Book review: Life, the Universe and Everything () by Douglas Adams (The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide, Wings Books, 1996)
Everything important and then some is examined in this third book, when Arthur Dent and his companions find they must avert Armageddon and save the Universe for life as we know it (or think we know it!).
The interesting thing about Life, the Universe and Everything is that it actually has a plot, and a fairly coherent one at that. Arthur and Ford are still on prehistoric Earth and not having a great time at that. Arthur considers going mad roundabout the time Ford detects a weak alien signal of some sort. They find a travelling sofa, and once they catch it, end up in modern day London. At Lord’s Cricket Ground, to be precise.
There, they encounter some strange, white cricket-playing robots with murderous intent and also Slartibartfast, the Magrathean who won awards for his fjord work on Norway on Earth 1.0 (book 1). Slartibartfast has come with his cutting-edge starship Bistromath (to all intents and purposes an Italian bistro, because numbers in a restaurant is a science all of its own), and with it, he manages to whisk the two weary space travellers away in the hunt for the five parts of a cricket gate.
The cricket gate, or rather, the key to the lock that imprisons the planet Krikkit (a planet whose people were so hell bent on destroying the rest of the universe when they discovered they were not alone that they had to be locked away for good), is scattered over the universe and it would be a lot better for the universe if the Krikkit robots didn’t get hold of all the parts of the key first. The Krikkit Wars were pretty darn horrendous and the fact that cricket is a perfectly ordinary pastime on planet Earth (not to mention there’s a country with the same name as one of the galaxy’s worst curse words) just shows how ridiculously behind and tactless we are on this planet.
Spoilers now, towels at the ready!
During the hunt for the five parts of the key, Trillian gets fed up with Zaphod’s brooding back on the Heart of Gold, and decides she’s had enough and teleports herself to a party, where Ford and Slartibartfast later emerge. Meanwhile, on the way to the party, Arthur gets his teleportation redirected to a mountain on the same planet, where he encounters the fearsome Agrajag. Reincarnation has been a bitch for this being: in every incarnation, it seems Arthur has been the means of his demise in one way or another. Agrajag is out for the sort of revenge Arthur personally isn’t keen on. Escaping the cavern, Arthur discovers the art of flying (throw yourself at the ground and miss it, by being sufficiently distracted at just the right moment so you forget all about gravity) and then eventually meets up with the guys at the party.
Marvin makes his entrance in this book by making conversation with Zem the mattress, in a swamp on Squornshellous Zeta. He was supposed to give the speech at the grand opening of a huge bridge supposed to revitalise the economy. However, in holding this speech, the entire bridge collapsed and sunk in the swamp, so he was sort of just left there. That is, until the Krikkit robots come to take him away to utilise his brilliant mind. They just didn’t quite expect the impact of plugging him into their system …
Life, the Universe and Everything is delightfully whimsical, just like its predecessors. Perhaps it’s not as satirical of society in general, it’s still definitely has a few truths regarding going to restaurants, and the whole “Somebody Else’s Problem” field is brilliant. That’s how it works with a lot of things. You tend not to notice things that your brain classes as Somebody Else’s Problem.
The story was actually originally meant as a Tom Baker Doctor Who film plotline, Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen, but it was never made. (Douglas Adams used to work on scripts for Doctor Who back in the day.) Instead, it became a Hitchhiker’s novel.
As the omnibus I’m reading is American, this book contains the biggest difference between the US and UK editions: the explanation behind the Rory. In the UK edition, the Rory (the Silver Bail of Peace in the key to the imprisoned planet of Krikkit) is given out for the Most Gratuitous Use of the Word “Fuck” in a Serious Screenplay, and that’s that. In the US edition, pretty much a whole page has been added around this, and the Rory is instead given out for the Most Gratuitous Use of the Word “Belgium” in a Serious Screenplay. Arthur is baffled by this, because as far as he’s concerned, it’s a flattish European country “with all the EEC and the fog”, not one of the most offensive words in the entire Galaxy. Which is an interesting change. Apparently, the F word was too much for the US publishers. That, and small things like changing “torch” into “flashlight” makes me want to get a UK omnibus as well, for good measure.
A lot of people will probably say that the first book is the best and then it’s a downward slope from there, but I disagree. The first two are brilliant, the third (this one) is brilliant as well, if more of a free-standing story. The first two are more interlinked, and it’s not so much two novels but one story split into two parts (partially down to time constraints and Douglas Adams’s inability to keep deadlines). The next one in the series, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, I’m not too keen on, but the final instalment, Mostly Harmless, I really enjoy. Anyway. Book three is a classic. After all, Marvin composes a lullaby in it! 🙂
4 out of 5 flolloping mattresses.
2011 marks the 10th anniversary of the death of British comedian, author, genius, procrastinator and technology geek Douglas Adams, which I think is something worth commemorating and will therefore be posting several posts related to him and his works spread over the year. Today, 11 March (in 1952), marks his birthday. This year would’ve been his 59th, and he would probably have bought himself a pair of iPads just to celebrate.