Fiction Reviews

Life, The Universe and Everything

(1982/2009) Douglas Adams, Pan Macmillan, 7.99, Can$14.99, Aus$22.99, pbk, 210 pp, ISBN 978-0-330-50875-5


This is the third novel Pan Macmillan have re-released as part of all five of the original Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy in the 30th anniversary year of the first's publication which itself came out a year after BBC Radio 4 first broadcast of what was to become a minor national phenomenon that was The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

In a nutshell The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is SF comedy at its very best. If you are unfamiliar with it then check out my review of the first novel in the Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy of five (soon to be six).

This book covers much of the ground appearing after the second half of the first radio series and the subsequent 'Christmas edition' (or first episode of the second series) and so for my money is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy just after its finest moments: after the first series, though good, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy never reclaimed the dizzy heights of its start. This is no doubt because Douglas Adams was a painfully slow writer and the success of the first series, and first two books, meant that the pressure was on to deliver more and something had to give. Alas it was a bit of the extremely high standard he had previously set. But no matter, this novel is still an entertaining read.

Arthur and Ford escape prehistoric Earth and arrive at Lords (London) cricket ground. There they are just in time to witness a bunch of white robots looking like cricket players make of with the Ashes (the real-life cricket trophy). It transpires that the robots are part of a plan to destroy the Universe. Once again meeting Slartibartfast (one of the designers of the original Earth who did the crinkly bits around Norway) they are on an adventure only this time the very Universe is at stake.

Now I know that for some my saying that this book and subsequent volumes in the Hitchhiker series were not up to the vertiginously high standard of the first two (Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe) is sacrilegious even though I modify this observation with 'this novel is still an entertaining read'. My reason for saying this is that Adams not only loses a clear narrative thread of the story arc this book can almost be taken as a stand-alone adventure but he slips from straight SFnal humour to introducing cultural icons for no obvious reason: in this case the aliens come from the planet Krikkit, look like cricket players and are after something that is akin to the Ashes cricket trophy. OK, so it is funny in its way but it is not inanity borne of a rational (albeit warped) logic that was the basis of the humour for the first two books. For example in the first book there is the improbability space drive that works (all be it improbably) and there is a kind of perverse logic explained that, for example, involves using a hot cup of tea as a Brownian motion generator (and hot tea is a Brownian motion generator!). In this book there is the Bistromatic drive that relies on the mathematics associated with restaurants. Funny yes, but not funny because it is based on a logic that makes you think twice.

Having said that, this book does have its moments and there are flashes of the early Hitch-hiker genius. The 'Campaign for Real Time' being one. Here time travel becoming almost commonplace has meant that time has been mucked about so much that genuine events and history are in doubt. Some, understandably, want a little order to the continuum, hence the campaign.

Irrespective of this slippage of standard, Life, The Universe and Everything is part of a cannon of work that is quite simply an SF classic. Yes, do read Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe first. If you are hooked by their brilliance (literally millions of readers already have been) then you will want to seek out this the next book in the series.

Jonathan Cowie

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