by Douglas Adams
Series: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy, #4Mass Market Paperback, 214 pg.
Del Rey, 1999
Read: June 14, 2016
Arthur had a swordfish steak and said it made him angry. He grabbed a passing waitress by the arm and berated her.
“Why’s this fish so bloody good?” he demanded, angrily.
“Please excuse my friend,” said Fenchurch to the startled waitress. “I think he’s having a nice day at last.”
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: this is my favorite Douglas Adams novel. Sure, The Hitchhiker’s Guide is fantastic and I love it and you can make a strong case that at least one of the Dirk Gently novels is his best (I expect I’ll be doing so in a couple of months) — but this is the one that does it for me.
Unlike the previous three, there is an actual narrative here — it’s not a collection of scenes, jokes, and vignettes loosely tied together. Arthur Dent arrives on Earth (no, really) after traipsing from one end of the galaxy to the next; from the end of the universe, to the beginnings of life on Earth; basically all throughout time and space (sadly, without the blue box). And now he’s trying to re-acclimate to life at home. Which has somehow not been destroyed, neither has his house. In fact, everything’s pretty much like it was before.
Just with everyone convinced that the Vogon Constructor Fleet was a CIA-induced Mass Hallucination. Not everyone believes it, but most do. Two people who don’t believe that are a man named Wonko the Sane and Fenchurch. Both of whom are pretty cool characters.
I’ll skip Wonko, because the name says everything. Fenchurch, on the other hand, is perfect. She’s everything that Trillian never got the chance to be (except in the semi-disastrous final chapters of Life, the Universe, and Everything. She’s funny, smart, sexy — just what Arthur needs. I’d happily read a book just about her.
There’s a mention of Zaphod — briefly — but that’s it. So the zaniness fell into Ford’s capable lap. I’ve always liked Ford better, anyway. And he’s able (as always) to pull off the zaniness, the comedy, the . . . everything without being quite the obnoxious twit that Zaphod is.
Ford’s his usual delusional, clueless, charming, drunken self.
Here was something that Ford felt he could speak about with authority.
“Life,” he said, “is like a grapefruit.”
“Er, how so?”
Well, it’s sort of orangy-yellow and dimpled on the outside, wet and squidgy the middle. It’s got pips inside, too. Oh, and some people have half a one for breakfast.”
“Is there anyone else out there I can talk to?”
Arthur comes out of this one looking pretty good, too. He’s not whining, he’s not just getting pulled around by his dressing gown wherever whim strikes Ford (or Zaphod). He’s mature, capable, witty. He sees a problem or two and solves them (even if one of those problems is just “who was that girl I almost met the other day”?). He’s almost a wholly different guy when he’s home. Which makes him a lot like the rest of us — which is sort of the point of Arthur since we first met him.
One of the highlights of the last book was the section about flying, I’m pretty sure I said that. The section here about flying is better — Arthur teaching Fenchurch, Arthur remembering how to do it in the first place — and then the two of them flying around. It’s just about perfect.
And, of course, there are little bits like:
Of course, one never has the slightest notion what size or shape different species are going to turn out to be, but if you were to take the findings of the latest Mid-Galactic Census report as any kind of accurate guide to statistical averages you would probably guess that the craft would hold about six people, and you would be right.
You’d probably guessed that anyway. The Census report, like most such surveys, had cost an awful lot of money and told nobody anything they didn’t already know — except that every single person in the Galaxy had 2.4 legs and owned a hyena. Since this was clearly not true the whole thing eventually had to be scrapped.
There’s a few things I’d love to go on and on about, but no one wants to read me gushing and gushing and gushing, so here are the assorted highlights:
- The zig at the end of the Prologue.
- Arthur’s biscuit/train station story. Seriously, I just love this.
- Rob Mckenna
- Wonko the Sane naming the world The Asylum and his house Outside the Asylum.
- Wonko the Sane’s name.
- All the California jokes. Clearly, he’d been vacationing there too much.
- The whole thing about the lizard government and democracy is both funny and relevant.
- Chapter 25 is just dandy.
The last chapter or two are a little weak, pretty close to the older books in tone and style. But they work, they are tied into the narrative and star Marvin. So who’s going to complain? Not me.
Really, I’ve got nothing but positive things to say about this. I love it. One of the easiest 5-star ratings I’ve ever given.