Title: The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
Author: Douglas Adams
Genre: Science Fiction, Comedy
Calling The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy science fiction is a little like calling The Daily Show With Jon Stewart a ‘news show’ – you would not be wrong, technically speaking, but you would be missing the whole point. Unlike the vast majority of science fiction, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, the first in Douglas Adam’s trilogy, dispenses with all the pageantry that comes with the science fiction territory; there is no sinister galactic empire, there is no impending robotic rebellion and perhaps most refreshingly, mankind is considered neither important nor particularly noteworthy. All these tropes are alluded to, however, and given the same treatment as everything else in Adams’ universe – they are gently prodded and affectionately poked fun at. Nothing is spared, not even the story itself; explanations for the increasingly unlikely sequence of events are hand-waved and the increasingly incredulous situations that the characters find themselves in are treated as unfortunate inconveniences, all in keeping with that very British sense of humour present throughout the book. Yet, just as classic science fiction makes us think about the nature of the universe and our presence in it, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy brings up some interesting questions about bureaucracy, materialism and what it all means.
What most series would treat as their grand finale, The Hitchhiker’s Guide dismisses as perfunctory – within the book’s first handful of pages, the Earth has been destroyed and what follows is a series of misadventures by its sole survivors. Plot isn’t the novel’s strong point. Indeed, for the most part, the book consists of a string of hijinks connected by the very essence of improbability. Unfortunately, the book ends just as it gets going and the whole affair ends just as we begin warming up to the rather plain characters and start making sense of the rather nonsensical universe that they live in. The main issue with the plot, such as it is, is that nothing really happens. Adams’ legions of fans (are there a lot of them) would say that that’s the point really, and there is certainly an argument to be made for that being the case, but really, a journey, no matter how entertaining, without a discernible end, can never be truly satisfying. Perhaps as a direct result of the nature of the plot, the characters do not evolve either; in fact, it feels like the book ends just after we are introduced to the main ‘cast’ of the book. It feels like the characters are just the overly simplistic vectors through which Adams chooses to deliver his humour and while they certainly excel in that purpose, it does leave them feeling underdeveloped. In the absence of a strong plot and any real character development, it is the humour that really holds the whole thing together – the novel could easily be otherwise considered an exercise in futility but the sharp, touch-in-cheek wit with which it is told means that right from the beginning, the reader simply doesn’t care about what happens so much as the characters’ and the narrator’s sardonic opinions of those events.
Where The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy really, and almost unexpectedly, excels is in establishing the idea of space. Again and again, the novel reminds of the enormity and the unimaginable size of space and through it the idea of our own insignificance in the grand scheme of things is emphasized and drilled in. Even the otherwise grandiose pursuit of the ‘meaning’ of life is ultimately dwarfed by this realization that the answer (which is, and this cannot be a spoiler, 42) is just as meaningless as the question itself. It’s a surprisingly deep theme for a novel that is extremely light-hearted and takes nothing seriously. For better or worse though, these themes are inevitably very much overshadowed by silly antics of the characters because at the end of the day, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy is really just a simple story about the futility of it all, told from a hilariously self-aware perspective.