of Life, the Universe, and Everything

In high school, we were lucky to have a number of different English units/courses to choose from for grade 9 and 10. Depending on your interests, you could spend a semester learning about fantasy, romance, comedy, classics, etc. For one of those semesters, I chose the science fiction unit, mostly because I wanted to expand my reading horizons (I mostly read fantasy novels at the time).

I remember our teacher explaining that sci-fi can include anything that asks the question “what if…?”, and by this broad definition, a lot of novels can fall into the sci-fi category. Our focus novel was ‘Jurassic Park’ but, if I remember correctly, we also analysed ‘I, Robot’ quite a lot as well. Since then, I’ve tried to include more sci-fi books in my reading list. I’ve come across a lot of bad sci-fi, but there’s also a lot of good sci-fi out there as well. I reckon a good science fiction book can instil a sense of wonder and awe (and maybe fear) at previously unexplored possibilities.

‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ by Douglas Adams is often featured on lists of “books you should read before you die” and is probably one of the most renowned sci-fi novels ever written. Many fans would consider it to be a classic. I’ve wanted to read THGG since high school, but just never got around to it …until now!

My overall impression of THGG is that it’s a very funny book mostly because it’s silly but seems to take itself quite seriously. It could easily have been a focus novel in the comedy unit (I never chose that unit because I thought analysing why comedies are funny would take the fun out of them) but I understand that different people have different senses of humour, so THGG might not suit everyone. When I was on GoodReads earlier, I saw several reviews by people who found absolutely no enjoyment in reading THGG at all.

When I think about it, though, a lot of the positive reviews just listed quotes or concepts that people thought were really funny, clever or insightful. Because of this, I feel like the storyline was perhaps a bit randomly all over the place and lacking in real substance. It doesn’t have the same profound resonance that other great sci-fi novels have – the ones that echo in your mind long after you’ve finished reading them. But that’s not to say that it’s not thought-provoking in its own right. You just have to remember that it started out as a radio series, so that would have affected how the story was constructed.

Truth be told, I was surprised once I’d gotten to the end of book to find that it’s actually part of a trilogy, and then when I got onto GoodReads, I realised there’s actually a volume 4 and 5… All this time, I actually thought it was a stand-alone book (whoops…) The question I’m asking myself now, of course, is whether or not I want to seek out the rest of the series and read those books too. I suppose I would like to (so I can find out if/how they find the question to the answer) but I’m not in any great hurry to read them.

As I was reading THGG, I was constantly smiling at the random jokes. I’d like to share some favourite parts because I feel like the main reason I liked this book was because it’s a collection of funny things put together into a story. Be warned, there may be spoilers.

  • The history of Ford Prefect’s real name, which he couldn’t learn to pronounce (so his father literally died of shame) and the nickname he was given, Ix (“which in the language of Betelgeuse Five translates as ‘boy who is not able satisfactorily to explain what a Hrung is, nor why it should choose to collapse on Betelgeuse Seven'”)
  • Why Vogon poetry is only the third worst in the universe
  • The missile that turned into a whale, which then briefly pondered its existence before dying on impact on the surface of Magrathea
  • A lot of the things that Marvin the depressed robot says
  • Slartibartfast and his revelation about how and why Earth was created
  • The mini side-story about how the Vl’hurgs and G’Gugvuntts joined forces to attack Earth but “due to a terrible miscalculation of scale the entire battle fleet was accidentally swallowed by a small dog”