Mimsy Review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
The mice were furious.
One’s never alone with a rubber duck, you know. This is the most brilliant, inspired nonsensical satire since Lewis Carroll.
Arthur Dent discovers that one of his friends is, in reality, a creature from Betelgeuse. The same day, the Earth is destroyed and he hitches a ride with the most disgusting race this side of the ravenous bugblatter beast of Traal. On the bright side, someone gives him the guidebook to the Universe and puts a fish in his ear.
This is side-splitting craziness, the best science fiction humor bar none. It actually consists of five books collected as one “Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide”. You are definitely getting your money’s worth with this collection. Besides the first book in the series, all four sequels are also included:
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe: In the middle book of the original trilogy, they end up at the end of the Universe; specifically Milliways, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, where they get to watch the Big Bang and eventually crash-land on some insignificant planet on the outer rim of the galaxy. “Dress casual, check your mind at the door,” runs the cover blurb. No question about it.
Life, the Universe, and Everything: Billed as “the cosmic conclusion” to the trilogy long before the trilogy was a pentology, Life, the Universe, and Everything picks up where Restaurant at the End of the Universe left off: three million years in Earth’s past.
So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish: In the fourth book of the Hitchhiker’s trilogy, Arthur Dent returns to Earth, no longer destroyed after all, and falls in love. He flies about, has sex, figures out what happened to the dolphins. Ford Prefect finally sees Casablanca all the way through. Thanks for All the Fish is not quite as crazy as the previous three books, but it is a stronger work, and it stands a bit on its own. It settles in and focuses keenly on Arthur and the End of the World. The only real complaint is that, like all Hitchhiker’s books, it reads far too quickly. Oh, Marvin shows up as well, if he has any fans left.
Mostly Harmless: While still a great tale, Mostly Harmless is a disappointment compared to the previous four books in the trilogy. Adams is in a hurry to get to the end, and to fill out the pages he (or his publisher) uses the old schoolboy’s trick of larger type. The high points of the book are that it gives us some actual insight into Arthur Dent. He becomes more than just the vehicle for bopping about the Universe. But Adams sets up some great ideas and halfway through the book hits everyone with the literary equivalent of a truck and that’s that. It isn’t so much that we care about the loss, it’s just a letdown. The world ends, not because of sin or fire or ice, but because God gets tired of creating it and can’t get out of the contract. Recommended for purists only, but it comes with this collection, so don’t fret.
Finally, there are a few small extras such the short story “Young Zaphod Plays it Safe”.
Not included in this collection, but I strongly recommend it if you’re a fan, is the original radio scripts. These are the scripts and the notes for the original radio series. Yes, the radio series came before the books. Radio shows have real deadlines which, if you miss them, means that everyone listens to empty static or re-runs of the prime minister.
It must have been very difficult or challenging, take your pick, to be the sound effects person for this thing. Where do you find the sound of a whale hitting ground at 200 miles per hour?
If you’re a Hitchhiker’s fan this isn’t to be missed. There are scenes here that never make it into the book, and it is interesting to see how some scenes that did make it into the book meant something completely different on radio.
“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is a story about how little sense life really makes, and how little worth comes from trying to make sense of the insensible. When Grant Morrison had one of his characters say “Are we not proof that the universe is a drooling idiot with no fashion sense,” you know Grant read Douglas Adams.
The first book opens with Arthur Dent, hung over because he only just discovered that his house is going to be demolished to make way for a new highway. In a few minutes, however, it doesn’t matter, because the Earth is demolished to make way for a new interstellar highway. Arthur is saved from destruction by his friend Ford Prefect. Ford is a roving researcher for “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, a guidebook to the universe for people who don’t want to spend more than 30 Altairian dollars a day. The Guide is incomplete, inaccurate, and often apocryphal, but sells well because (a) it is smaller than its competition, and (b) it has the words “Don’t Panic” engraved on the cover. Ford has spent the last fifteen years researching the planet Earth, and has managed to double the size of the Earth’s entry in the Guide: from “Harmless” to “Mostly Harmless”.
Ford introduces Arthur to his own best friend: Zaphod Beeblebrox, president of the Galaxy. The craziest man in the universe, because you have to be crazy to want that job.
Zaphod introduces Arthur to Trillian and Marvin the Paranoid Android. Together the five of them have wonderful adventures and do really wild things throughout time and space, and don’t understand any of it (except for Trillian, who is a physicist, and so understands a little of it).
If you are doing an essay and are in a hurry, read the final chapter of the fourth book. It tells you all you need to know about the series.
There is also an “illustrated” Hitchhiker’s Guide “out there somewhere”. I have a copy but it is no longer in print. It contains the full text as near as I can tell (it doesn’t say “abridged”, but it also doesn’t say “unabridged”). It also includes a cameo of Douglas Adams as one of the enlightened cops who is also an author. The illustrations are all either photographs, computer-retouched photographs, or computer-generated images. Some of the images are pretty wild. I thought that Marvin was too tall, and Trillian too beautiful, but otherwise they are interesting images. I especially liked the pull-out center of the redesigned “Heart of Gold” interior. This isn’t something worth searching the ends of the earth for (and how far’s that?) but if you see it, take a look and see if it strikes your fancy.
If you enjoyed The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy…
If you enjoy whimsical, you might also be interested in Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday, City of Lost Children, Hook, King of Hearts, L.A. Story, Moonshadow, Oddville! and Land of Nod, Peter Pan, The Complete Lewis Carroll, The Wizard of Oz, The World of Pooh, and Yellow Submarine