When I was about 12, I made an onstage appearance in a school play for the house drama competition at the end of term. My role: ‘Storm Trooper 6’ in a 30min mash-up of popular sci-fi culture including The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Star Wars and Star Trek. This play was my first exposure to HG2G (as Wikipedia tells me this book is popularly called). It didn’t prompt me to read it. Or watch Star Wars for that matter. I had decided sci-fi was not my gig. But, some 15 years later in 2017 not only did I finally read this book, I also watched all the Star Wars films. A sci-fi revolution! I wouldn’t say I’m a complete convert but I’m definitely not as vehemently against the genre as I thought I was.
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is an international phenomenon. The first of five in a series, it’s incredibly popular and has been adapted to television and radio as well as spawning fan fiction and appreciation across the globe. It’s such a cult classic that Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster had DON’T PANIC (the quote of the book) across the dashboard on its launch to space in 2018 and a copy of the book plus a towel on board (this becomes clear when you read it).
It is a comedy, pure and simple. It’s great satire, bitingly British, completely ridiculous yet impressively clever. I was sceptical, and I found myself laughing a lot more than expected. The story is that of Arthur Dent who is saved from the destruction of planet earth by his friend Ford Prefect, who turns out to be an alien journalist, researching a guide for space travellers, and follows the two of them as they navigate the perils of the galaxy, meeting new friends along the way in the quest to discover the answer to the meaning of life, the universe and everything. Incidentally, Ford Prefect reveals that he named himself this as he thought it would be ‘nicely inconspicuous’, realising after the fact that he had not been quite so diligent in his preparation & research of naming conventions as he should have been, having managed to select a popular make of car as his guise. This is just one of the many comedic moments in this book.
I liked it because it has dry humour and it’s clever: Planet Earth is destroyed to make way for a space super highway, which delightfully mirrors the prospective demolition of Arthur Dent’s house for the new motorway which he is protesting at the beginning of the book. The emergence of mice as the superior intellectual beings of the universe conducting experiments on human beings, while going incognito as lab test subjects themselves flips the traditional power balance on its head in a ridiculous yet brilliant way. The book is filled with endless examples of this type of humour and it’s a real joy to read. Even if sci-fi isn’t your thing, it’s hard not to raise a smile at some of this, and it’s easy to see why it’s been so successful in both television and radio format too.
Easy to read, appealing to both children and adults alike, it’s not hard to see why it’s so popular. I doubt Adams knew when he wrote it that he was creating something that would be quite so enduring across both time and space (see what I did there?) but maybe that’s just another layer to this book that he always intended.
Star rating: ♥♥♥♥♥