I don’t remember the first time I read, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (HGttG), I suspect sometime in middle school. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read it since. HGttG is probably responsible for much of my sense of humor. When Adams suddenly passed away in 2001, I felt a profound sense of loss, he was brilliant, ahead of his time, and his writings (fiction and non) were so very funny. Every so often it will pop into my head, “What would Adams think of X?”. His essay on dongles (power cables, adapters, wall worts, etc.), I believe published in The Salmon of Doubt, had me in stiches, and it’s easy to wonder what his opinion would be on today’s technology and how far we haven’t gone in term of all those cables and things that need to be plugged in.
This read through was like visiting with an old friend. Some passages have been burned in my memory and it wasn’t so much reading as almost muscle memory. What did surprise me was how short HGttG is, my brain has probably mashed the books together. Here are some things that jumped out at me this time around.
One of the philosophers that interrupts the first proceedings with Deep Thought is named Majikthise. For the first time I sounded out the name in my head as opposed to just skimming over it and I realized it is pronounced Magic-this. A philosopher named Majikthise is spot on Adams humor.
I didn’t use my sticky notes, and of course I can’t find the passage now, but at one point it is discussed about using humans as a component of a computer system (pretty sure this was in regards to Earth). I can’t help but wondering if this was a spark of inspiration for the Wachowskis and The Matrix movies.
Adams predicted a Trump like President. I won’t discuss this further as I don’t want to wade into politics but will leave this quote.
The President in particular is very much a figurehead – he wields no real power whatsoever. He is apparently chosen by the government but the qualities he is required to display are not those of leadership but those of finely judged outrage. For this reason the President is always a controversial choice, always an infuriating but fascinating character. His job is not to wield power but to draw attention away from it.
My opinion of the book hasn’t changed, I love it! But what did change was my appreciation for what 42 represents. Growing up I always thought it was just funny. Then several years ago I learned that 42 in computer code represents the asterisk symbol *. Douglas Adams was a huge computer nerd and programmer. In the ASCII language an asterisk “represents a ‘wild card’, a variable input put in by the user and not the computer programming. The asterisk can literally mean anything. What you need to take from this is that, as the end user, the asterisk/variable gains the meaning you give it.” “This brings us back to Deep Thought’s answer. Deep Thought answers in the only language it knows, it says “42” giving life an equivalent meaning to that of a variable or wild card. In essence, Deep Thought is saying that the meaning of life is whatever you want it to be. 42 = life is what you make it.” – The Real Meaning of 42 by Ryan S. Kinsgrove
When I found that out, I fell in love with Adams all over again. What is the meaning to life, the universe and everything? What ever you want it to be.