Book 1: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (4/5)
Earthman Arthur Dent and his spaz alien friend “from somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse” (12) Ford Prefect are each chugging three pints of bitter in an English pub prior to Earth’s destruction. Able to hitchhike aboard passing interstellar crafts, Ford, a writer for “the most remarkable book ever to come out of the great publishing corporations of Ursa Minor (6)—The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy—saves his friend Arthur from its destruction and into the clutches of a Vogon Constructor Fleet, or rather, into the clutches of the insidiously inane personalities of the Vogon aliens. Whether a gift or a curse, Arthur is soon able to understand Vogon speech (and particularly awful poetry, including the wrenched poem beginning with “O freddled gruntbuggly…” ) due to “probably the oddest thing in the Universe” (55)—the Babel Fish. Considering the Vogon’s ill-temperament towards hitchhikers, the unlikely duo are soon jettisoned into the expansive vacuum of space, which “…is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mindboggingly big it is” (70).
With the probability of 2276,709 to 1 against being rescued by a passing craft, the two are normalized within the confines of the stolen starship, The Heart of Gold, which had been stolen by the Zaphod Beeblebox, the President of the Galaxy. The ship with the Infinite Improbability Drive is crewed by the widely eccentric president, his Section ZZ 9 Plural Z Alpha-native tag-along Trillian (Tricia McMillan), and the paranoid android himself, Marvin. Unbeknownst to even himself, Zaphod is out to find Magrathea, the industry specialist of “custom-made luxury planet building” (102).
Their initial welcoming consisting of guided missiles, the ship turns on its Improbability Drive and is randomly shifted to the surface of the same planet a whale had recently descended upon in an amazing free-fall of self-discovery and splattered blubber, the occurrence their landing on the same planet 8,267,128 to 1 against. The seemingly abandoned surface and derelict innards of the planet factory’s office give rise, after an unfortunate bout of gassing, to the wondrous facilities of the factory in full swing. Just who are benefactors of the colossal project, what are their objectives, and how in good name of fjord engineer Slartibartfast will the quartet escape to The Restaurant at the End of the Universe?
The tumultuous cavalcade of silliness is typically unrelenting; something which can’t be said for the remaining four books, in my memory serves me correctly. Arthur should be described as a protagonist if he wasn’t also the whipping boy for the more free-willed, free-wheeling Zaphod and Ford. Arthur plays the silent role, more in the novel for comic relief at the expense of the monkey-like humans and their pathetic planet than for his sheer diligence, social prowess or keen insight. It’s Arthur’s role as lost boy amid the galaxy with a couple of crazies that’s the most entertaining bit in the premise. Sadly, like mentioned above, Arthur seems to be left out or seems to have taken a passive, backseat role. Some resulting sections of “coincidences” are simply too random to be funny and borders more on absurd than witty. This absurdity over wittiness is more prevalent in the sequel: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.