Man vs Bookshelf

Man vs Bookshelf: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (series)

This entry is part 19 of 104 in the series Man vs Bookshelf


I’m back. Did you miss me?

It’s been a good couple of days, but here I am, ready once again to broaden your mind and worsen your day.

And this time, we’re going abroad.







No, not to France. Think further afield.








Not Uganda. Further.







Germany? What, no, that’s back the other way!

Grab a map.

No really, grab a map. Go on. I’ll wait.

Okay, got it?







Great, now throw it away.

That’s right, scrunch it into a ball and bin it.

Got a globe? Dropkick that bitch out the window, don’t worry about hitting traffic, just do it.

On your phone? Well, no, don’t chuck that around. Those things are expensive.







Okay, everybody calm.

The laboured point I’m trying to make is that today, we’re going as abroad as you can go.

Together, we are departing the Earth and together, we’ll be Hitchhiking the Galaxy.







Let’s go.

Douglas Adams and Me

Picture yourself in a car.

Got it? Well, that’s the wrong colour and model, but it’ll do.

You’re young, impressionable, and up for a laugh.

You’re bored. You’re on a journey from Berkshire to Yorkshire and you’ve been driving for a good eight minutes already.

You’re sick of it.

That was me, back in the day. Before we’d discovered Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter and before I’d remember to like music.

It seemed like the journey would never end.

Then, as despair began to creep across me like an army of sluggish and disappointed spiders. As I had begun to bicker with my brother just to pass the time. Dad leaned forward, and pressed play on a tape that would change everything.

That tape?

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Primary and Secondary phases. This being a time, if not before the release of the later series, then at least after.

For me, they were game changers.

From the first time I heard this story of Arthur and co., I was hooked.

It was the humour of it. The sheer brilliance of the dialogue. The stories told by the book (within the show). The inability of Arthur to understand anything that was going on in this strange galaxy. And of course, everything Marvin the paranoid android said.

Since that fateful day, I’ve listened to the entire audio series a thousand times and it never ceases to make me clutch my sides laughing.

It’s outstanding.

A masterpiece.

I really like it, you see?

So I have to thank Douglas Adams for bringing this pure gold comedy into my life. And apologise to him for not reading the books which the Audio series inspired sooner.

A mistake Man vs Bookshelf has allowed me to rectify.

But how did they stack up against the radio series I loved so much?

Well, that would be telling, wouldn’t it?

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (chronology)

The history of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a muddled one. Which is ironic, as you’ll know if you’ve read/ listened to/watched it.

It doesn’t follow a normal pattern. I.e. radio series, then books, then movies. Or books, radio series, movies. Or whatever.

Thus it is worth laying out a timeline of what happened when in terms of Radio, TV, film and book appearances.

It won’t necessarily increase your enjoyment of the blog as a whole, but it will put off the moment when I have to write the review, which is the boring bit.

1978: Douglas Adam’s changes the world forever with the original radio series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Known as The Primary phase

1979: Fretting over the prospect of coming up with new ideas, Adams turns the first four episodes of The Primary Phase into a book which he cleverly calls The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy so as not to confuse people into thinking they are getting something original.

1980: The Secondary Phase of the radio series is released and is quickly followed by a second book – The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Not content with just rewriting the radio series this time, Adams puts the radio scenes in a different order, to keep people guessing.

1981: Not afraid of being called unoriginal, Adams adapts the radio series again into a television series which is much the same as it is on the radio (original cast included) but you get to see what’s happening. The 80s production values remind everyone why it was on the radio and not TV in the first place.

1982 – 1992: For some unfathomable reason (probably something to do with bloody actors) there would be no immediate follow up to The Primary and Secondary phases on the radio. Instead, Adams continued the series solo, writing three more books over the next ten years (Life, the Universe and Everything, 1982; So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish, 1984; Mostly Harmless, 1992.)

2001: Despite Adams often saying he would like to follow up 1992s Mostly Harmless due to its rather down ending, the odds of him doing so are greatly reduced in 2001 when he dies at the age of 49.

2004-2005: Three more audio series of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy are made to adapt the latter three books in the Hitchhiker’s series. Most of the actors from the original return except for a few who had prior commitments (Such as being dead [that joke is probably too similar to the one in the previous point to fly, but I’m sticking with it]). I still very much enjoyed these latter series, despite Adams being unable to be involved (see previous point), although, as I remember it, my dad did not think they were all that. I am not, of course, suggesting these are the only two opinions that count on the matter. My mum is also a Hitchhiker’s fan. I just don’t know what she thinks.

2005: A Hitchhiker’s Guide film is released in which Martin Freeman plays Arthur Dent. This, and the film as a whole is a crime against nature. I didn’t like it then and wouldn’t if I rewatched it now, out of principle if nothing else.

2009: A sixth novel is released in the series, this time written by Eion Colfer. Having not read the book I have no comment on this, other than that, while I enjoyed the Artemis Fowl series in my youth, it seems a strange choice. Terry Pratchett, on the other hand, could have written a great Hitchhiker’s novel. Maybe even Neil Gaiman.


2018: Since first writing this blog the sixth radio series has been released, however, with even more dead cast members meaning even more recasts, I haven’t got around to listening to it. I love Jim Broadbent, but with no original Marvin, there is no Mark listening.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Okay, so we’re a thousand words into this review without any review in sight so I suppose I should probably do that.

I had considered breaking these novels down and doing them separately but, while there are different themes (especially So Long and Thanks for all the Fish) they are similar enough as to not warrant their own page time, and so I will look at key aspects of the series as a whole, starting with…

The Humour

Okay, when it comes to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, this is it.

There are plenty of funny books out there and most of them are funny in support of something else. Such as a plot.

Not so with Hitchhiker’s (I’ll come to plot in a moment).

These books are hilarious. Honest. And, while I would always choose the radio shows as my favourite Hitchhiker’s medium, the books do not disappoint.

The humour is almost unique, but also hard to describe. It’s witty and built on wordplay and the best way I can think to show you what I mean is with a line that actually appears in the radio show and not the books.

While this might be the case, it is indicative of Adams’ humour as a whole and therefore will save me a lot of words actually trying to describe his style.

It goes something like this. (At this time I should point out the line is not verbatim. It is, however, very close. Or I made it up completely.)

“The statue was fifty foot high if it was an inch… which it wasn’t.”

Now, on the page, that joke loses a lot of what made it so funny when I first heard it and the reason I always remember it.

It’s the sheer irreverence that plays with the way we think and speak and live.

I mentioned Terry Pratchett as being a great candidate for writing a new Hitchhiker’s book, death notwithstanding. And the reason is lodged in the humour.

Pratchett’s Discworld is set in a fantasy world and Adam’s ‘Hitchhiker’s’ is set (almost entirely, except for So Long and Thanks for all the Fish) in space.

That’s what the picture is, by the way, a representation of Discworld. I’ve not just lost my mind or started doing hard drugs.

Both take us to worlds that are wholly unlike our own. Then use these worlds to satirise and make fun of things that are so completely human and Earth, uh, ish.

So while Pratchett is making fun of the printing press and the Royal Mail, Adams does brilliant work in making fun of computers and the desire of humans to build something that will completely fulfil our desires and then quite quickly miss the mark.

Eddie the shipboard computer is a great example. As are the lifts designed with precognition so they are always there to pick you up and know exactly where you want to go. The only problem being when they refuse to take Zaphod up because of what they sense is about to happen, instead insisting on trying to take him down.

I could talk for hours about brilliant examples of how Adams uses comedy in Hitchhiker’s, but I’m not going to because my lunch break is running short and I want to get this done.

So, instead I’ll say this:

Comedy is not just the heart of ‘Hitchhiker’s’. It’s the brain, the stomach, the eyes and ears and even the gallbladder.

And it works, without fail, every single time.


The Ideas

Some people are just stuffed to the brim with ideas.

Adams wasn’t one of them.

To say Adams was stuffed to the brim with ideas would be to do down how many ideas he had.

This man was stuffed to the brim with ideas, then needed several overflow bins, all of which were also overflowing to the point of it being a health hazard for passers-by if, that is, these bins were physical objects and not just a metaphor. Which they are.

Obviously, there’s the main story. The characters and races and places and whatever else Arthur Dent encountered.

There is the way machines work and clever theories about space travel. From the Probability Drive on the Heart of Gold to the Bistromatics in Slartibartfast’s ship.

But even beyond that, you have the Hitchhiker’s Guide, which throughout the series gives us hundreds of stories of different planets and races and species and systems, all with incredibly clever and detailed lives and stories.

The sheer mass and quality of these stories is a wonder to behold. When you see them you understand immediately why Adams, to a large extent, often ignored plot and just stuffed them into the story whenever there was even a semi-relevant connection.

And, speaking of plot…

Can he write, though?

The Hitchhiker’s series I read was the 30th-anniversary editions. Each of which began with an introduction by relevant people. Russell T Davies, Terry Jones, Neil Gaiman, Dirk Maggs. Plus the producer of the pilot episode of Hitchhiker’s, whose name I can’t remember.

What’s interesting about these intros is that four of them contain some mention to Douglas not being a good writer. Whether this was an assault on plot, character, or whether Adams is a novelist at all. They’re all at it. Except for Russell T Davies, who also seems to be the only one who didn’t have a personal relationship with him.

Not that they are just slagging him off now that he’s dead. In fact, these negative comments are used to put into context how brilliant Adams was. That he could be so successful without key qualities writers are expected to have says a lot.

But is it even true?

Pretty much. At least on the plot front and at least for the first couple of series/ books.

Ask someone about the plot of the first couple of Hitchhiker’s books. They’ll most likely mumble on about mice and “42” and the whole Earth experiment thing.

If they’re a bit more familiar they might bring up Zarniwoop. Or Zaphod’s stint as president and the plan to find out who rules the universe.

And yes, all these things do happen. And they do all have the trappings of what might be a plot.

Yet, they’re a bit to random to be a proper plot like framework, and they don’t go anywhere.

The mice tell Arthur and Trillian they may have the Question to the Ultimate Answer in their DNA. They go off to find. It is a start of a great adventure and the shows mentions it a couple more times. Then forgets it completely with no resolution.

Zaphod’s story comes a bit closer to fruition. He does reach the Ruler of the Universe. Then decides everything is probably okay and abandons Zarniwoop to fly away in the Heart of Gold. Zarniwoop is never mentioned again.

So yes, there are hints of a plot, but it is background noise. What matters to Adams is not a plot with a beginning middle and end. He doesn’t care about climax’s or development. All he wants to do is take his characters to whatever great place he thinks up next. With the only qualifier being that, once they arrive, there can be a few good moments for comedy.

That’s one and two, at least. From the later books, Adams did at least flirt with the idea of a proper plot.

Book three (Life, the Universe, and Everything – hey, Simon Brett must be that producer fella I forgot. Says so right on the cover) comes closest. It bandies around as all his stories do but there is a plot with a beginning a middle and end.

With this book, that makes sense. After all, Adams adapted it from a Doctor Who story he wrote but which was never made. So he uses this, but twists in that unique Hitchhiker’s humour and finds a way to make sure the comedy remains front and centre all the time. The story becomes the backdrop.

Book four (So Long and Thanks for all the Fish) is different again for a number of reasons. It takes place mainly on Earth for a start. It gives Arthur a bit more to do than roam around being grumpy and confused at everything that happens for a middle. And, for an end, it has a proper love interest (even a sex scene).

Book four and Book five (Mostly Harmless) feel like Adams trying different things. Mostly harmless does have a plot, it just doesn’t start until the back 30 pages of the book and wraps up rather quickly.

Plenty of people don’t like these last two books. Four because it is set on Earth and has a love interest and five because it ends on a downer.

But these are just trappings. When it comes down to it what drives Hitchhiker’s has always been it’s unique sense of humour.

For me, however, Adams chooses to present this, and in whatever setting. It works.

And at the end of it all, that’s what matters.

Sum Up

Due largely to the long long intro that no one wil be interested in or thank me for writing, this is now the longest Man vs Bookshelf I’ve written, so let’s keep this summary short.

The books are incredibly funny.

If you haven’t read them, do so now.

Or, even better, listen to the radio series.

You won’t regret it unless you do and, if you do, I have no interest in knowing you.

That being said, please return to my blog, it’s good for my stats.

Next Time

And speaking of returning to my blog, there’s more of these on the horizon.

Next time on Man vs Bookshelf we’ll be diving into the deranged mind of a creative genius.

It’s Richard Ayoade.

It’s Ayoade on Ayoade.

See you then.

Series Navigation<< Man vs Bookshelf: Harry Potter and the case of the DuplicatesMan vs Bookshelf: Ayoade on Ayoade >>
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International worst-selling author Mark Ayre has been writing since before he could pick up a pen (somehow). An author of mystery and suspense novels including the James Perry Series of mysteries.

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