“A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker can have.”
Douglas Adams has hidden gems of advice like this one all through The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The first of a 5-part series, this book is mad and confusing and everything in between. The series started off as a radio show which then became a TV show, eventually culminating in a feature film.
Born in 1952 in Cambridge, England, Douglas Adams described himself as a “strange child”. He always liked science fiction and was commissioned to create a radio show for the BBC in 1977. This was how The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was born.
A funny, quirky and truly crazy show, it immediately built up a loyal fan base spanning generations. Then he was approached with a proposal to convert the series into a book. The paperback became a runaway bestseller and so did the 4 sequels that he wrote namely, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe; Life, the Universe and Everything; So Long and Thanks for All the Fish and Mostly Harmless.
Adams uses science fiction to discuss and comment on the simplest things we see around us. He doesn’t preach or philosophise. He just creates caricatures of the people we meet every day. Arthur Dent is the stereotype of the common man and Ford Prefect is the researcher who collects data for the most comprehensive guide to the galaxy.
He gave us Marvin the Paranoid Android, the perpetually depressed, super intelligent, incredibly pessimistic robot, who instantly became my favourite character. Adams had an imagination that was both child-like and extremely mature and he managed to create a series that would sustain long after he passed away in 2001.
The book starts off with the destruction of Planet Earth to make way for an inter-galactic spaceway. Arthur Dent is the second human left alive; the first being Trillian, girlfriend of Zaphod Beeblebrox, madcap President of the Universe, so to say.
Rescued by Ford Prefect, the two then set off on a journey around the universe, encountering different characters and different places, all of which Arthur deals with, with characteristic simplicity and bemusement. The interplay of the characters and the situations they are thrown into range from a whale falling out of the sky to meeting a supercomputer to finding out that all planets are ‘manufactured’.
This book is reminiscent of the P. G. Wodehouse genre of British humour, maybe because Adams is said to have been an influence on Wodehouse. Sarcasm and wit come through in every line. The richness of the characters and their small idiosyncrasies make them extremely lovable. This book takes you on a roller coaster ride around the universe and deposits you facedown back on earth. It is impactful in its own quirky way and it is obvious why it is still a bestselling book years after it was published.
The quotes from this book are still quoted in conversation and the gems of advice still make sense today. There are fan clubs dedicated to Adams and the Guide and conventions still glorify the revolution of humour he created. He is and will be an idol for generations of science-nerds and geeks alike.
Ayesha Sruti Ahmed