In an effort to get myself to read more, because I’m horrible at reading on a regular basis, I want to start doing monthly book reviews.
The trick will be finding books that I enjoy. I have one book that I’ve been “reading” for maybe eight months. I want to like it. It should be right up my alley, young adult sci-fi about teen heroes, and yet the book just loses me. It failed to truly hook me as a reader and I haven’t been able to pinpoint why. I think the writing isn’t as polished as it should be and that’s the cause.
Then of course it makes me worry about my own writing.
Then in my stubbornness, since I’m still reading that one, I won’t let myself pick up another book. So my reading has all but stalled.
This time around, I want to review The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy written by Douglas Adams and first published in 1979. That’s important, remember that. It is the first book in a series of six books. The book has also been turned into a movie, which I had seen before reading the book so I already kind of knew the story and its characters. That is another thing to remember for later.
And the most important thing to remember: Don’t panic!
A Summary for Everything in the Universe
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy follows Arthur Dent who is on the verge of losing his house so that a highway can be built that he didn’t know about. As one can imagine, he’s rather upset about this fact and is doing what he can at the zero-hour to stop the bureaucratic wheels from turning. Things don’t go well for him and he ends up at a local pub in his muddied bathrobe.
He runs into his odd friend Ford Prefect who is acting especially odd and going on about how the world is about to end. Arthur is a bit inconvenienced by this because he would rather gripe about losing his home. Ford tells him not to worry about it because it doesn’t matter, what with the world ending.
Then spaceships begin appearing in the sky. Using some impressive tech, the ships address the entire population of the earth at once, giving the humans pretty much the same speech the bureaucrats gave Arthur about destroying his home, except they are talking about Earth. The entire planet is to be destroyed to make room for a hyperspatial express route. In an instant, Earth and everyone on it, is gone.
Save for Arthur and Ford. Turns out, Ford is an alien who’d been stuck on Earth for fifteen years. He knew what was coming, grabbed his best friend, and together they hitchhiked a ride on one of the ships. Together, the pair goes on an adventure across the galaxy where they encounter the Galactic President Zaphod who is on the run after stealing a very improbable spaceship along with his girlfriend, Trillion, who just happens to be an Earth woman who Arthur once met at a party a few years back.
The four of them visit planet after planet as Arthur tries to adjust to the thought that his home, and planet, are gone forever. Meanwhile, Zaphod is on a mission to find a computer smart enough to answer the greatest question.
What I Liked
The writing is fun, witty, and light. I can’t really explain it, it just feels happy and upbeat despite the sometimes bleak feelings in the book. The writing doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously. This is proven by the many various random “facts about the universe” that are inserted throughout the story. These facts are often silly, and very fun, and show quite a bit of world-building, or I guess galaxy-building in this instance.
In a couple of places, Adams does an interesting thing of saying something and then immediately contradicting himself. Sometimes it is for comedic effect and other times it’s for a more serious tone. Take this moment for instance:
“There was a terrible ghastly silence.
There was a terrible ghastly noise.”
This is actually done for dramatic effect and it works incredibly well within the context of the scene. I initially wrote what scene this came from since it’s very early in the book, so it’s not really a spoiler, but decided to remove that information so you can experience it firsthand if you decide to read the book for yourself, which you should.
I particularly enjoyed when Adams had to describe the Guide to the reader because back in 1979, smartphones and tablets weren’t a thing. Adams has to go into detail about e-books and tablets, things that we take for granted today. There’s a part that states how if the guide were an actual book with all of its information, it would be impossibly big, so it has to be entirely digital.
The biggest difference between the Guide and tablets that we know today is that the Guide still has buttons instead of being a touch screen.
“‘You press this button here, you see, and the screen lights up, giving you the index.’ A screen about three inches by four, lit up and characters began to flicker across the surface.”
I find it fun to do this bit of time travel with older sci-fi stories because something that seemed so cool and futuristic back then can be so ordinary now.
What I Didn’t Like
The biggest problem I had with the story, in part, comes from one of its greatest strengths. The random facts are great, but after finishing the story, I felt like Adams spent more time with the randomness than he did with the characters. Don’t get me wrong, the facts are fun but ultimately, they don’t add anything to the story itself other than length. Most of the facts that you read are added at random and have no immediate relation to the story at hand. There are several things that he talks about that you never actually see in the book. Meanwhile, the characters kind of fade into the randomness, making them difficult to see properly.
It’s a relatively short book and an easy read, so I feel like some extra time could have been spent getting to know the characters better. The only reason I was able to remember any of the characters was due to the fact that I’ve seen the movie. I just saw Martin Freeman as Arthur, Zooey Deschanel as Trillian, Mos Def as Ford, and so on.
That’s really the only complaint I have about the book.
I Give the Book a Thumbs Up
Don’t panic! Despite my gripes, which do seem like big deals, I did like the book, and do recommend reading it. I also recommend watching the movie first, which feels sacrilegious to say, but it definitely helped me follow the book better because it allowed me to put faces to names better than I felt the writing did.
Of course, there is the fact that having seen the movie first could have been why I struggled to see the characters in the book. Unfortunately, there is no way to know for sure.
Still, it is a very entertaining read that was difficult to put down when I had other things that I needed to do around the house and town. All I wanted to do was keep reading. I definitely recommend that you check out the book and hitchhike across the galaxy on a fantastical and random adventure.