My Rating: 4 stars Read: 3/14/2017
Lists: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die
- Lifetime Challenge
- 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die Challenge
- The Milanof-Schock Library 2017 Challenge
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 The Hitch Hiker’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 their journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitch Hiker’s Guide “A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have” and a galaxy-full of fellow travellers: 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 ball-point pens he has bought over the years.
I’ve never read this book all the way through, and I recall being challenged to stay engaged with the movie. I decided to listen to the audiobook narrated by Stephen Fry for the year 1979 in my lifetime challenge.
The book is enormously witty in an uber dry, British way. Stephen Fry is the ideal narrator for it, and for the first hour I was enormously entertained. I love the beginning, when the Earth is destroyed and Arthur Dent is whisked away by an intergalactic hitchhiker, Ford Prefect.
It continues to be witty all the way through, and there are many brilliant and funny bits in it. However, on this listen-through I experienced the same issue I’ve had with it before, which is that the actual plot is minimal and pretty non-sensical. I suppose it’s not meant to be taken literally in any way, shape or form, but my story-driven brain does try.
The ship, the Heart of Gold, that Arthur travels on, the character of Zaphod Beeblebrox, the planet of Magrathea, and many of the other elements, are just so metaphorical and absurd that I found myself losing interest. Listening to the audiobook is a bit like listening to a 6 hour joke. It’s an extremely well-told joke, no doubt, but as a sci-fi story, it’s rather limp. Also, I was disappointed that “the girl”, Trillian, is even less present in the book than she was in the movie, and there’s no romance sub-plot whatsoever between her and Arthur Dent. She’s introduced in the book and then basically says and does almost nothing. Arthur Dent himself does little except to splutter and complain about everything. Character growth, or any real narrative arc, is as absent as the answer to the question of the meaning of the universe.
If one ignores the story and focuses on the interesting ideas and jokes, it’s quite good. As a story, not so much. I’ve given the book 4 stars because of the quality of the humor but the story is more of a 2 stars for me.
Of course, this is a mega-classic beloved by millions, so your mileage will probably vary.