I’m a sucker for bad jokes. Especially puns and one-liners. Normally, I’m put off by dumb humor, but when smart humor is hidden in dumb humor, well, then I’m impressed. When the movie version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy came out in 2005 I was finishing up high school (anyone want to guess my age?). I don’t remember if I went to the theater to see it or even who I was with. What I do remember is screaming with ghoulish laughter while everyone else around me sighed dramatically and scrunched up their foreheads.
At the time, I didn’t even know Hitchhiker’s was a book (shows you where my priorities were). But now, having grown up at bit (emphasis on bit), I’ve found Douglas Adam’s original novel of the same name to be just as hilarious as the movie (surprisingly, the movie adaptation follows the book with substantial integrity). Since the genre of science-fiction generally focuses on very serious matters, say, for example, the fate of the universe, it can be refreshing to inject the humor of parody, irony, puns, authorial intrusions, witticisms, satire, sarcasm, etc (Adams does all of these) into that set-up. What does that set up in Hitchhiker’s look like, exactly?
Protagonist Arthur Dent is protesting the demolition of his house in order build a new bypass. Meanwhile, his friend Ford Prefect (who is actually an alien disguised at a human) decides to inform Arthur that his protestations aren’t going to matter for very long (all of about five minutes) since another alien race is about to destroy the entire earth in order to build their interstellar bypass. The only escape is simple: just get beamed up onto that selfsame alien spaceship because, what’s the worst that could happen?
I smile now to think about it. Hitchhiker’s closely resembles, to my mind, what Catch-22 would look like as a space opera.
My slight critique of the Hitchhiker’s series—it’s five books in total (Eion Colfer’s contribution doesn’t count since I heard it was terrible) is best illustrated in analogy: Have you ever been to a standup show or some other comedic event (could be your uncle during Thanksgiving dinner) and the prevailing experience is that you crack up so incessantly that it literally begins to hurt? Like, your stomach muscles, the back of your head, and your deflated lungs actually ache? Or is that just me? In any case, I think of Hitchhiker’s as kind of like that. I can only take single volume increments before I’m in pain. Too much of a good thing, maybe.
Nevertheless, if you’ve read enough science-fiction and fantasy to recognize its long-embedded tropes and clichés, you’ll be delighted to see them roasted over a bed of hot ionized phlogiston crystals harvested from the outer-reaches of the planet Luminosity. So, if that’s you, then put Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy into your reading queue. 3.5/5 stars.