Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Series

There are actually quite a few science fiction series but I would like to finish with this one for now and move on to break the monotony. I will probably be back with another series later covering the ones I have missed out here. The last one in this series is a completely different kind of work: it is a science fiction spoof. It is cult classic and complete laughing riot. I am sure this series will be familiar to everyone: it is the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Series” by Douglas Adams. What started as a weekly series on radio became a series of books.

This series is one science fiction series that has probably spawned the largest number of quotes. Even the title of each one of the books is so memorable that they have become catch phrases: “Restaurant at the End of the Universe’, “Life, the Universe and Everything”, “So Long and Thank you for all the Fish” and “Mostly Harmless”. It is also filled with a whole lot of interesting concepts that are so wildly imaginative that they can induce laughter but at the same time not really stupid all together. They seem to make sense in a strange way even to the serious reader of science fiction.

The plot as such is simple. The earth is to be destroyed to build the intergalactic pathway and the people of earth are blissfully unaware even of the existence of alien races and the earth gets destroyed. The hero manages to escape thanks to his alien friend who has taken residence on earth to write his encyclopedia ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’. After that the two of them team up with another alien and a woman from earth and go on a crazy adventure. The plot line is interesting but that is not what really matters. What matters is the delicious satire on human existence that the author brings out using this story as medium.


The author manages to seamlessly blend various kinds of humor in the book: dry satirical humor, humor through zany ideas, a general comic narrative and humor through character quirks for instance. It is one book that keeps you laughing from the first page to the last and at the same time you will feel it has given you some food for thought as well. Let me conclude this with a few of instances to show what I am talking about.

The author takes a jibe at how people can twist logic to prove whatever they want. The story universe has a fish called Babel fish which when put into a person’s ear can translate any language into the person’s language. So the author says its existence proves nonexistence of God. Rationale being God exists by faith and existence cannot be empirically proved. But existence of something like Babel fish could not have naturally evolved and hence offers empirical evidence of God’s existence. This is a contradiction with previous premise that God’s existence cannot be empirically proved and hence God does not exist.

Let me now give an example of zany ideas. One is the improbability engine which powers the engine that powers the spaceship the protagonist travels. The concept being it exists by its sheer improbability by making its appearance in the region of highest improbability. Apparently the engine was brought into being by a sweeper in the lab reflecting on the sheer impossibility of an engine inventing itself. Then there is the overall idea that the earth is computational engine invented by rats for their experiments. There are many more like that.

In terms of comic narrative, consider this. The protagonist’s friend tells him that if they are lucky the aliens would throw them out of the ship. Then he asks what if they are unlucky. The friend replies that the alien ship captain will probably insist on reading his poetry to them before throwing them out. In terms of character quirks, the one that comes to the mind immediately is the depressed robot, Marvin. The robot is so in character that every time it makes it appearance; it makes you laugh with its pessimistic comments.

I can keep raving about this book. But in a nut shell it is a must read for anyone, not just hardcore science fiction buff. But a word of warning: the humor is an intelligent brand of British humor. So people who are challenged in the intelligence department are advised to give this book a skip.

Last Post in the series: Oryx and Crake Series

8 comments:

  1. Hahaha! What an exit comment TF! Like the Emperor's new clothes :) 'If you are a sinner, you cannot see the clothes' :) So, who dares say he will not read the book can label himself challenged in the intelligence department :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. I never thought of it that way while writing it, Suresh. But I guess many people read or pretend to have read some of those intellectual books to avoid appearing stupid.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is one of my all time favourites. Your overview brought back old memories. How can I forget the number 42!

    It must be hard to summarize a book of such galactic proportions in so few lines. However, you have done ample justice to the precis. The whole saga is rippling with humour and in my opinion, it is next only to Catch 22 in the medium.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks umashankar. I am glad you think I did justice to this series.

      Delete
  4. A hugely popular series :)

    On a different note; have you read 'God's Debris' by Scott Adams.

    ReplyDelete
  5. It is one of my favourite series. Even though I later realized that it was more of a parody of Foundation series. I loved the first three parts and hated the last two.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have read only the first 3. Didn't know it was a parody of Foundation - guess it was more a generic science fiction spoof.

      Delete