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The Hitchhiker's Guide to Sucking

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Conner McCloud


Before I begin, I want to make something clear. In my entire life, only two books have produced actual physical responses in me. One, The Shining terrified me, and resulted in nightmares for several days. The other, The Hitchhiker's Guide To the Galaxy, caused me to literally drop the book because I was laughing so hard. I don't laugh out loud at comedians, and that's their only reason for being. So to me, that says a lot about the quality of the book.

That was all my freshman year in college. So about five years ago. I didn't have ready access to the other four books, so I never bothered to read them. In the back of my mind, I always planned to.

Enter the movie. I enjoyed the movie. Yes, they cut out a bunch of my favorite lines, but oh well. All in all, I found it thoroughly enjoyable.

Shortly thereafter, I went to buy The Bourne Ultimatum at Barnes and Noble, and happened to pass by The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. "At last in paperback in one complete volume, here are the five classic novels from Douglas Adams's beloved Hitchhiker series." "Includes the bonus story: 'Young Zaphod Plays It Safe.'" Needless to say, I'm still only two books into the life of David Webb, but a full five into the life of Aurthur Dent.

Naturally, the best place to start a story is at the begining. So I reread "Hitchhiker's", just to make sure i haven't forgotten anything. I didn't laugh out loud this time, but that wasn't the fault of the book. Quite the contrary, it was every bit as entertaining as the first time. I just knew what was coming, and had time to prepare for the particularly funny bits.

So I keep going, plowing headfirst into The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. I didn't laugh out loud this time, either. But I did chuckle a few times. All in all, it was good.

Sadly, that's the last time I can say that about the series.

I'm trying really really hard to come up with redeaming qualities of the last three books. I am, honest Injin. But it just isn't possible. I mean, sure, there were some high points. The story of the fellows from Krikkit first going into space was quite good. The initial explanation about how one learns to fly will likely find its way into my general vocabulary. But halfway through So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish even that has lost its charm.

Before I go on, let me make something perfectly clear. First, yes, I'm an American, raised on American humour. Although, apparently I occasionally spell it "humour." I am completely willing to admit that chances are, I just missed the point. Somewhere, something in my upbringing just made me incompatable with these books. Apparently, there are a lot of people who feel these books are the second coming of Christ. That's cool, I respect that. I'm still going to proceed to explain, in detail, exactly why they're all wrong. I am going to do this knowing full well that it is entirely possible that the fault lies with me.

Now, where was I? Oh, right.

Part of the problem, I think, is one of plot. In various reviews of the theatrical adaptation, many people complained that the plot was overdeveloped. Adams' work isn't about plot, its about characters and comedy and blah blah blah. I believe Superpig refered to the books as the opposite of sitcoms. At the time, thinking about "Hitchhiker's", this made sense. It was just a bunch of random shit happening for no apparent reason. Then the book ended, and you still didn't have an apparent reason. And that was OK, it worked.

Oh, except for all the "Why did I become president and zap my brain and steal this ship" bitching from Zaphod that formed the basis for most of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. For an author that doesn't care about plot, he sure went out of his way to set himself up for a sequal.

But that was still cool. At first. Then, the "lets just do random shit" kicked back in, and we find ourselves with Ford and Arthur stuck on a prehistoric Earth. But that's not the problem. The problem is that there are also a bunch of telephone cleaners and hair dressers stuck on a prehistoric Earth. Apparently, the very presence of these telephone cleaners and hair dressers is sufficient to cause the native inhabitants to die out. This leads to the natural conclusion that Arthur is decendent from these telephone cleaners and hair dressers. All without the knowledge of the pan-dimensional super intelligent mice that were, supposedly, responsible for the development of Earth.

At this point, Adams officially crossed the line between "random shit" and "completely retarded." Sure, it was a little funny when you find out that the ultimate question is "What is the product of six and nine" [heh heh, six times nine doesn't equal fourty-two, narf], but the underlying stupidity of the whole thing is just too much. Was it really necessary? Did it serve anything to have this revelation?

To a certain extent, yes, it did. It introduced a certain symmetry to the book. You see, for me, the two best parts of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy are as follows:

(1) The parallels between Arthur's home being demolished and Arthur's planet being demolished.

(2) The pan-dimensional super intelligent mice that have been controlling our destines for all of history.

So what is the first thing Adams does in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe? Reveal that there are no parallels between Arthur's home being demolished and Arthur's planet being demolished. His home was demolished to make way for a bypass, and his planet was demolished to keep the pan-dimensional super intelligent mice from learning the Ultimate Question to Life, the Universe, and Everything.

What is the last thing Adams does in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe? Reveal that there are no pan-dimensional super intelligent mice. Instead, there's just pan-dimensional idiot mice who apparently don't question the overnight evolution of their experiment from primitive "cave men" to telephone cleaners and hair dressers.

This brings us to Life, the Universe, and Everything. At this point, any claim that Adams doesn't write plot-driven stories goes right out the window. Even seemingly pointless happenings are immediately put to good use in furthering the story. The single biggest example of this is obviously the story about the computer that wants to blow up the Universe. It starts off as an interesting little aside about how you should never try to solve anything with potatoes, and ends up being the crucial bit of information necessary to save the day. Why did Trillian even watch that segment of history? It has nothing to do with anything.

Then there's the fact that Adams is apparently on a crusade to destroy everything that made "Hitchhiker's" entertaining. Many people have speculated that if we knew exactly why the bowl of petunias had thought ["Oh no, not again"] we would know a lot more about the nature of the Universe than we do now. Apparently, many people are wrong. Did the knowledge make that section more entertaining than it already was? No, not at all. Frankly, that was the best section in the book. Did it render one of the more interesting parts of the initial book completely pointless? Yes, absolutely so.

That scene also set up the basis for later plot devices, but we're still a solid book away from that.

The final gripe with Life, the Universe and Everything is the ending. First, there's the nice climactic "oh shit I'm about to detonate the bomb and destroy the Universe, why oh why did I want to play cricket?" moment. This pissed me off to no end. Completely unneccessary. Then, they throw in this Prak fellow who explains that you can't know both the ultimate question and the ultimate answer at the same time. This didn't bother me all, actually, but I feel like pointing out the implied "Fuck off and stop asking me what the god damn question is" that Adams was classy enough not to actually say. Personally, I felt the revelation in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe about Arthur not knowing the question was sufficient to settle that once and for all, but apparently not.

Enter So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. Now, right off the bat, I recall several people complaining about how Earth was brought back at the end of the movie. If any of these people have read So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, they are too stupid to breed.

Other than that, I don't have much to say about this one. I wasn't impressed, but nothing particularly horrible happens. At least, not at first. You're well into Mostly Harmless before you realize how crappy So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish is.

I hope, after all I've written thus far, my reasons for disliking Mostly Harmless should be pretty clear. Think about it for a moment while I check out the Lounge really quick. I've been working on this for three hours now, so I need a break.

OK, I'm back.

Before I get into Mostly Harmless I should probably mention the bonus story "Young Zaphod Plays It Safe." I don't understand it at all. I suspect something happened, but I don't know what. There were a few cleverly written bits, so I give it high marks.

Moving on, the single worst thing about Mostly Harmless is the treatment of the Vogons. Up to this point, you have been treated to Vogons that are completely devoid of imagination and generally incapable of any real thought. Hence their knack for beurocracy.

And yet in Mostly Harmless you discover that Captain Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz of the Galactic Hypersace Planning Council manages to mastermind a hostile takeover of the Guide publishers and creates some fancy new Guide that can manipulate space and time. How does that not require imagination and thought? It just doesn't make sense. Sure, there's a certain logic behind Mr Jeltz being obsessed with destroying Earth. But why the overly complex plot?

Fortunately, up to that point the book was actually quite superb. You encounter such wonderful scenes as the heartfelt and emotional goodbye when Fenchurch dies. And the shock and awe that Arthur experiences when he discovers that more than just the one copy of Earth survived. Or the way Adams doesn't even remotely forshadow Arthur's death fifty times throughout the book. Personally, I wouldn't have been able to help but remind the reader every couple pages that Arthur can't die until he gets to Stavro Mueller Beta. After all, this fact wasn't menioned at all in So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, so its possible they might have forgotten. But then, that's why I'm not a world class author.

No, I didn't like the fact that Adams felt compelled to not only kill off three of the original characters, but to introduce two more just to kill them off as well. But that's OK, I don't have to like every decision an author makes. However, I do expect a certain quality of execution that I don't feel was present in Mostly Harmless.

So there you have it. Conner McCloud's in depth analysis of the complete lunacy of a world in which The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy can be heralded as a beaken of literary perfection. Please, feel free to explain to me the various ways in which I missed some point. Perhaps once I'm aware of the point, I will be able to like the series. At the very least, I'd like to look back on the first book with untainted memories, even if I never like the rest.

Actually, I'm not quite done. Being a developers journal I'm going to menion my programming goals. I'm currently working on a card game. In my head, its a fairly generic framework that will simplify the creation of multi-player games. More importantly, it will simplify the creation of AI bots to play these multi-player games. I'm learning wxWindows to do the windowing stuff, but there is also going to be the ability to do it all at the command line. Less overhead for training bots, but with the ability to have a handy interface for humans playing the game as well. Hopefully, I'll have an initial release of a Cribbage game by the end of Summer. Plus maybe Blackjack and Texas Hold'em. Once the graphics stuff is done, creating new games should be a breeze.

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Yeah, the best advice I can give to people reading HHGTG is "read that one, then stop". The books just went downhill from the first and were pretty-much humor-free by the end.

After the second book, all I can remember is that there was a society that collapsed because it made too many shoes, a woman that was cloned billions of times, the bowl of petunias that was reincarnated as a flightless bat, and something about Marvin's leg. It was just a big pointless muddle.

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