Fiction Reviews

The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The Nearly Definitive Edition

(2014) Douglas Adams, William Heinemann, £30 / Can$39.95, hrdbk, 806pp, ISBN 978-0-434-02339-4


Arthur Dent is having a bad day, road builders are lined up with their machinery to knock down his house to make way for a new my-pass. However Arthur's friend Ford Prefect turns up insisting on taking Arthur to the pub for a pint having gotton the road builders to take a break. Ford, it seems, knows that the world is about to end. Indeed it is for a fleet of giant spaceships arrives at the Earth announcing that it is going to blow the planet up to make way for a new hyperspace by-pass… Just in the nick of time, Ford manages to get himself and Arthur onboard on of the spaceships before the Earth is destroyed. Ford, it seems, was not a human being after all, but an alien, a travel writer no less who was working on updating The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy: The entry on 'Earth' had been 'harmless' but Ford had managed to beef this up, adding detail. Now it read: 'mostly harmless'. Well, the Galaxy is a big place and there is only so much room in the guide…

And so begins the late 20th century classic SF radio series The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It went on for four seasons but it was the first, together with the Christmas Special edition (all broadcast 1978 on BBC Radio 4) that catapulted this work and Adams into the SF halls of fame. I do not know whether it was the constraint of the radio format and/or John Lloyd's collaboration on the first season that made the first part of The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy oeuvre by far the best, but it did make a huge ratings splash and the first novel (confusingly called The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy but which only featured the story's very beginnings) a number one fiction best-seller in Britain and for season one of the show to be nominated for a Hugo Award for 'Best Dramatic Presentation' (sadly it did not win as the large American contingent at the 1979 Worldcon that had a rare manifestation in Britain had not heard of The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy).

It is now 35 years on since the first broadcast and since then we have had the five books (1979-1992) that made up the saga that also came out in a number of subsequent editions in a number of countries, tweaked and re-tweaked. But here we are and Random House's imprint William Heinemann have done a marvellous job of bringing together the final editions of the books together with ancillary material, into this omnibus edition: The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy – The Nearly Definitive Edition.

Included are introductions by biologist and Adam's friend Richard Dawkins, as well as Nick Harkaway. Also there is a 'Guide to the Guide' by Adams himself outlining how the various editions evolved. Plus there are a couple of related stories. William Heinemann has done a wonderful job on the production with a stamped, cloth-feel, silver print hardback. It is also of similar height to the recent Jem Roberts biography of Adams published by Preface which is itself another imprint of Random House. Both volumes would sit finely side-by-side on any Hitch-hiker fans bookshelf, or wrapped in a towel when hitching.

Jonathan Cowie

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