This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” series.
Englishman Arthur Dent is trying to stop demolition workers from tearing down his house when his friend Ford Perfect drags him to a local bar. Ford, who has been posing as an out-of-work actor, actually hails from a planet near Betelgeuse. He’s a researcher updating the latest edition of the popular travel manual The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and he’s been trapped on the planet Earth for 15 years. Ford has just discovered the Vogons are about to destroy Earth. With the confused, somewhat inebriated Arthur in tow, Ford finds his way to a Vogon ship, and the two men stow away. The Earth explodes behind them.
Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz, the captain of the ship, dislikes hitchhikers. When he catches Ford and Arthur, he tortures them by making them listen to his poetry. He then sends them into the ship’s release hatch, and they’re blown out into space. According to the Guide, a person with a lungful of air might survive in space for 30 seconds. But in a novel full of unlikely coincidences and improbable events, Arthur and Ford are rescued in exactly 29 seconds by a ship called the Heart of Gold.
Zaphod Beeblebrox, the two-headed, three-armed President of the Galaxy, and his girlfriend, Trillian, have recently stolen this state-of-the-art ship. Ford is surprised to see Zaphod, who just happens to be his cousin. Arthur is also shocked, as Trillian is a former Earth dweller that Arthur once met at a party. Zaphod and Trillian travel with a depressed robot named Marvin, who constantly brings down the mood.
By another nearly impossible coincidence, the Heart of Gold sails to a planet called Magrathea. Legend says Magrathea was once the headquarters for a booming, custom planet-building industry, but its economic systems collapsed, and it ceased to function. So much time has now passed that no one is sure it’s even a real place. The planet begins to shoot missiles at the Heart of Gold, which somehow quite improbably turn into petunias and a whale. Zaphod is excited by the discovery of Magrathea, and the Heart of Gold passengers explore the planet.
Arthur meets an old Magrathean man named Slartibartfast who explains that he and his people have slept for millions of years through the recession. Now, they are returning to their planet-building ventures. Slartibartfast reveals that he and his cohorts actually made the Earth and were commissioned by mice to do so. Mice have always run the planet Earth, he says, where they spend their time doing experiments on humans.
Slartibartfast then gives Arthur a history lesson. Millions of years ago, a brilliant computer called Deep Thought was created to answer the question “What is the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything?” When asked, the computer replied it needed some time to think about it. Seven and a half million years later, the computer revealed that the answer was 42.
Deep Thought then prophesied that a computer coming after him would be able to elaborate on this answer. He said the computer would be called Earth. Slartibartfast explains that Deep Thought designed Earth and the Magratheans built it. Ten million years of planning and preparation went into the project. But five minutes before Earth was to reveal the long-awaited answer to the question of Life, the Universe and Everything, the Vogons destroyed it.
Meanwhile, the mice meet with Zaphod, Trillian and Ford. Slartibartfast brings Arthur to join them. The mice want to build Earth 2 in their continued effort to find the answer to The Question. But they fear the only way they can do this is by using the last organic part of the computer program that created Earth. That would be Arthur’s brain. They try to buy Arthur’s brain off of him so they can dissect it. He refuses, even though they promise to provide him with an electronic one instead.
The mice decide to create their own question that matches with the answer 42. The question at which they arrive is, “How many roads must a man walk down?” Ford, Zaphod, Arthur, Trillian and Marvin escape in Slartibartfast’s vehicle, which takes them back to the Heart of Gold. Whizzing through the galaxy, they decide to stop for dinner at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.
The novel contains a number of references to evolution, including the suggestion that man is descended from apes, various beings crawled out of primordial sludge and certain patterns learned to copy themselves and thereby started life in the universe. Slartibartfast tells Arthur that he and his people actually made the Earth, which was commissioned and paid for by mice.
The great computer, Deep Thought, is created to provide the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything. Philosophers fear they will be out of work if they spend their lives pondering God when a machine like Deep Thought can spit out God’s phone number. Ford calls the machine “messianic” when Deep Thought goes on about the computer that will come after it, whose parameters Deep Thought is not worthy to calculate. He says the new machine will be called Earth.
When placed in someone’s ear, a creature called the Babel fish allows the person to hear in any language. According to the Guide, some say there’s no way a creature so amazingly useful could have evolved purely by chance. They say its existence proves God’s existence, and thus disproves God’s existence. The Guide continues to lay out the argument some scholars use: God would say He refuses to prove His own existence because proof denies faith, and He is nothing without faith.
A man then argues with God that He has proved himself with the Babel fish’s existence, and therefore by God’s own arguments, He doesn’t exist. God then states He hadn’t thought of that, and He disappears in a puff of logic. According to the Guide, this theory is the central theme of author Oolon Colluphid’s bestseller, Well That About Wraps It Up for God. The same author has also written a trilogy with the titles, Where God Went Wrong, Some More of God’s Greatest Mistakes and Who Is This God Person Anyway?
Zaphod Beeblebrox, President of the Galaxy, is a self-promoting ex-hippie and ex-con. Since the role of the person in this office is to draw attention away from the real powers that be, Zaphod is said to be the most successful President ever. Mice prove to be the financial backers for the creation of Earth. They cleverly experiment on humans while allowing humans to believe it works the other way around.
The Lord’s name is used in vain, and h—, bloody, d–n, a–, b–tard and s— appear a number of times.
One Guide entry mentions the triple-breasted whore of the planet Eroticon 6. As Arthur first talks to Slartibartfast, he has the strange sensation of being a man caught in the act of adultery when the woman’s husband casually walks in the room. Magratheans cater to their customers’ desires, however strange. They demonstrate this by showing a promotional piece where 500 entirely naked women are parachuting at once.
Alcohol: Characters, including Arthur and Ford, drink and are hung over. The Guide tells people where to find the best drink in existence and where they can get rehabilitative help afterward.
Movie tie-in: Producers often use a book as a springboard for a movie idea or to earn a specific rating. Because of this, a movie may differ from the novel. To better understand how this book and the movie differ, compare the book review with Plugged In’s movie review for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
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