The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
For Caption: “…wit and satire firing on all cylinders.”
It has been exactly 42 years since The Hitchhiker’s Guide began as a BBC radio comedy. This number is significant since 42 is the answer to everything: life, universe, and all of it as promulgated by the supercomputer, Deep Thought, in the series.
Douglas Adams wrote 5 volumes in this series which has sold more than 15 million copies. What are the reasons for its unfading popularity? It is a book that has fuelled many a child’s imagination about the universe, made sci-fi both cool and accessible, gave science and technology a futuristic but questioning look, highlighted the surreality of our lives, and spoke of the human condition with a measure of humour and candidness.
Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect survive the destruction of Earth and are thrown into a space and time odyssey which becomes a quest for the meaning of life. Fabulous and fantastic characters are introduced into the plot to resolve complex scientific paradigms and the advances of future technology.
The twin headed Zaphod Beeblebrox, Trillan, the Vogons, who are bureaucratic and mean-minded (also terrible poets), Marvin, a chronically depressed robot, and Slartibartfast, a planetary architect, are all brilliant expository characters. Prescient technological advancements are couched in humorous names like telepathic Babel Fish, space-faring Dolphins, Infinite Improbability Drive, Deep Thought, and a spaceship called Heart of Gold. And, of course, hyper-intelligent Mice are studying the humans!
Douglas Adams has a masterly command over the English language, with his arsenals of wit and satire firing on all cylinders. He displays a deep understanding of scientific applications and conflates them with philosophical takes on every aspect of the human condition. The series has spawned: a television series, numerous stage plays, comics, a video game, and a feature film.
Many people remember it as the most impactful book(s) of their lives; even people not pursuing any field of science. For me it sowed the seeds a fascination with science and technology which germinated into a lifetime love for the sciences and its impact on our lives.