Here are two things you probably would not expect to go hand in hand: A book about the demolition of the Earth that brings into question the origin and purpose of our beloved planet, and a book that is packed wall to wall with buffoonish shenanigans. “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is the most hilarious book about the apocalypse you’ll ever read. But between side-splitting tangents about alien poetry so bad it causes internal hemorrhaging and galactic warlords invading our planet without realizing they are smaller than ants, there lies profound ideas that are so absurd, they’ll make you question just about everything.
“Hitchhiker’s Guide” is told through Arthur Dent, an Englishman who spend one morning trying to prevent the demolition of his house, and soon finds he has a much greater problem to worry about. His closest friend Ford Prefect, a humanoid alien from the Betelgeuse galaxy and a researcher for the Hitchhiker’s Guide that’s been trapped on Earth for 15 years, brings a cool breeziness to every situation, even when his life is seemingly seconds from its conclusion. After Earth is destroyed by the Vogons, who sent a memo beforehand and are thoroughly surprised by the planet-wide panic, Ford and Arthur find themselves on a spaceship, Heart of Gold. The ship, piloted by the two headed outlaw president of the galaxy Zaphod Beedlebrox, runs not on dark matter or a warp drive, but improbability. Sound ludicrous? At first yes, but author Douglas Adams has an uncanny ability to take the most absurd ideas and succinctly explain them from a perspective that makes them sound like taken verbatim of an encyclopedia.
Adams satirizes science fiction and philosophy in “Hitchhiker’s Guide,” with a sense of humor that’s distinctly British. There’s plenty of snappy dialogue, traditional silliness and plenty of toying with the dynamic of cause and effect. As Arthur tries to grasp the idea that Earth and everything on it is forever lost, he is able to cope with the death of his family, his country, the history of human achievement, but the thought of McDonalds being wiped from existence renders him unconscious. While the main plot of “Hitchhiker’s Guide” is fairly linear and pushes on at relatively rapid pace for the genre, he has fondness for tangents. Every avenue that ventures away from the central narrative holds creative and humorous value, and finds a convenient exit ramp that leads back to the plot. They include the perspective of a sperm whale that pops into being and experiences a series of epiphanies as it tries to grasp its own existence only seconds before crashing into a dry crater, or how the most useful item for a galactic hitchhiker to possess is a towel. He also plays with conventional storytelling, telling the reader before the Heart of Gold encounters deadly nuclear missiles that the only harm that will be caused are a bruised arm and broken coffee mugs, for the sake of comic stress relief.
“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is a delightful outer space adventure that between fits of laughter, leads the mind to wonder. Are humans really the most intelligent species on this planet? Could other forms of life exist in another hemisphere? And after what has to be the single greatest anti-climax in literature, what are we saying when we search for the answer to life, the universe, everything? Spawning five sequels and multiple incarnations in other media, “Hitchhiker’s Guide” is a unique phenomenon that makes our infinite universe feel a whole lot smaller.