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Book review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Book review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

In celebration of the Great Big Science Read I revisited one of my favourite books, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the science fiction comedy by Douglas Adams.

I confess science fiction has never grabbed me as a genre, unless you count enjoying the first couple of series of the X-Files before it became overly keen on conspiracy theories. But for me at least, that’s partly what makes The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy so special. It’s an exception to my rule.

The plot is not the strength of the book for me. Rather, I love the book for the details, the asides and the tangents that Adams launches into.

Having said that, the basic premise is this: Arthur Dent is a seemingly ordinary man and the only human survivor when the Earth is demolished to make way for a hyperspatial express way through the Solar System.

Dent is saved by his friend Ford Prefect, an alien hitchhiker who has been living incognito on Earth for the previous 15 years. Prefect introduces Dent to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Think of the guide as a tablet version of a Lonely Planet guide – well, more Lonely Universe really – but on steroids. It has the reassuring words “DON’T PANIC” printed on the cover.

We follow Dent’s escape from Earth and the adventures that ensue. For those that haven’t read the book I don’t want to give away what happens, but these adventures include an episode of torture by poetry written by a Vogon. Adams describes Vogons as “one of the most unpleasant races in the galaxy” and their poetry as the third worst in the universe.

In one of multiple delicious examples of Adams’ very British clever-but-absurd humour he writes how the reading of one such Vogon poem: “Ode To a Small Lump of Green Putty I Found In My Armpit One Midsomer Morning”, was said to have killed four individuals and caused another to gnaw off one of his own legs.

Adams mixes this humour with creations inspired by physics. The Infinite Improbability Drive, which powers the spaceship the Heart of Gold in the book, was inspired by quantum mechanics and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Adams applied the behaviour of the very small to the very big. The drive makes the infinitely improbable probable, enabling travel the length of the universe in a “nothingth of a second”. Even better, though, it’s powered by a nice hot cup of tea.

If you haven’t read this book and are looking for a light, entertaining, giggle-inducing read with an intelligent, science flavour, I highly recommend it. And if you’ve read it already, read it again, it’s just as funny the second and third time around!

By Jude Dineley @judedineley

Read about science book recommendations from scientists, engineers, authors and everyday people

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