The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy
By Douglass Adams
Published by Dove Audio
Read by Douglass Adams
I have been a fan of the series this book was based on since a trip to England, many years ago when I was working on an archaeological dig. One night shortly before I left to return home some friends urged me to join them as they sat around a radio and listened to a show they described simply as “You have got to hear this!”
They were right. What I heard was an episode late in the second season of the original Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy radio series; one that took place on the planets that had passed the Shoe Event Horizon where everyone have evolved into birds and left the ground to live in the ear of a 13 mile high statue of Arthur Dent. I left England wondering how I would ever hear the rest of the story, although a few years later, the first book based on that series was published and I bought a copy immediately. And since back then a hardcover book only cost $8.95 I bought over a dozen of them to give away as presents.
Finally, National Public Radio presented the original radio series and I was able to find out how they all got to that very strange planet. It was worth the wait.
This is the story of Arthur Dent, who discovers that his house is about to be demolished in order to build an expressway by-pass and then, the next day while trying to stop that from happening, discovers that the same thing is about to happen to the Earth. He is saved by a friend with the improbable name, Ford Prefect, who is actually an alien doing research for the remarkable book “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.” Hence the name of the story.
Douglass Adams once explained that he got the idea for this while travelling across Europe while using once of those “Europe on Two Dollars a Day” type of books when one evening he was lying on the ground looking up at the stars (or I think that’s how he said it came to him. It’s been a long time since I heard that interview). Since the initial radio series, there has been a television series, a handful of books by Adams (and posthumous sequel by Eoin Colfer that I reviewed over a year ago here ) , three more series of radio plays to enacts the rest of the books, even though it was a radio series first, two LPs, a Hollywood movie, and a whole set of cult-like fans to be found at your average SF convention.
The story also spawned quite a few Internet memes, which is odd as it predated the Internet by years, but if, by some chance you have missed the entire series and any of its permutations, you might have seen posters, coffee mugs, etc with the number “42” on it. This is where it came from, being the answer to the ultimate question of Life the Universe and everything.
The stories are fun to read/listen to/watch and are distinctly British (except for the movie which got somewhat polluted by an American flavor long the way) and the important thing to know is that in each version, the story was never exactly the same, which was clever of Adams. It makes each version something worth experiencing because while the all start with Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Trillian, etc and with the destruction of the Earth, you never know for certain where it is going to end up until you get there. Of course it is possible that Adams just could not stand to keep telling the same story over and over again or else kept trying to tweak it, but there you go.
In any case, like any series not all the parts of it are as good as others, but while this book is the novelization of the first season of the radio play it is an excellent place to start and excellently written and very, very funny! So make sure you know where your towel is, stick a Babelfish in your ear and get ready for a trip across the galaxy!
I could not resist getting a copy of this particular edition of the audiobook as it is read by Douglass Adams himself. Now I am not automatically a fan of authors reading their own books. I know I am a mediocre reader at best, for example, but as I really enjoyed the book, I was curious as to how Adams read it.
It was strange. Not that he did not read it well. He read very well indeed, but I could not shake the feeling that he was imitating the actors who performed the radio series. Arthur Dent sounded like he did when performed by Simon Jones, Ford Prefect sounded like Geoffrey McGivern, Zaphod was a near perfect imitation of Mark Wing-Davey, Marvin the Paranoid Android sounded as he did when voiced by Stephen Moore and so forth. In fact he sounded so much like them, reading their lines in the exact same manner, that the few times he read a line differently, it sounded wrong.
I suppose I should not have been surprised. Adams worked closely with the cast of the radio series while it was being produced and legend has it that he sometimes only finished a script shortly before it was recorded. However, it was a delight to listen to him reading his own book and I recommend both the book and this recording.