Review: A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Fair warning: this is going to be a short one.

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I recently read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.  It’s been on my to-read list for a few years.  Goodreads provides a snapshot of the book in its description:

Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.

Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide (“A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have”) and a galaxy-full of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox–the two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie and totally out-to-lunch president of the galaxy; Trillian, Zaphod’s girlfriend (formally Tricia McMillan), whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once upon a time zone; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot; Veet Voojagig, a former graduate student who is obsessed with the disappearance of all the ballpoint pens he bought over the years.

I’m giving Hitchhiker two out of five stars.

All told, this book was a disappointment.  Maybe that’s because I was playing the Expectation Game.  Truly, I thought that since many of my friends with different tastes in novels liked the book, it would be good.  But alas, no.

The book was short, but dedicated a lot of prose to descriptions of absurdity.  The narrative was geared toward humor, and fell completely flat.  I don’t find absurdity to be humorous, and I didn’t find Adams’ commentary on everyday aspects of Western life to be amusing.  The book was too short, didn’t tell much of a story, and was bogged down in details.  All I can say is that the prose was constructed beautifully, even if I didn’t like the story.

After I read the book (and, indeed, after I wrote that last paragraph), I headed to Hitchhiker’s Wikipedia page, where it was noted that the novel was originally a radio comedy broadcast.  That leads me to compare the book to a podcast, Welcome to Night Vale, which I want to like, but simply don’t.  Both are well-written, both have a narrow focus, and both derive their humor from absurdity and reality.  And unfortunately, it’s just not for me.

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