Young Zaphod Plays It Safe by Douglas Adams (1986)

Short story review: Young Zaphod Plays It Safe ([1986]) by Douglas Adams (The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide, Wings Books, 1996)

ultimatehitchhikersThe two-headed hero travels to the depths of the ocean floor to investigate the mysterious destruction of the ship that “could one hundred percent positively never crash.” With the annoying assistance of the Safety and Civil Reassurance Administration, Zaphod learns some disturbing secrets …

This short story made its first appearance in the Utterly Utterly Merry Comic Relief Christmas Book in 1986. It’s about Zaphod Beeblebrox. He’s young, he’s two-headed and he’s got himself a salvage business. He’s been hired to salvage something from a perfectly safe spaceship that happened to have crash landed on a planet, even though it could by no means ever crash because nothing could go wrong with it. The ship, as it turns out, harbours something perfectly safe extremely dangerous. So dangerous, in fact, that it needs to be destroyed. The fact that said thing has buggered off to another planet gives a whole new meaning behind the sudden “must” of building a new hyperspace bypass right through our solar system …

It’s only about ten pages long or so, maybe a bit more, and it’s full of Zaphod Beeblebrox – future President of the Galaxy, but this is way before he got that far in his career. The story adds a level of complexity to the original plot of the first book, in that it gives a reason other than just plain bureaucracy for wanting to blow up the Earth to build a hyperspace bypass (“It’s a bypass; you’ve got to build bypasses”). Which is intriguing. If we then add to the mix how Zaphod had tasked himself with something before he became president, but had it so well-hidden that he didn’t even know himself what it was or that indeed anything was hidden … well, then it becomes even more intriguing. Was this, in fact, part of it?

While not exactly giving out big belly-laughs, it’s a good little story. Perhaps Douglas Adams would’ve got some more writing done if he’d stuck to short stories rather than full novels, even though the novels are on the short side and some people would just call them novellas? Sadly, we shall never know.


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, in 1977, Douglas Adams was given the news that his idea for a comedy sci-fi radio show had been commissioned.

Incidentally, the very same day, my mum gave birth to child #2. Happy birthday, sis! 🙂

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