The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams (1980)

Book review: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe ([1980]) by Douglas Adams (The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide, Wings Books, 1996)

ultimatehitchhikersThe floor show is Doomsday while Arthur and Ford dine with Zaphod Beeblebrox, well-appendaged, ex-head honcho of the Universe, and Trillian, his human girlfriend. The four friends begin their quest for answes to some of the most confounding questions challenging mankind: When will they finish eating? What is the question to the ultimate answer?

The story picks up on Ursa Minor Beta, the home of the Guide offices, where Zaphod Beeblebrox has ended up together with depressed robot Marvin. Zaphod has no idea why he’s on Ursa Minor, other than he needs to go and see the Guide‘s editor, Zarniwoop. Somehow, his brain has been messed with, and this was done so well that he wouldn’t be able to trace it because of the rigorous screening that’s done before anyone’s allowed to be the President of the Galaxy.

He finds Zarniwoop’s empty office in the big H-shaped building, but the building is lifted off the ground and dropped on the deserted planet on Frogstar World B, where he is to pay for his crimes (nicking the Heart of Gold) by being put in the Total Perspective Vortex. A bad idea for anyone: it shows you in comparison with the universe, and people don’t generally want to know how big the universe actually is, because it makes them seem so small and utterly insignificant. With an ego the size of a planet, Zaphod survives, and finds himself together with Arthur, Ford, Trillian and the Heart of Gold at the nearest restaurant: Milliways, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

There isn’t a lot of Arthur Dent in the first part of the book, as the story focuses on Zaphod instead. After they’ve joined up at Milliways, the team split again due to some unforseen circumstances involving a sun-diving stunt ship, with Zaphod and Trillian going to find the man who secretly governs the universe, with Arthur and Ford ending up on another spaceship, full of frozen hairdressers, headed for a crash collision with a planet that looks a little too familiar.

This is the second installment in the trilogy in five parts that is known as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The two first books are the plots of the first two radio series made in the 1970s. The books are not quite in the same chronological order as the radio series, but the radio series is the original and this was made afterwards.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe is a good book. It reads quickly and perhaps there are a bit more in the way of descriptions here, but still, the dialogue is the book’s strong point. Every character has their own distinct voice and it’s just a brilliant satire of a crazy society. As above, so below – or maybe the other way around: as below, so above. As on Earth, so in Space.

The Golgafrinchans, for instance. You don’t need to know where they’ve crashed to realise why things have gone pearshaped with a certain computer program, and if they were the true ancestors of a modern day planet … well, it almost seems like a perfectly reasonable explanation. Maybe that’s what really happened! The world is crazy enough sometimes that you can’t help but wonder.

Some people might argue that the first book is the best and that it goes downhill from there, but I don’t quite agree with that. Book two is still on par with the first one, and in some ways, I prefer it. There are perhaps less towels floating around (nice description of Roosta’s, by the way), but it’s still things to challenge your preconceptions and make you think of life in a new way. For instance, like this (which Wikiquote lists as being in book one, but I’m sure I saw it in book two, as it was mentioned around the introduction of Milliways):

The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why and Where phases.
For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question How can we eat? the second by the question Why do we eat? and the third by the question Where shall we have lunch?

Well put, no? Not to mention the fact that they bred animals that specifically want to be eaten, just to remove any qualms people might have over eating them. Still, knock back a few Pan-Galactic Gargle-Blasters and you won’t care either way. Not even if you happen to use a teleporter the wrong way.

“I teleported home one night with Ron and Sid and Meg,
Ron stole Meggie’s heart away, and I got Sidney’s leg.”

5 out of 5 Pan-Galactic Gargle-Blasters.

2011 marks the 10th anniversary of the death of British comedian, author, genius, procrastinator and technology geek Douglas Adams, which I think is something worth commemorating and will therefore be posting several posts related to him and his works spread over the year. Today, 8 March at 10:30 pm (in 1978), marks the first radio broadcast of Fit the First of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

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