I just turned 42, so I figured a Hitchhiker’s Guide reread would be appropriate. Except I skipped the first book, because I feel like that is already kind of imprinted in my brain, and because teenage me found Restaurant at the End of the Universe first, in the small but wondrous YA Science Fiction section at my library.
It’s weird to revisit a series you read and loved as a teen. It’s wonderful to hang out with Ford and Arthur again (now firmly Mos Def and Martin Freeman in my head, no matter what I thought of the movie), but there’s kind of an astounding lack of plot there. Lots of fun, bizarre, Douglas Adams-y things happen, and they rush madly all over the universe, but there’s very little reason behind any of it.
There’s more Zaphod Beeblebrox in Restaurant. People are after him, but he’s erased parts of his memory so he doesn’t remember why. Also, he’s starving, so he tells his ship to take him to the closest restaurant, and the ship’s Infinite Improbability Drive jumps them forward in time to the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, where a bonkers meal happens, bonkers characters are met, and the crew steals a doomed ship. At the end, our heroes find themselves split up by a navigation-less teleporter, with Arthur and Ford ending up on prehistoric Earth, and Zaphod and Trillian whereabouts unknown until the next book. So a lot happens, but nothing really happens.
In Life, the Universe and Everything, we see the return of Slartibartfast, who is trying to save the universe from Krikkit robots, out to free their murderous masters from their imprisoned planet. Ford and Arthur don’t really care, but are glad to be rescued from prehistoric Earth. We don’t see much of Zaphod and Trillian in this one. Again, there’s lots of rushing madly to and fro, lots of clever writing, but very thin plot. But Marvin gets to save the day, so yay!
So Long and Thanks for All the Fish is Arthur-focused. He’s back on Earth, inexplicably.
There’s no sign of Zaphod or Trillian, and no explanation about where the Earth came from. Ford is running around in another section of space, but shows back up to say hi and be glad all his research for the Guide didn’t get deleted when the Earth did.
And Arthur meets Fenchurch. I loved these books so much as a teen, but reading them now, it kind of stings to see that there are only two female characters in the entire universe, and that Arthur meets and falls in love with Fenchurch when she’s literally passed out in the back of a car. She can’t even be a manic pixie dream girl – she’s unconscious! But it’s Destiny and all that, even if he has no idea if she’s a Republican or likes Nickelback or if she’s a total slob who never washes her towels because you only ever use them when you’re clean.
Fenchurch seems to know that something is not right with the world, and she and Arthur set out to find out what happened to the dolphins (who all escaped the planet right before it was set to be demolished). Ford helps them hitch a ride on a spaceship, and they go off to see a message from god, which also ends up being disappointing. I just didn’t realize how…thin…the story was in all these.
For Mostly Harmless, we get a peek at alternate universe where Earth didn’t get demolished, and what Trillian (Tricia, in this case) would’ve ended up doing if she’d never left with Zaphod. Then we’re back with Arthur (no Zaphod in this book at all) and his quest to find a new home after FENCHURCH DISAPPEARED DURING AN INTERGALACTIC FLIGHT THROUGH A BLACK HOLE OR SOMETHING. That’s it! Poof, she’s gone! There are two female characters in the entire universe, and one of them disappears, is mourned by Arthur for two whole paragraphs, and then is NEVER MENTIONED AGAIN. So that happens.
Then Trillian shows up on Arthur’s new planet with a snarly, identity-starved daughter in tow, says it’s his turn to be a parent for a change (even though she got pregnant through a clinic and his was the only other human sample and he didn’t know the daughter existed) and takes off. Meanwhile, Ford Prefect is infiltrating the headquarters of the Guide, convinced there’s been a corporate takeover. Lots of that part is amusing, and you get the snappy writing that made these books so fun in the first place, but again, ultimately, it doesn’t go anywhere.
I am sad that I am so disappointed in this reread! I loved these books so much as a budding sci-fi fan. But very little plot, absolutely no continuity, the nonexistence of women in the entire scope of existence…zany writing can only cover up so much.
SIGH. But I will still endeavor to enjoy my year of being the ultimate answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything!