Summary (Amazon): Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.
Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide (“A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have”) and a galaxy-full of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox–the two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie and totally out-to-lunch president of the galaxy; Trillian, Zaphod’s girlfriend (formally Tricia McMillan), whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once upon a time zone; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot; Veet Voojagig, a former graduate student who is obsessed with the disappearance of all the ballpoint pens he bought over the years.
Where are these pens? Why are we born? Why do we die? Why do we spend so much time between wearing digital watches? For all the answers stick your thumb to the stars. And don’t forget to bring a towel!
My Review (Spoilers):
Executive Summary: quirky
So I picked this book because A) it was mentioned in Among Others and B) my husband owned it. So I packed it to read on our flights to and from a wedding we went to last weekend. And, to my delight and my husband’s total annoyance, when I opened the cover of the book, there was an old cheesy photo of him and his high school girlfriend. So approximately 327 times during the flight when he wasn’t looking, I would slyly open the book to reveal that photo so that he would glance over and see it looking at him. (I think if he could have gotten a different seat, he might have considered it!)
That was just the beginning of how great this book is.
The book begins with Arthur (who lives in England), whose house is about to be demolished. He had just found out about the demolition the day before but he was assured that all the paperwork had been filed and was placed in the local planning office 9 months prior. So he had plenty of time to file the complaint about the thing that he didn’t know existed. As Arthur is laying in the mud between the bulldozer and his house, his neighbor, Ford Prefect comes by.
Ford is not a human, but no one knows that. He looks human, and he has been on Earth for the last 15 years. In fact, he’s a researcher for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and has been awaiting the time when he can hitch a ride off of Earth and continue his research. The time has come! Ford’s Sense-o-matic has alerted him that the Earth is about to be destroyed. He convinces Arthur to come to the bar with him where they get significantly drunk (relax their muscles) so that they can hitch a ride on the ship that is about to destroy the Earth.
When that ship arrives, the Vogons inform the Earth that the documentation about the demolition has been in the local planning office in Alpha Centauri for the last fifty years, so there’s no use getting worked up about it now.
Elsewhere in the universe, Zaphod Beeblebrox, the President of the Imperial Galactic Government, holds a press conference to introduce The Heart of Gold (the most unique starship in the universe) and then he steals it.
Meanwhile, Arthur and Ford are on the Vogon ship as stowaways. They used Arthur’s Thumb (an electronic signaling device) to catch a ride. Luckily for them, the kitchen of the ship employs the Dentrassis who are more lenient on hitchhikers than the Vogons. (Mostly they just like to annoy their bosses.) Eventually the two are found by the Vogons who put them out the hatch. 29 seconds later (they figured they could hold their breath for 30 seconds), they end up on The Heart of Gold.
It turns out that The Heart of Gold uses an improbability drive, which is basically exactly what it sounds like. The more improbable something is, the more likely the ship is to make it happen. Like, picking up Arthur and Ford, 1 second before certain death, had a probability of 1 in 2^276709.
Zaphod and Trillian, his earthling co-pilot, send Marvin, the depressed robot, to get Arthur and Ford. Upon uniting, they realize that they are all connected. Ford knows Zaphod from long ago. Arthur met Trillian at a party, and she left him to go with a man who told her that he was from a different planet (Zaphod). (Ford was a little perturbed about the fact that Zaphod visited Earth and didn’t rescue him!)
They fly along and come to what Zaphod had been looking for–the most improbable planet that ever existed. Magrathea. (Magrathea used to be the planet where they designed custom-made planets for rich people. But then the economy tanked, and the richest planet disappeared and was forgotten.) They decide to descend, also because Ford doesn’t believe that this is Magrathea, and along the way, missiles are released on them. Arthur switches on the improbability drive to evade them (how convenient), and they land safely on the surface.
Something else improbable that happened during the improbability drive was that a sperm whale appeared several miles above Magrathea, and then, of course, crashed into it.
Zaphod, Trillian, Ford, Arthur, and Marvin begin to traverse across the surface of Magrathea. It’s dull and boring. Eventually they come to the location of the whale impact and find that the crash has created an opening into the underground city. Zaphod, Trillian, and Ford decide to go check it out, leaving Arthur and Marvin to “keep watch” (even though the planet has been abandoned for five million years). Zaphod tells Trillian and Ford that he has a lack of memory that he knows that he created himself. He believes that the previous president, Yooden Vranx, convinced him to steal The Heart of Gold but to accurately pass the brain scans required to be president (and therefore have access to the ship), Zaphod could not know the reason why. So he removed it from his memory.
Meanwhile Arthur quickly tires of Marvin’s depressing conversation, and he wanders off for a walk–running into an old Magrathean named Slartbartifast. The man tells Arthur that the people of the planet didn’t die off or move. They merely went to sleep until the economic situation was better, and since it is recovering, they are reawakening. S takes Arthur to the factory floor where they used to make all their planet and reveals that Earth was a custom designed planet (S had won an award for Norway as he was a master of fjords.) and they were in works of creating Earth Mark Two when unfortunately the Earth was destroyed just a few minutes too early.
And it turns out that the customers who bought Earth and Earth Mark Two were the mice. Mice are by far the most intelligent creatures who lived on Earth. Many millions of years previously, a super computer was created and asked to give the answer to everything. It took the computer 7.5 million years to return an answer, and the answer…was 42. Of course, everyone was very disappointed with the answer, but the computer suggested that the answer was valid. They just did not fully understand the question. So a second, more impressive computer was created to answer that question, and that computer was Earth. But unfortunately the Vogons destroyed the Earth 5 minutes before the computer finished.
Then S takes Arthur and they meet up with the others, and the two mice that Trillian had brought with her when she had left Earth. The mice ask Arthur if they can buy his brain and replace it with a computer one. They figure that since he was organically linked to Earth, that he can help them answer the question. Luckily at that moment, all the alarms sound and Arthur, Ford, Trillian, and Zaphod take the opportunity to get out of there before Arthur’s brain is stolen. They are stopped by some policemen who start shooting at them. Eventually the shooting stops, and the group goes out to investigate finding that the policemen have been killed. They take the policemen’s guns and escape to Slartibartifast’s ship which he has conveniently left there with a note telling them how to drive it!
They return to their ship, and find Marvin, still depressed as ever, waiting for them. It turns out that he saw the police ship land and began talking to the ship’s computer. It became so depressed by the conversation that it committed suicide, taking the officers (they had a computer link) with him.
They take off. And the book ends.
Verdict: 4 Stars
My review does little justice to how silly and fun this book actually is. In a lot of ways (the creativity and writing style most specifically), it reminded me of The Neverending Story which I also really loved. The one downfall is the abrupt ending. I had originally rated the book 4.5 but the ending was just such a surprising disappointment to me, I felt like I had to drop the rating some for it. (I do realize that the original formatting was not technically book form and that there are further books. However, I feel like some editing could have been done to make the ending as great as the rest of the book.) I definitely recommend reading this book though. It’s a quick read, a cultural icon, and a lot of fun.