Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Review - Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams

Short review: The love of Dent's life vanishes, so he spends a while wandering the galaxy and making sandwiches. Trillian brings Dent his teenage daughter, Prefect shows up, and the Vogons kill everyone.

Fenchurch disappears
Arthur Dent makes sandwiches
Then everyone dies

Full review: The fifth (and thus far, last) installment in the Hitchhiker Trilogy, this book covers the Vogons continuing attempts to destroy Earth, a project they began in the first book. Like the other books, the plot is almost entirely beside the point, as Adams engages in the vicious and humorous satire of almost everything. Sadly, though the viciousness and bitterness is still present, the satire seems to have worn thin and lost almost all of the humor found in previous volumes.

The book opens up with Dent and Prefect once again separated, with Dent set to travel the galaxy with his girlfriend Fenchurch, and Prefect determined to investigate the strange happenings that seem to be taking place at the headquarters of the Hitchhiker's Guide. But the somewhat nihilistic nature of the book begins to take hold when Fenchurch vanishes in the middle of a hyperspace jump never to be seen again. After spending an entire book establishing Fenchurch as a love interest for Dent, Adams kills her off in an almost off-handed way, setting the grim and depressing tone for the book.

Bereft of the love of his life, Dent travels the galaxy anyway, selling his bodily fluids along the way. Because of his encounter with Agrajag in the last book, Dent believes himself to be invulnerable, and more or less doesn't care what happens during his travels. Eventually he finds himself stranded on the planet Lamuella and takes up a life as a sandwich maker, which seems like a metaphor for the whole book: after all of the interstellar wandering about and crazy adventuring, the story fades into mundane triviality.

To break up the monotony, Trillian shows up with Dent's teenage daughter Random who takes the Hitchhiker's Guide Mk II (which had been sent to Dent by prefect earlier in the book and forgotten about) and sets out on adventures of her own. Through the usual set of improbable happenstances the entire crew of regular characters all wind up back on Earth in the same bar, whereupon the mysterious plot that Prefect couldn't unravel at the beginning of the book comes to fruition and everyone dies in a way that seems very conclusive even for the Hitchhiker series. It seems as though Adams was determined to kill off the series, and to do so, felt he had to kill off all of the characters. Consequently, the ending of the book is bleak and depressing, and without even a glimmer of hope.

Unfortunately, Mostly Harmless is much weaker than the others in the series. While the previous books had a light touch and managed to poke fun at things without seeming mean-spirited, this book seems almost devoid of any kind of joy or happiness. I have been told that Adams knew he was dying when he wrote this book, which may account for the depressing tone and nihilistic ending. This bit of understanding (if true) explains why the book is so dark and dreary, but it doesn't make it any more enjoyable to read.

Previous book in the series: So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

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