The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy


Intended Audience: Adult
Sexual content: Mild
Ace/Genderqueer characters: Yes (Robot/A.I.)
Rating: PG-13 for disturbing imagery and language
Writing style: 5/5
Likable characters: 4/5
Plot/Concepts: 4/5

There's nothing like a healthy dose of perspective to make one's troubles seem smaller. For example, having one's house demolished is small potatoes compared to the demolition of the planet Earth to make way for a new galactic freeway. Now a refugee, Arthur Dent tags along with his alien friend Ford Prefect on a highly improbable adventure toward the Ultimate Question.

I'd heard of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy before, of course, and had even seen one or two scenes from the movie a few years ago. I knew the answer to Life. the Universe, and Everything was… oh, but I shouldn't spoil it. Anyway, the point is, despite some exposure, I went into this fairly unspoiled, which is always a treat. I didn't expect to love the writing style so much. In fact there is pretty much nothing I dislike about the writing style… it's so personable, ironic and ridiculous that I can't help but be forgiving of the more unconventional passages or awkward metaphors. It all feels simultaneously natural and carefully measured for comedic effect.

I've been waffling between giving a 3 or a 4 on Plot/Concepts because I thought the concepts were terribly creative, mainly made possible by the Improbability Drive (think warp drive that operates by making the most improbable option occur, for example, someone turning into a whale). But the plot itself felt slightly disjointed and the ending was abrupt. I know this story was originally a radio comedy, and the first book was based on the first four episodes, which should explain why things don't wrap up tidily at the end. But as a book the climax and resolution felt a bit too subtle.

The characters were all quite memorable, which is impressive considering how quickly we meet new ones. Despite most of them being aliens they are each "human" enough to get a feel for quickly. Some of this is thanks to the elements of caricature, and some is thanks to everyone having distinct styles of dialogue. In addition there was something oddly likeable about everyone, even the barbaric Vogons who kill people by reciting poetry. My favorite characters were Ford Prefect (the alien who rescues Arthur Dent) and Marvin the depressed robot. I also really liked Eddie the fantastically chipper ship's computer, who later undergoes a bit of reprogramming to become overbearingly matriarchal. No one can decide which personality is more annoying.

All that being said there was still only one important female character. She is portrayed as being much smarter than her male companion, and yet that cleverness isn't given much room to shine, nor does she have as much dialogue as I would like. Thankfully she isn't objectified except perhaps by one very shallow character, and her gender rarely comes up as something which should set her apart in terms of how aliens both hostile and friendly react to her presence. She is mainly treated as a person first rather than a woman first. I liked that. I do wish there had been more representation of minorities in general, though. I'm pretty sure every humanoid was assumed to be white and heterosexual.

As a comedy, I don't think Hitchhiker's Guide set out to take anything seriously or fight any battles, but there are some surprisingly good messages nevertheless. For example, in this universe humans are quite definitely not the most intelligent species even among Earth species, which is a dose of humility still sorely needed. There are also explorations of how people can believe themselves to be kind and ethical but still bow down to systems of violence which are quite honestly illogical. Overall I found the humor fairly inoffensive compared with the underlying good. That's pretty impressive, because I tend to be picky about my humor.

I'm definitely looking forward to the next book, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe!