LET ME start by saying I am not a sci-fi fan. A friend once lent me all of her Dune books but I never got past the first few chapters. I have not even watched any of the Star Wars movies in full. You may kill me now, sure.
That said, getting into Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was a bit of a struggle for me. The only reason I decided to read it was so I could get the deal about the towel reference — something about the towel being “the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have.” That factoid didn’t really do anything to forward the narrative. It’s just that: a factoid in the Hitchhiker universe.
The story starts with the impending demolition of the Earth by the alien species Vogons. Arthur Dent, the main character, is summoned by his alien friend Ford Prefect and they both survive the catastrophe by getting into the Vogon ship. The President of the Galaxy, a pretty lady and a depressed robot soon join them in their interstellar travel.
It’s pretty much an adventure book set in space. The Hitchhiker universe, however, is not as scientifically solid for my initial liking. The concepts and creatures seem too arbitrary to be part of a compact and carefully planned fictional dimension.
I only started to appreciate the book’s campy tone when Arthur and the gang reach Magrathea, a planet that creates other planets. This is also the part when the philosophical inquiries begin to surface. I know Arthur has been introspective since the beginning, but the book becomes more blatant with its existential wisdom/sarcasm only later on. We meet a computer called Deep Thought, a pair of talking mice trying to figure out the Ultimate Question, and some quarreling representatives from the Amalgamated Union of Philosophers, Sages, Luminaries and Other Thinking Persons.
Without spoiling too much (the book doesn’t go Game of Thrones-y with its plot anyway), I’d say Hitchhiker‘s general philosophy, if any, is geared towards the Absurd. Yes, as in Albert Camus’ Absurd. Look at this exchange between Arthur and Frankie the mouse:
“I mean why have you been [searching for the Ultimate Question]?”
“Oh, I see,” said Frankie. “Well, eventually just habit I think, to be brutally honest.”
There’s also this nugget of honesty-slash-brilliance from Zaphod Beeblebrox:
“I don’t know what I’m looking for.”
“Because…because…I think it might be because if I knew I wouldn’t be able to look for them.”
Such irony, eh? I wish the act of searching actually brings us some sense of satisfaction or completion. Unfortunately that shit only happens in pop songs like Miley Cyrus’ The Climb (or is this comparison a little oblique?).
It’s also worth noting that Hitchhiker is a very easy read. You just have to be patient enough to endure and accept the ridiculous tongue-in-cheek setup, then you’re pretty much in for a mildly entertaining experience. I don’t think I’m going to read the next books in the series tho, but I might watch the movie. Not now, no, but maybe some other time.
Like I said, I’m just not that into sci-fi.
The featured image is from Open Library.