ugly as the Vogons, that they made up for it by producing all sorts of other wonderful creatures, like the "scintillating jeweled scuttling crabs, which the Vogons ate, "smashing their shells open with iron mallets".


It's a nice bit from the books and radio series that makes sense as a bit to cut, since it's not that relevant. And the movie showed how you could cut that Guide note without cutting the concept altogether. If they had done more of that they could have made a five-part movie series that was every bit as rewarding as the books and radio series. It's a shame they didn't.

And Another Thing . . . (2008)

In 2008, it was announced that a sixth book in the trilogy would be published, despite Adams not being around to write it. Naturally people were filled with semi-outrage that anyone should be allowed to tamper with this incredible series. In fact one man, Eoin Colfer, author of the Aretmis Fowl series of fantasy novels, went so far as to say:
"My first reaction was semi-outrage that anyone should be allowed to tamper with this incredible series."
And this is the guy who ended up writing the book.

The fact that a) it's not written by Douglas Adams, and b) the previous book had a fairly definitive ending, meant that it is pretty much automatically the weakest book in the trilogy. But it's still a pretty fun read.

The biggest problem with the book is that it reads like a fanfic. It's too much like someone trying to imitate Adams's writing style, but not quite getting it right, and it tends to harp on certain aspects of the Hitchhiker's universe at the expense of the main story. In particular, the Norse Gods and the character Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged are elevated from background characters to major players, and too many of the Guide notes are extensions of their original descriptions from Life, the Universe and Everything.

In the coda to the Quintessential Phase of the radio show, Wowbagger reappears, but it's for a quick joke, where he gets around to insulting the prophet Zarquon, and faces the consequences. This is a much more effective use of the character, since it brings up a nice bit of continuity without taking the focus away from the important characters.

But it's still respectful to the source material, and has a good story. The book starts with Arthur and co. being rescued from Earth at the end of Mostly Harmless, by the Heart of Gold. The plot then focuses on the discovery of a human colony, the attempts of the Vogons to destroy that, and the elections the colony holds for position of God. It has a bit of an "even after the apocalypse, life goes on" vibe reminiscent of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

This ends up solving the big concern about the book: that is has no reason to exist, given the ending of the previous book. It may not be as strong as the others, but if you've made it through the first five books, there's no reason not to go on.

The Computer Game (1984)

Beyond the media generally regarded as art, the Hitchhiker's Trilogy also made headway in media more associated with brainlessness. In 1984, Douglas Adams worked with Infocom to make a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Computer Game. Back in these days, computer graphics were pretty terrible, so a lot of game-makers focused on text-based adventures.

Rather than making the game be a quickie cash-in, Douglas Adams took realized that writing a text-based game was kind of like writing a novel, which he had already done. So he wrote the game himself, and there's almost a whole novel's worth of text involved. The result is that the lowest form of computer came is now combined with the highest form of art.

It's basically the story from the first book or the first radio series or the BBC mini-series up to an including Arthur and Ford's arrival on the Heart of Gold. All of the basic plot points occur routinely, but bits that the other media took for granted, like the process of obtaining a Babel fish, become big puzzles. And once you get to the Heart of Gold, things get weird.

You get a copy of the Guide and you can look things up in it, including a whole bunch of entries that don't occur in any other media. And when you die there are lots of creative messages. And it's really hard.

Adams also made a non-Hitchhiker's text-based game called Bureaucracy about trying to get a bank to accept a change-of-address form which, is not quite as insane, but still pretty insane.

He had hoped to make several other games like this, including a second Hitchhiker's game. Neil Gaiman documents some of the games he had planned to make. These included a Jim Henson edu-tainment collaboration called The Muppet Institute of Technology, a game called Reagan where you are one of Ronald Reagan's advisors and have to instruct him to pass a Turing test, some proposed spin-offs of that, but about Margaret Thatcher and other world leaders. And a Game called God in which the you could play God, and choose which religion you wanted to be.

None of those games ever came because the video and computer game industry collapsed as a result of the fallout of that awful E.T. game on Atari (and I guess some sort of moral outrage about violence or something, but mostly because of E.T.).

Starship Titanic (1998)

When Adams finally returned to computer games, things were a bit different. Graphics started to get a lot better, and you haf Myst, the first game to attempt photorealism.

Adams took this opportunity to launch a Hitchhiker's Trilogy spin-off called Starship Titanic in collaboration with Monty Python's Terry Jones.

Starship Titanic started out as a diversion in Life, the Universe and Everything, a ship that was specially designed so that it was infinitely improbable that anything could go wrong, but:
"They did not realize that because of the quasi-reciprocal and circular nature of all Improbability calculations, anything that was Infinitely Improbable was actually very likely to happen almost immediately."
The result was that at the moment the ship was launched it suffered a "sudden and gratuitous total existence failure".

He had been thinking about ways to expand that story into something bigger, and eventually decided on a computer game. This time it was graphic based, but still a puzzle game. Rather than the attempted photo-realism of Myst, he went for an Art Deco look.

In addition to the game, Terry Jones, who plays the parrot in the game, wrote a novel that told about the events leading up to the disaster (the game deals with the events after the disaster). The result is a novel that is a prequel to a computer game that is a spin-off of the third book in a six-book trilogy based on a radio series inspired by a travel guide about a continent. And yet, it's a pretty good book.

I kind of like it better than And Another Thing . . . The fact that it's a spin-off rather than a sequel means that Terry Jones was a bit freer to give it his own voice, rather than copy Douglas Adams's. Of course they have similar enough voices that it's not too jarring. You get some more off-the-wall absurdity fitting of the naked organist from Monty Python (and he apparently wrote the novel entirely in the nude). And there's a journalist called The Journalist who provides the muck-raking aspect of Terry Jones's later career as the first famous person to make fun of George W. Bush after 9/11.

He does however, incorporate a bit too much of the gameplay into the novel, describing details of the rooms that are only relevant in the game itself. But it's still the best novelization of a computer game out there.

And the game itself is great too. Like the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy computer game, it manages to treat computer games as an art form, this time more of a visual art. One warning, though, especially for the people who don't like the ending of Mostly Harmless. It may be just because I played the game so shortly after Adams's death, but this has one of the most depressing endings of any computer game. Just thought I should let you know.

Other Incarnations

These are the main incarnations in which the Hitchhiker's Trilogy has taken form, but there are some others I was unable to review. Neil Gaiman details these in his book. There was a vinyl recording based on the original radio series, but with some of the changes from the book and TV series, such as the cow that wants to be eaten. It's similar enough to the radio version that there's not much point in actively seeking it out, unless you're one of those crazy indie rock people who still listens to vinyl.

There were various stage shows, including a notorious large-scale flop. There was also a much more successful smaller-scale stage show based on re-enacting the first radio series. Since it's three hours long it doesn't get performed too often but if it does near you, you should probably seek it out.

There was a comic book that Douglas Adams had virtually no input on, which is not too highly regarded. It's mostly just an abridged version of the first novel with pictures that are almost, but not entirely, quite unlike the characters in the TV version.

And last, but not least, there is a complete illustrated version of the first book, that is highly regarded but also pretty rare.

Where to Start?

So, given the series has taken the form of a six-part series of books, a five-season radio series, a TV mini-series, a movie, a vinyl recording, a stage show, a short story and, a computer game, where should you start if you want to get into the series?

Either the books or the radio show.

Those are definitively the best versions. The radio series', at least the first three, are better than their corresponding books, but the books make a more coherent whole. If you're looking to buy something, it's easier to find the books, since there are plenty of book stores about the world, but not too many radio show stores.

Also, if you want to buy the radio show, you might as well go for the whole series boxed set, rather than having to deal with them individually. If you don't want to commit to anything yet, the radio series is posted on YouTube in individual clips. Here's the first one:



And When You're Done With All That?

So you listened to that YouTube video and went through every incarnation of the Hitchhiker's Trilogy, and you want more? Well, you could wait to see if they get around to making a radio version of And Another Thing . . . or you could check out other similar material.

The other series of books Douglas Adams wrote was the two-and-a-half-book Dirk Gently series. As a series it's not as coherent as the Hitchhiker's Trilogy, but the first book, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, is quite possible the greatest thing ever written. It's got an electric monk, aliens who hide messages in Coleridge's "Kublai Kahn" and, most importantly, a sofa and a staircase.

The second book, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul features a refrigerator, rather than a sofa. It also adds more fantasy elements that assure the book is not simply a retread of the previous one, but that doesn’t change the fact that it has no sofa. The Salmon of Doubt was supposed to be the third book in the series, but was unfinished at the time of the author’s death. The book with that name includes the unfinished novel as well as a collection of essays. These books are the closest books out there to the Hitchhiker's Trilogy. There are also radio versions of the first two books in that series.

Adams also has some books that aren't novels, but display his sense of humor. These include a pair of mock-dictionaries, The Meaning of Liff and The Deeper Meaning of Liff, and a book on endangered species, entitled Last Chance to See.

There is also the aforementioned computer game "Bureaucracy". For a similar text-based game not by Douglas Adams, you may enjoy the pun-assault "Nord and Bert Couldn't Make Head or Tail of It".

But, back to books, the writer most commonly compared to Douglas Adams is Kurt Vonnegut. His post-apocalyptic book Galápagos, is his book most commonly compared to Douglas Adams, and The Sirens of Titan is his book to which Douglas Adams is most commonly compared. The bit in The Sirens of Titan about the robot Salo's important message is particularly reminiscent of the search for the ultimate answer and the ultimate question in the Hitchhiker's Trilogy.

Adams himself cites P. G. Woodhouse, author of the Jeeves books, as an influence, primarily for his wordplay, although he never included any robots in his books. With similar wordplay is Lewis Carroll, who is noteworthy for his Adams-like tendency to describe concepts that seem to make logical sense while being patently ridiculous. He was also fond of the number 42 and his epic poem "The Hunting of the Snark" was divided into "Fits" instead of "Chapters", much like the radio series.

I have never read Robert Checkley's Dimension of Miracles, but Douglas Adams also recommends that book. Apparently fans kept on recommending the book to him on the grounds that they were the same sort of science fiction, and Adams eventually checked out the book.

When the Hitchhiker's Trilogy was first being promoted, it was often explained as Doctor Who meets Monty Python, which is fairly apt. The fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) era is when Adams himself was involved in the writing. He wrote two episodes, the highly regarded "City of Death" and the not-so-highly-regarded "The Pirate Planet". Also in the Monty Python vein are the movies of Terry Gilliam.

The Hitchhiker's Trilogy was not just a science fiction comedy, but a comedy whose humor often derived from warping the conventions of science fiction. Terry Pratchett's Disc World series does the same sort of thing for fantasy, as does, to some extent, William Goldman's The Princess Bride and the movie based on it.

For post-Hitchhiker's television, the closest relatives would be Red Dwarf and Futurama. Futurama has the intellectual secular humanism and environmentalism of the Hitchhiker's Trilogy. Red Dwarf is a bit more of a generic sit-com but in space. It even has a laugh track. But it also likes playing around with goofy scientific concepts. And most importantly, it's British.

So Long, and . . .


Okay, so when Douglas Adams died in 2001, everybody used some variation on his "So long, and thanks for all the fish" phrase to wish him farewell. You know, things like "So long, and thanks for all the laughs". They were good sentiments, but it got to the point of being a cliché, so I won't end my blog post that way. Instead I'll adapt the ending of the book So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish to finish the blog.

There was a point to this blog post, but it has temporarily escaped the chronicler's mind.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the awesome post! Loved it! You've certainly covered DNA thoroughly (or as thoroughly as a blog post would allow!) I just happened to stumble upon your blog after Googling "nicely inconspicuous" and then narrowing the search to blogs. I guess at the back of my mind I thought it would be a 'nicely inconspicuous' way of discovering a fellow hoopy Hitchhiker fan!

    I agree with your point that Hitchhiker's is the radio show to which all other radio shows aspire. For me, the radio series trumps all the other versions, though the books do come very close.

    I would also recommend Nick Webb's Official Biography of Douglas Adams, it's got some quite interesting stuff you can't find elsewhere, which will definitely come in handy to the regular frood.

    I'm a blogger myself and am coming up to my 42nd post, wherein I was planning to tribute to the great man. Didn't think that someone else had thought of it too!

    It's really great to hear from (albeit through blog) fellow Hitchhikers (who are very difficult to come across these days, especially in Sydney, where I live). I immediately share affinity with those who share Adams' genius, always.

    Cheers! And Happy 42 Day when it gets here in a week!

    P.S. Loved the Richard Dawkins image for Oolon Colluphid! I have to admit, I never saw the similarities until now, how embarrassing. I will definitely be coming back to feast my eyes on this post again, there's just so much material!

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