The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide
by Douglas Adams
I don’t think the world needs me to say that these books are brilliant and wonderful. They are brilliant and wonderful, but I hope everyone already knows that. If anyone out there within sight of these words has not already read these books, then you absolutely must pick them up as your very next piece of reading – particularly since it is summer time, and there are no better beach reads than these.
There are a few things that I will add to the conversation.
First, this Omnibus edition is probably not the best way to read these books; it’s convenient to have them all together, but it’s much too large and unwieldy; this is the kind of book that you almost don’t want to read lying down in bed, because there’s no way to hold it up without your arms getting tired. And very little in life makes one feel more pathetic than watching your arms tremble from holding up a book. Also if you are, like me, prone to dozing off while reading, this book will do real harm if it falls on your face. I will also say that the bonus story here, Young Zaphod Plays It Safe, was almost entirely pointless. Not in a wacky Douglas Adams way, but in the way that I didn’t know why I had read it.
On the other hand, while I have seen the first three books everywhere for years in small convenient paperbacks, I have not seen the last two books, So Long and Thanks for All the Fish and Mostly Harmless in the same format with the same frequency. And just like Star Wars, while there are plenty of people who carp that the first three are the only good ones, I disagree; Mostly Harmless has some flaws, but So Long and Thanks for All the Fish not only fits in well with the others, but it has one of the best romances I have read in a light-hearted book. There aren’t a lot of comedic authors who can tell a good love story (Christopher Moore is actually the only one who comes to mind), but this book is a good love story. It is worth reading all by itself. Mostly Harmless probably is not, but it has some absolutely wonderful moments: Ford Prefect pulling a Mission: Impossible on the Guide central office; Arthur Dent as Master Sandwich Maker; the realm of The King; the planet of What Next. I hated the ending, predictably, as it is not funny; but it certainly puts a period on the series. I think fans of the books should read it, most definitely.
The second thing I would like to add is this: not only was Douglas Adams a creative genius and a hilarious man – probably the funniest author I know of – but he was, simply put, a hell of a writer. This is his description of the Vogon Constructor Fleet in the first book:
The great ships hung motionless in the sky, over every nation on Earth. Motionless they hung, huge, heavy, steady in the sky, a blasphemy against nature. Many people went straight into shock as their minds tried to encompass what they were looking at. The ships hung in the sky in much the way that bricks don’t.
That last sentence is pure genius. And for a simpler, beautifully done writerly trick, this is the way he describes the actual destruction of Earth (I can’t think that’s a spoiler: it happens at the end of the first chapter, for Pete’s sake.):
There was a terrible ghastly silence.
There was a terrible ghastly noise.
There was a terrible ghastly silence.
Some of my other favorites:
The first thing that hit their eyes was what appeared to be a coffin.
And the next four thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine things that hit their eyes were also coffins.
(Describing a paranoid military character practicing his menacing:)
Number Two’s eyes darted feverishly about the room again and then settled back on the mirror, like a pair of flies briefly distracted from their favorite piece of month-old meat.
From Life, the Universe and Everything:
“The dew,” he observed, “has clearly fallen with a particularly sickening thud this morning.”
This, from So Long…, is a description of the woman half of the romance, and this is why this book should be read and enjoyed.
She was tallish with dark hair which fell in waves around a pale and serious face. Standing still, alone, she seemed almost somber, like a statue to some important but unpopular virtue in a formal garden. She seemed to be looking at something other than what she looked as if she was looking at.
But when she smiled, as she did now, suddenly, it was as if she had just arrived from somewhere.
And what may be my favorite description of all time:
If you took a couple of David Bowies and stuck one of the David Bowies on the top of the other David Bowie, then attached another David Bowie to the end of each of the arms of the upper of the first two David Bowies and wrapped the whole business up in a dirty beach robe, you would then have something which didn’t exactly look like John Watson, but which those who knew him would find hauntingly familiar.
The last thing I will say about these books is a personal confession: when I was 12, I auditioned for a school production of Pirates of Penzance by reading the Vogon poetry from Hitchhiker’s Guide. And when the director tried to cut me off by saying, “Okay, thank you,” I held up one finger to signal that I wasn’t yet done, and went ahead and finished the piece.
I didn’t get the part.
But you should get these books.
- Oh freddled gruntbuggly,
- Thy micturations are to me,
- As plurdled gabbleblotchits,
- On a lurgid bee.
- Groop, I implore thee, my foonting turlingdromes,
- And hooptiously drangle me,
- With crinkly bindlewurdles, mashurbitries.
- Or else I shall rend thee in the gobberwarts with my blurglecruncheon,
- See if I don’t!