1000 Books In 10 Years; Vol. 4: The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adam

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy already has a huge cult following (whatever that cliché means), so it hardly needs a seal of approval from me, but still, I shall give it my seal of approval! It is a sharp, witty, clever, funny book, which is a quick and fun read. You cant ask for much more.

It may seem like light fluff at times, but there is some biting political satire within these pages. Such as the definition of what a president job description really is: “The president is always a controversial choice, always an infuriating but fascinating character. His job is not to wield power, but to draw attention away from it.” Living in Canada and having the Queen (or King) as a figure head, an anachronism of sorts, who serves not as a true member of the body politic, but merely as a symbol, I can see where Adams is coming from. But what he is saying is that not only is the Queen a figure head, but even elected officials, like the president, are mere figure heads and don’t really have the type of authority and power people wished they did. When one considers the interrelated relationship shared between business and state, and the influence lobbyists have on political docket, it is scary to think of how right Adams is (Separation of church and state? Yeah, good idea, now can we PLEASE have a SEPARATION OF BUSINESS AND STATE!!! THANK YOU!!!). People who are never elected to office, businesses, lobbyists, often have more impact in the political realm than the officials the people have elected into office. Businesses that can afford to send an army of lobbyists to Washington will have more impact on what gets passed than literally millions of voters. The comment which Adams makes is actually only a footnote, but it is so heavily weighted that enough books could be written on the concept to fill a presidential library. But the political satire does not end there. The book is peppered with comments like Zaphod’s proclamation that if “there is anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now.” Such a transparent decree from a president has never been heard outright, but has too often been put into action! Adams also softens our political arena, with off handed comments like: “The only sort of Vogon a Dentrassi liked to see is an annoyed one.” This is clearly meant as a water downed version of “the only good (fill-in-the-blank) is a dead (fill-in-the-blank). Such extreme views are commonly spouted like so much spittle out of an inarticulate fool’s mouth (usually a screaming drill sergeant who is trying to dehumanize an entire people to his cadets in training), but Adams creates a universe where prejudices and tense interracial relations manifest, not in a wish for extermination, but rather as a mild inconvenience for those “others”. If only our hatred was as mild.

Taoist ideas seem to slip through at moments as well, whether intended or not. Trillian, one of the many peripheral characters, deduces that the reason Zaphod (not to be confused with Zod, completely different fictional universe) “had had such a wild and successful life was that he never really understood the significance of anything he did.” There seems to be a suggestion that one can succeed by following one’s innate intuition, and not by over thinking. To do by not doing. To know without naming. For that which has a name is not the true Tao… you know, stuff like that.

 

 

And speaking of naming, what is it that we have named a robot? I’ll tell you what, if we ask the Encyclopaedia Galactica, and the Sirius Cybernetics Corporations, and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, we will likely come up with completely different answers. In fact, we most definitely will. Adams offers three different definitions to the word robot, from three different sources, and comes up with three different definitions. Much as we would if we were to look up a word in Webster’s, the OED, Wikipedia and your own word processor’s built-in dictionary. It speaks to how language, even with constants like dictionaries, continues to be an evolving creature and how people who come from different contexts, slight as the differences might be, can end up completely misunderstanding each other as their definition of a common word may be drastically different. Bitch. Bastard. Piss. Depending on the context, these words can garner drastically different responses. In the U.K. for example, ‘piss’ is used interchangeably with ‘fuck’, but in North America considered only slightly vulgar and is a reasonable way to describe one who is mildly upset. Have a Yankee chatting it up with a Gov’na, and all of a sudden we have two drastically different conversations. Even a word as commonly understood as ’father’. As somebody whose father was entirely absent, or entirely present and nurturing, or present and abusive, and even if all three people spout off the same definition, they will all have very different ideas of what a father is, or aught to be. Sometimes we learn words through context and they have a social meaning that is removed from a words original meaning (words like ignorant and rude both mean without knowledge, or to be unaware, but most people use both words to refer to behaviour which is socially discourteous or impolite). Adams seems to be aware of this type of play throughout the novel as he often employs the type of banter between people that made Catch-22 so entertaining.

 

 

One of the more interesting, off handed comments of the book is when Trillian defines “catalogue” as an “illusion”. There are some fascinating implications to this comment that feed in the type of argument Jean Baudrillard would LOVE!!!!! We often see a catalogue (in this context meaning a guide exhibiting commercial goods) as ‘real’. We see the items, as they are presented, and assume that what we see is what we are going to get. Whether it be a toy that is in use by a smiling child, a necklace hung on a beautifully sloping neck that is below a perfectly formed chin, pearl-white and symmetrical smile with a perfectly applied dark lipstick in place, or a hamburger that is stacked with fresh vegetables and a thick juicy paddy of pure beef and a fresh bun. In reality though, these things are not real. We are not going to get a child that will be occupied in perfect splendour, or make the necklace look as it is presented, and we all know that when we get a Big Mac, it NEVER looks as it does in the commercial. The images we get in a catalogue are nothing more than illusions which we often mistakenly project reality onto.

 

 

In finishing the novel I can help but think that perhaps Adams, like myself, is suffering (or rather ‘was suffering’ since he is no longer with us) from some sort of Major Depressive Disorder, such as Anhedonia. In describing the life of a whale who came into being mid-air and shortly their after died from impact with the ground (gravity, thou art a heartless bitch!) , the omnipresent narrator notes that “the exploded carcass of a lonely sperm whale that hadn’t lived long enough to be disappointed with its lot” is all that is left of the being. The implication being that such a short life is almost enviable since had the whale lived a normal life span, it would have done so only to find disappointment in life. Hahahaha… oh wait, that’s not funny, its sad. But as they say: “Life, loathe it or ignore it, you can’t like it.” And by they, I mean the Marvin, another peripheral character through which Adams speaks. Its alright Doug, I know how you feel. *hugs* Its like they say, “I’d rather be happy than right”, and by they, I mean Slariblartfast, another character through which Adams speaks. Of course the implication being that we should either be perpetually miserable with the truth, or live in bliss and ignorance. Hmm…. I always think that the chances of finding out what really is going on are so absurdly remote that the only thing to do is to say hang the sense of it and just keep yourself occupied. Wait a minute… that’s not what I wrote, that’s what Slariblartfast said! I should have “quote” marks around that. Its like Adams was writing stuff right out of my own brain! And of course, Marvin, the robot with feelings, the perfect reasoning machine is… depressed. Of course. It reminds me of the time I ran into a friend from high school who told me that I seemed much happier in high school. My response, of course I was, I hadn’t fully developed my reason skills yet!

 

 

So would you rather be happy, or right? If you’d rather be right and are now looking for a way to occupy your time until you are delivered by death from this perpetual scene of misery known as life, then you might as well make some time to read this one, it may serve to distract for a little while at least.

 

 

Cheers!

 

 

P.S.  If you like this…

 

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.  He shares a similar humour and appraoch to word play.

 

Neuromancer by William Gibson. Not sure why, but this book kept on popping up in my head.  Outside of being written around the same time, and being science fiction, it has little else in common with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but it is interesting to walk your way into a world that is complete fabricated and unlike the one in which you are in, especially when the vision are decades old.

 

The Man In The High Tower, by Philip K. Dick.  Again, this one is not very much like The Hitchker’s Guide To The Galaxy, outside of the fact that it is a celebrated sci-fi work, but again, like Gibson and Adams, Dick creates an interesting world that is a departure from our own and plays out similar post-modern themes.  You won’t laugh out loud, but you will be entertained and encouraged to think.

 

Any collection of short stories by Philip K. Dick.  Often time Dick takes a more, at-ease approach to his story telling when he is writing short fiction.  If you enjoyed The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, you will likely enjoy Dick’s short stories.

 

 

 

 

Up next…. Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s… Poor Folk!  (no, not Crime and Punishment, or The Idiot, or The Devils, or the Brother’s Kavamasoasdoff… those are like a 1000+ pages… I gotta get 100 books done in 365, and I’m not going to get that accomplished reading War and Peace or Don Quixto!).

 

 

Words I thought I’d look up. In this case, there were more than a few, so the word-look-up segment gets its own note!

 

The Bugblatter Beast of Traal: “a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you.”

 

 

Niggly: Whew! Not as bad as it sounds. Apparently it means to be annoyed with trivial things, or to be bad tempered about insignificant things. Still… I am NOT going to be using this word anytime in the near future!

 

QED (from the Urban Dictionary): Originally Latin meaning “quod erat demonstrandum” or “which was to be shown or proven”, now used mainly by physics students to insult someone when something is proven wrong or false, typically with the words Mother Fucker added for effect. Used in a sentence: “Ha! Your wrong.. QED mother fucker!” Synonyms: PWN3D and Booyah!

 

Parsecs: 3.262 light years. Used in a sentence: “You’ve never heard of the Millennium Falcon?…It’s the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs.” (Most other ships take up to 18 parsecs, which means the Millennium Falcon is fucking fast as all hell!)

 

Micturations: The product of one’s urination? Umm… used in a sentence:

“Oh freddled gruntbuggly

Thy micturations are to me

As plurdled gabbleblotchits on a lurgid bee.”

That is all you’re getting out of me on this one. I am NOT an expert on Vogon poetry.

 

Ix: In English Ix is the name of a King that hit on Hera and whom Zeus, in a jealous rage tied to a perpetually turning wheel, which, if you are a heathen pagan who believes this shit, is turning to this very day! In the language of Betelgeuse Five (and the context of this book) translates to a ‘boy who is not able to satisfactorily explain what a Hrung is, nor why is should choose to collapse on Betelgeuse seven.’ Betelgeuse is of course the Red Star of Orion.

 

Pondermatic: A machine that thinks or ponders. I think. I should probably ask the Pondermatic, it would likely have the correct answer.

 

Sass: To know or be aware, have sex with.

 

Hoopy: A really together guy.

 

Frood: A really amazingly together guy who likely knows where his towel is.

 

Photon: Well… the have photon torpedoes in Star Trek, so I figured this must be a real word, either that or Adams was appropriating. Here’s what it means: quantum of electromagnetic radiation: a quantum of visible light or other form of electromagnetic radiation demonstrating both particle and wave properties. A photon has neither mass nor electric charge but possesses energy and momentum. Used in a sentence: “Load photon torpedoes…. FIRE!!!!!”

 

Atomineers: One who eers atoms. Much as an Engineer eers engines.

 

Physucturalist: ?!?!?!?!? That’s a made up word Douglas!

 

Predilection: To have a preference for.

 

Diurnal: One who is naturally active in the day time.

 

Madranite: A fiction type of oar peculiar to the fictional world of the novel, not entirely unlike

Unobtainium.

 

Ionosphere: Ionized layers in a planet’s upper atmosphere. Don’t ask me what ionized means. It just means to produce Ions, then I would have to look up ions, and I don’t feel like that.

 

Visigoths: A mental picture, or something seen in a dream or trance.

 

Quadraphonic: A four channel sound system.

 

Biros: A brand of ball point pen.

 

Fait accompli: Latin for something that is already done.

 

Anachronism: The representation of somebody or something which is misplaced in chronological time.

 

Scything: That act of cutting with a scythe (a tool for mowing or reaping).

 

Papier mache: French, for chewed up paper. I mean, we all know what paper machete is, but now we know the origin. Chewed paper? Seriously? WTF?!?!?!

 

Prostetnic: A formal name that is Vogon in origin.

 

Scintillating: Dazzling or impressive.

 

Diodes: An electronic current converter.

 

Hyper spatial: Excessive + space. You do the math.

 

Polystyrene: The white foam peanut shit you get in packages.

 

Petunias: A tropical plant with bright flowers.

 

Encephalographic: A radiographic examination of the brain? That is a real word? Seriously?

 

Extrovert: An outgoing person with an interest in life outside of themselves (kind like me).

 

Philology: The study of language.

 

Harmonic: Physics; relating to integral multiple of frequency: describes a frequency that is an integral multiple of a fundamental frequency. Or the culmination of notes and sounds that sound pleasing together (which is ENTIRELY subjective!)

 

Fjords: A long narrow inlet with steep sides or cliffs. I cant believe that one was a word!

 

Myxomatosis: I’m pretty sure this WAS a made-up word, but it now apparently is a reference to a type of illness rabbits have, an illness HUMANS made up and delivered to the rabbit population in hopes of controlling their numbers! How evil is man! Also the name of a Radio Head song.

 

Pan- dimensional: The Greek God on nature, OR, a moon of Saturn + the measurement of size, OR, co-ordinates for space AND time… I’m not sure what that adds up to.

 

Googolplex: The number “1” followed by “10” to the power of “100”. Or in other words, a 1 with 100 zeros after it. I actually learned that from watching Square One as a child (oh how I miss Mathnet). Google appropriated the word for obvious reason.

 

Vectors: Sacred Hindu texts? Really? Oh wait, Wikipedia says: In elementary mathematicsa Euclidean vector (sometimes called a geometric[1] or spatial vector [2], or – as here – simply a vector) is a geometric object that has both a magnitude (or length) and direction. Well… at least that’s what is says today. Who know what it will say tomorrow?

 

Disputant: One who is disputing or arguing a case.

 

Hyperbolic:of geometric system: produced by or relating to a geometric system in which two lines can pass through any point in a plane without inters. Wow… that’s like, far out man.

 

Omni-cognate: A book collecting separate works.

 

Ciceronicus: The names of a sun, which I assume was named after Cicero, the Roman poet… but who knows?!?!!??!

 

Indefatigable: Never showing signs of fatigue.

 

Multicorticoid: The have multiple cortcoids. Yup… that’s what I do when I cant find the meaning. Perhaps is has something to do with acid reflex.

 

Perspicutron: Of Spicuntron (which is a given name).

 

Messianic: There are four definitions… I’m going to go with a ‘liberator’ or something to be done with great enthusiasm.

 

Demarcation: To set boarders. You like, like they did at the Treaty of Westphalia.

 

Verities: Something that is true. Really? So why didn’t you just say that? Make me look this shit up!

 

Stentorian: Loud. Seriously? I think Adams has to big a vocabulary!

 

Ancillary: Something that provides support.

 

Gas: In the context of “He’s such a gas!” Not that anybody really uses that phrase, but apparently it means somebody who is entertaining while saying something without substance.

 

Perspex: A trademark for a tough, transparent, acrylic plastic that can be used in place of glass.

 

Baroque: A highly flamboyant or ornamented style of music or architecture.

 

Penultimate: Next to last.

 

Subetha: Beneath or below Etha. If its good enough for me, it should be good enough for you!

Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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