Book Review: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Updated: Oct 6, 2020
This review is spoiler free.
In the beginning this blog was created. This made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move.
Ah, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. So full of in-jokes to readers, listeners, and watchers of its various media that it may eventually make them vanish in a puff of pretentiousness.
This review will be focusing on the original Douglas Adams’ novel of 1979. It will not review later titles in the book series, or how it compares to its other forms (radio, television, and film). It will cover the audio book recording by Adams’ close friend Stephen Fry, but it will not mention it being a tie in with that 2005 movie.
The Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, because freeways need to be built. Our main character Arthur Dent is saved at the last moment by Ford Prefect, an alien from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse. They are eventually picked up by Zaphod Beeblebrox and Trillian McMillan in their stolen ship Heart of Gold. Arthur (and therefore the reader) is helped in understanding what’s going on around him by reading the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the equivalent of Google but for the Galaxy. This 208-page book covers about the first two days of Arthur and Ford’s shenanigans in space.
That’s right, this entire book only covers two days. Considering this, the pacing is superb. I’ve never felt bored while reading or listening to Hitchhiker’s. Even the infodumps (in the form of passages from the novel’s namesake) were entertaining and funny. They were also short, funny, and concise, so not distracting from the main story.
The book centres on five main characters. These are:
Arthur Dent. An Englishman who just wants a good cup of tea in space. His main character trait is being British, very British.
Ford Prefect. A writer for the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who has been stranded on Earth for 15 years. Before reaching Earth, Ford thought the dominant life-form on Earth was cars, hence his name. He likes a drink.
Zaphod Beeblebrox. President of the Galaxy, and semi-cousin to Ford Prefect. My favourite character in the book by far. He’s an egotistic, badly dressed, two headed and three-armed alien having a somewhat existential crisis. Zaphod’s just this guy, you know?
Tricia McMillan aka Trillian. The only other human to survive the destruction of Earth, after being picked up by Zaphod at a party at a flat in Islington where Arthur had miserably failed to do so. She has degrees in both Math and Astrophysics. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have a lot of character development in this installment, other than being the smartest person on the ship.
Marvin the robot. Marvin was on the Heart of Gold when it was stolen by Zaphod. He has a brain the size of a planet but is only ever given menial tasks. This makes him extremely depressed, as he was also gifted with sentience and the ability to feel emotions.
In 208 pages, it’s hard to add much character development. The main character development goes to Zaphod and his existential crisis. We get to know the rest of the characters a bit more through the action, but they feel very one dimensional. Trillian gets the fullest character description, written as having long waves of black hair, a full mouth, an odd little knob of a nose and ridiculously brown eyes. Arthur notes at one point she looks “vaguely Arabic”.
Arthur, on the other hand, is described as “tall, dark-haired and never quite at ease with himself”. This leads to him having resting bitch face, but the man version, which is people just thinking you’re worried about something. That must be nice.. Anyhow, we also know he’s clean-shaven for most of the book, as he is described shaving at the start of the book, so he must only have a five o’clock shadow at the climax. That’s not a lot of description for a main character, but it makes him an “everyman”, someone the reader can put themselves in so they can experience the story first-hand.
I do, however, note that this book is written in third person, so we do see parts of the action when Arthur is not part of the story. This can be difficult for an author to execute, as each character’s voice must sound different enough for the reader to identify them. Adams achieves this well, and as a reader you do not feel thrown by following a new character. This is especially so with Zaphod, whose internal monologue is both hilarious and engrossing.
If you’re an audio book fiend like myself, I highly recommend Stephen Fry’s version available on Audible. As mentioned earlier, he was a close friend of Adams, who sadly died at the age of 49 from a heart attack. I’m sure this would have affected his performance. His comedic timing is amazing, and you can tell he has a real love for the book. This is one of my favourite audio books of all time, and this is all down to Fry’s performance.
This book is for you if:
You’re looking for a quick, fun romp. This is book is engrossing and can easily be read in a day. At just under six hours, the audio book can also be finished swiftly.
You’ve seen the 2005 movie, but you’ve heard the book is better. Yes, it is better. Yes, you should read the book.
You like books that always have something happening in them. Don’t like metaphoric character descriptions and lingering descriptions of every room the characters enter? Then this book was made for you!
You want to be in on the in-jokes. Why is the number 42 so funny? You’ll finally find out (and may or may not find it funny).
This might not be for you if:
You’re not a fan of Sci-Fi. This should be relatively obvious, but this book lays on the Sci-Fi thickly.
You like to delve deeply into characters.
Any of the jokes I mentioned didn’t seem funny to you. Adams’ humour is unique and not for everyone. If slapstick or self-deprecating humour is your thing, this might not be the book for you.
You’re a Vogon.
TL;DR If you’re a Sci-Fi fan, this book is an essential read. You can carry on with the other books, but it stands alone as one of the best Sci-Fi novels of all time. If your attention wavers at attention to detail, this book is for you. Full of humour and some of the best in-jokes of any pop culture phenomena, this is a must read.