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The Book Club

Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy

1. Reading the series. Douglas Adams’s “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” is the first text in the series of six (or five); and though the comedy science fiction has been popularised through productions, television, radio, film et cetera, most are considerably unfamiliar with the books (minus, of course, the legions of die-hard fans). To be honest, I have never been a huge science fiction fan, and though the comedic elements did make the reading rather enjoyable, I suppose I will not be following up – by continuing with the other books in the series – with the reading experience anytime soon.

2. What makes the book special for the ordinary reader? As a work of science fiction, the straightforward manner in which the characters are introduced, settings are established and plots developed contrasts greatly with sophisticated literature works that place tremendous emphasis on complex emotions and thematic developments. The unassuming writing style amplifies the smart humour evident throughout the chapters, which makes the absurdity of the assorted characters and twisted logic more believable. With the typical mix of inter-galactic adventures, super-advanced computers and outer-space beings, as well as high-tech gizmos, the reader will enjoy Adams’s unrestrained creativity and skilled wit in terms of the various expressions.

3. Deciphering the wit and humour. “One of the major difficulties Trillian experienced in her relationship with Zaphod was learning to distinguish between him pretending to be stupid just to get people off their guard, pretending to be stupid because he couldn’t be bothered to think and wanted someone else to do it for him, pretending to be outrageously stupid to hide the fact that he actually didn’t understand what was going on, and really being genuinely stupid”.

4. Allegorical instances? The first book does provide substantial food for thought: are the supposedly more intelligent beings genuinely constructive with their intellect, what is the true purpose of uncovering the question or answer to the life, the universe and everything, would aliens really be brighter and more talented than human beings? Adams also mocks the ambiguity (and perhaps the ridiculousness) of politics and its corresponding representatives through the depiction of Zaphod Beeblebrox, highlights the perpetual conflict between science and religion with the Babel fish, and forces the readers to weigh the pros and cons of rapid technological improvements through the questionable employment of computerised resources for different purposes in the book.

5. Babel fish, science and religion. “I refuse to prove that I exist’, says God, ‘for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing’. ‘But’, says man, ‘the Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It proves you exist and so therefore you don’t. QED’. ‘Oh dear’. says God, ‘I hadn’t thought of that’, and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic. ‘Oh, that was easy’, says man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white, and gets killed on the next zebra crossing” and “meanwhile, the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation”.

6. The most important message, from my perspective. That conventional wisdom might not always be the best; the assumption that human beings are the most sophisticated on Earth might not be healthy (hilariously refuted in the book, with Adams claiming that mice and dolphins are more gifted). It might also be a subtle message to encourage more individuals to explore the unknown, to get out of comfort zones, so as to better understand wider circumstances, and be more cognisant and educated. It gets more people to be less short-sighted about issues and their counterparts, proactively step out from their apathy or lethargy and gradually comprehend the intricacies of life.

7. Ultimately… The only way to understand life is to live it to its fullest, regardless of the multitude of challenges or shortcomings (highlighting how rigid it is to expect a computer – albeit empowered with personalities or updated processors – to pedantically do it instead). The perpetual concepts of coincidence and improbability have been emphasised by the series’ enthusiasts, and it furthers the point that not everything can be logically explained convincingly; and if too much time and effort is taken to contemplate the propositions, the enjoyment of life may be perilously compromised.

8. From the beginning. “This planet has – or rather had – a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much all of the time … Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans”.

9. Influence upon culture. From the Babel fish translation service to the enduring popularity of the h2g2 online encyclopaedia project, it is testimony to the long-lasting influence that Adams has had with his works. The continual presence of these elements will go a long way in terms of indirectly promoting the franchise, and getting future generations to enjoy the series and respective books.

10. 42? It is the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything; and an enduring symbol for hitchhiker-ism all over the world (along with the towel).

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About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.

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