Updated: Jun 2, 2019
Fierce Fanny came home today ready for my little excursion to Northern Ireland. Alas, Fanny may not make it as no sooner had she been prepared for the ramp, we discovered a bigger oil leak than the one she was sent away with.
So I guess I'm going to have to make do with hitch-hiking...timely, I suppose that I've been challenged to read the ultimate self-help guide on hitch-hiking.
I've never read it before. I've just discovered it's science-fiction. I loathe science fiction. Science never made that much sense to me in school. Mind you, neither did Shakespeare, the god-father of fiction.
Don't Panic! The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy...
Boy, is this book long! Normally, I'm a reader of the avid kind, but this book took some going through - not least because half the words are made up of a baffling lexicon:
- Reptitoid atomizers and Maximegalaticians abound amongst Octopodic Physucturalists and Hooloovoos. Having some knowledge of physics will help - which I don't. Not least beyond: if I drop something on my toe, the velocity it falls at matters as much as the weight.
The HHGttG has humble beginnings - a late night slot on 1970s radio. Not only was I tucked up in bed at that time, but I was also in a country that didn't blast it over the airways. Thus, the phenomena of the Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect and Zaphod Beeblebrox's less than heroic zooms around the universe completely passed me by. Guess they didn't think much of Riyadh back then.
Although I have a vague notion of the meaning of life being 42, why I didn't know. Turns out, neither do all the inhabitants of the universe. Not least because just as the most powerful computer in the universe was getting to the answer, Earth, as this supercomputer is manifest, is blown up to make way for a new super hyper-spacial express route. Although, we are not to know that at the start of the book. At the start of the book, we meet an uptight, dressing-gown wearing Arthur Dent, although we don't know he's wearing a dressing gown at this point, who has taken to lying, as in recumbent, not mis-speaking, in front of his house getting somewhat more uptight because the local authortity wanted to bulldoze his house down to make way for a bypass.
Ford Prefect, trusting the local authority to the ends of the Earth and knowing that this wasn't going to be very long at all, convinced Arthur to join him for a beer or four. Next thing we know, approximately 5% into the book, we are introduced to Zaphod Beeblebox - the present of the universe, who is joyriding The Heart of Gold, the most advanced spaceship in the history of the universe. He is accompanied by Trillion, a woman from Earth, whose entire purpose is to roll her eyes at Zaphod and insult him. Like marriage was depicted in the 1970s, I expect: Trillion, a woman with a doctorate in Astrophysics amongst other things, spends much of her time working out whether Zaphod is pretending to be stupid just to get people off their guard, or pretending to be stupid simply because he can't be bothered to think and thus gets others to do it for him, or is actually utterly baffled by everything. Much like yours truly.
Awhile later, we are re-acquainted with Arthur and Ford, who have been allowed on board a spaceship by the Dentrassis, who are the cooks for the Vogons - a particularly sinister bunch, who enjoy destroying planets and other life forms. And they set upon destroying their unwanted cargo - by pushing them into outer space. At this point, I realise that this should be the end of the book - but alas I am only 7% of the way through the book.
Instead, they are rescued by the hijacked starship Heart of Gold at an improbability level of two to the power of two hundred and seventy-six thousand to one against, but possibly much higher. And at this point, my brain imploded.
The starship has happy doors, doors which are delighted to open and close for you, and tell you so. This must be nice, as I'm forever pulling a door, when I should be pushing it. Or pulling on the wrong side of a pair of doors, no matter how many times I have utilised the door before. I once lived in an apartment with a front door, like my car door, clicked open for me as I arrive at it. It took years for me to stop blinking at my front door in futile expectation of something to happen. Thus, I could just about cope with life on the Heart of Gold. What I couldn't cope with was Marvin, a terminally depressed robot who accompanies Arthur and Ford around. Later, Marvin dies but as with all things in the HHGttG, he doesn't die: for scientific reasons I can't be bothered to understand, and I'm both thrilled and horrified that he doesn't.
Likewise, Zaphod, Trillian, Arthur and Ford are routinely nearly destroyed only to survive for physical reasons of my non-comprehension. Each time arriving at a new destination, where they are beset upon by the something or someone. We are at one-third of the way through the HHGttG, where it finally occurs to Arthur to ask 'Why isn't anyone ever pleased to see us?' I imagine Parking Attendants have the same hang-up.
Though the HHGttG, we learn about all the different life forms of the universe, including Earth, which was edited from 'Harmless' to 'Mostly harmless'. There is also a planet that is entirely given over to biros - a place where unattended biros slip off to through space wormholes in order to enjoy a uniquely biroid lifestyle. I'm going to assume that planets also exist for Tweezers, Hair Bobbles and Socks, as well as cats with a vet's appointment.
Lots of other ideas exist in the book - such as how to cope with recessions: it simply saves a lot of bother to sleep through them and thus we ought to write a computer programme which revives us when it's all over. I feel the same about Brexit.
And it turns out that there is one species more intelligent than Dolphins: Mice. I disputed this because I am regularly brought Mice by the cat, who himself is notoriously stupid. Mostly dead mice, but the ones I rescue almost always seem to reappear shortly after no matter how many times I put them in next door's garden: no, not that next door, the other next door as I've repeatedly told my neighbours. But as I learnt this interesting fact about Mice, the Mouse who refuses to die, moved in. He lives in the fridge, somewhere, but not actually in the compartments where I store my food. He eats the cat's kibble - I know this because I regularly have to vacuum out cat biscuits from under the fridge. I thought fieldmice only lived for a matter of days but not this one. It's been there for several weeks now, deep in the mechanism that runs the fridge. According to the HHGttG, we have completely misinterpreted mice, they are in fact conducting frighteningly elegant and subtle experiments on us. In fact, our planet was commissioned, paid for and is run completely by mice. So at least, I know Fridge Mouse has some meaning to his life. BT don't agree he should be paying the phone bill though.
One of my favourite chapters of the book is chapter 32 - the one with the Management Consultants, the Marketeers, the Hairdressers, a lone bagpipe player, and a bath-loving Captain. Riddled with the kind of management-speak that made my toes curl over the years, I loved the fact that the speakers of which, were destined to a grisly death. Douglas Adams (Author) has a wicked, but brilliant sense of the absurd that fetters our lives. How a foreman and an accountant going head-to-head, only results in prices going up, and service going down. 'Hell's donkeys' as Zaphod calls them, or the 'middlemen' as we more likely call them, are stranded and forced to colonize a previously uncolonized planet. They keep themselves entertained with daily afternoon committee meetings, which will absolutely NOT deal with anything not on the pre-agreed, pre-planned, pre-discussed agenda. I've worked for a company like that. The terminology changes, the mindset remains: 'We've blown up a few military installations, well, potential military installations...all right....trees'.
As there adventures continue, it occurs to me that one of the reasons I struggled with it, aside from a pre-disposition to intensely disliking science fiction, fiction and, well reading long books, is that I am used to reading informative, fact-based books, biographies and self-help books more typically. I am not supposed to be reading it to find out the meaning of life! That said Douglas Adams makes some fantastic life advice observations:
If you're dealing with somebody who has the sort of mentality which likes leaving hats on the pavement with bricks under them, you know perfectly well they won't give up. They'll get you in the end. As anyone acrimoiously divorced will tell you!
Life speaks in a voice to you, a voice which brings answers to the questions you ask of it. Except, of course, what the jiggery-pokery is life all about?
If we find something we can't understand, we like to call it something you can't understand, or indeed pronounce. That's science for you!
The only way of being in [someone's] company successfully is to keep a large stock of very placid faces and wear them at all times. Personally, I find having a resting bitch face can also help.
Anything that happens, happens. Anything that, in happening, causes something else to happen, causes something else to happen. Anything that, in happening, causes itself to happen again, happens again. Yup!
Nothing travels faster than the speed of light, with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys its own special laws. And gossip about oneself - the stuff you hate people knowing about you. Gossip about other people, however, has all the speed of a paralysed snail.
If there are times when you do NOT go back for your bag and other times when you do. It has yet to teach [us] how to distinguish between the two types of occasion. Agreed!
Let the past hold onto itself and let the present move foward into the future. If only!
But my favourite is:
The quality of any advice anyone has to offer has to be judged against the quality of life they actually lead.
And hence, why, I insist that if anyone tells me what to do, what I ought to do, what I should do, or what they think will be good for me, I tell them to pay me to do it. And then I judge!
Arthur is eventually separated from all the beings causing trouble in his life, and goes off on his travels, across the universe, in order to obtain some guidance and advice in what is probably the most charming part of the trilogy of five books: 'Mostly Harmless'. Seeking out the oracle's oracle, only to discover the Oracle doesn't know anymore, and suggests trying next door but warns not oracular advice. He eventually aquires the power of prayer:
Protect me from knowing what I don't need to know. Protect me from even knowing that there are things to know that I don't know. Protect me from knowing that I decided not to know about the things that I decided not to know about...Lord, Lord, Lord, [it's best to put that bit in, just in case] Lord, Lord, Lord. Protect me from the consequences of the above prayer.
Then Arthur settles down into contented sandwich-making, having realised how little he knew about how life actually works in his life. For example, he knew nothing particularly practical or useful, but he did discover how to fly, and that he could donate sperm and use the money to traverse the universe. Hence he knew nothing about Random, his daughter, who is in the habit of hitting people with rocks. What he hadn't expected to discover either was how difficult is it even getting to the difficult bit. In fact, it is the bit that is supposed to be easy which turns about to be practically impossible.
And then Ford Prefect returns...and life gets extraordinarily complicated again.
If Science Fiction is your thing: this book is a real gem. I really loved the humour of it - there's some serious laughing out loud to be done, but I personally, will be glad to get back to doing some serious reading, with words I can understand. And with that, I will zark off!