Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Review - Life, the Universe, and Everything by Douglas Adams

Short review: Dent and prefect stumble into a plot to destroy the universe and set out to stop it with all of their old friends. In the end, their actions don't really matter.

Stuck in the far past
Thrown into galactic war
It doesn't matter

Full review: The third book in the Hitchhiker Trilogy finds Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect stuck on prehistoric Earth. Through a series of improbable coincidences, they escape, find Slartibartfast, and agree to stop a galactic war. After that the plot becomes a relatively stock affair as Ford, Arthur, and Slartibartfast team up with Trillian, Marvin, and Zaphod to avert the war.

Dent and Prefect start the book trapped deep in the past, but hop onto a sofa that improbably pops up next to them, and as this is a book written by an English writer, they jump forward to the Lord's Cricket Ground just days before the destruction of Earth. With their usual perfect timing, the pair arrive just in time to witness a crew of robots stealing the Ashes, which kicks off the plot, such as it is. All of the familiar characters team up and save the universe from the robots who are on a quest to release an isolated race that has decided they don't like anyone else and wants to destroy the entire universe. Most of the book is an extended series of cricket jokes attached to a plot that ambles along before petering out.

In the end, it turns out that the Krikkit race doesn't want to destroy the universe, making the entire plot pretty much pointless. And that is more or less the main problem with the book, and more or less the point of the book at the same time. There are a couple of wrinkles thrown in: Dent has to deal with a time traveler who is annoyed that Dent has killed him several times, it turns out that the inhabitants of Krikkit have been manipulated by a computer built to wage war, Dent learns to fly, defeats the god Thor, and actually does save the universe, but the plot basically runs in a big circle that goes nowhere. This isn't new - the Hitchhiker books have always used their sparse plots as little more than an excuse to spin off a collection of comic set pieces. This time, however, the plot is simply too thin to support the absurdist parody and biting satire, and the book collapses under their weight.

As is true of all the Hitchhiker books, the plot is merely a framework upon which to hang the humor, parody, and satire. This book is the first in the series to begin to show the cracks as old jokes start to become tired and worn, the satire begins to become a little shrill, and the parody begins to become a little wearying. At a certain point, jokes like those revolving around how "Belgium" is the only offensive word left gets tiresome. However, starting from as high a point as The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe allows Adams to show a little drop off in quality while still producing a funny and enjoyable book.

Previous book in the series: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Subsequent book in the series: So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

1983 Locus Award Nominees

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