Monday, May 3, 2010

Don't Panic!

Well, I've gone and done it. I've finished all five books of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. Yes, 5 books in a 3-part series. I didn't design it, I just read it.

I'd been meaning to read this series for some time now. I inherited the first two books from my father (well, glommed onto them after discovering them in a box or something) and have had them sitting on my bookshelves for around 5 years.

It wasn't until Eoin Colfer gave a speech at our local bookstore about the Hitchhiker books (leading into the fact that he'd just finished a 6th one, and oh, would you like your copy signed?) that I decided I had waited long enough. Surely, I had waited long enough to fully realize the significance of 42, and I shouldn't wait another minute!

I ordered the remaining 3 paperbacks (since I am a paperback snob, I declined from purchasing Colfer's hardbound publication and am awaiting its proper format to be released) and got the audiobook for Hitchhiker from the library.

The books all sat on my shelf for another few months.

When Hitchhiker was nominated for our book club in...March, I decided the time had finally come. I dusted it off, pulled up the audiobook on my laptop, and started in...and got as far as the first 3 chapters.

Some of you may remember my posting a couple weeks ago about trying to figure out which book(s) to read next. I posted a poll here, and to my Facebook friends, and also my DeviantArt buddies, all asking for advice. I even got a reply from Diane Duane, author of one of the choices I had to choose from. Though I decided against her advice (she sided with her own books, and was outvoted), I was still thrilled at the post.

The Hitchhiker's series won the most votes, so I plugged in my headphones, cleared my nightly schedule, and was whisked across the galaxy.

Oh, just so you know, there are probably spoilers below. In fact, I'm pretty sure there are spoilers below. If I find out that there aren't spoilers below, you won't see this message. Or I might just cross everything out.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
~The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy~
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Book 1
By Douglas Adams
Amazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

This book is possibly the most random, hilarious, and delightful book I've ever read. If you're looking for something chronological, that follows a straight and completely unwavering line, you should drop this book immediately. If you completely dislike humor or wit of any kind, you should try Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. And, lastly, if you are a Vogon, I'd like to know why you seem to be showing any interest in what my opinion is.

The story swerves this way and that like a (insert random parallel here), but always in the best taste, humor, and followed by a speedy return to those whom you might actually care about. There's little character development, but the characters and the plot are so quick that there's little time to really care.

Arthur Dent, though arguably the protagonist of this tale, is sort of thrown here and there with little regard for his opinion. He questions things now and again, but with the entirety of the Galaxy suddenly thrust into his cognizance, there's little he can do but learn to just go with the flow - which happens to be quite fast.

You might be a tad confused at times, but as the cover of the book says, Don't Panic! Things are usually explained fairly well, and those that aren't usually don't matter very much.

The book ends. If you'd like, you can stop reading the series now. Granted, it's not over, like, 'and they all lived happily ever after', or anything like that. It's more of a...we have a sense of resolution, there aren't any huge cliffhangers or dangling plotlines to deal with, you can rest easy having finished this book...but if you'd like to find out more about these characters, we do have another book following this, if you're interested.

On a side note, if you're having trouble getting into the book - I found the first chapter pretty dull, actually, subtle British humor and whatnot - I'd advise checking out the audiobook from the library, or finding a public-domain recording of it online somewhere. I found that the British accent (my version was actually done by Douglas Adams, himself!) conveyed the subtlety of the humor and helped get me into the mood of the work. It also helped get past names like 'Zaphod Beeblebrox'.

Approximate Reading Time: 5 hours

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams
~The Restaurant at the End of the Universe~
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Book 2
By Douglas Adams
Amazon ~ Borders ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

Picking up where the last one left off, we have our same characters, exactly where they were...two hours later.

This book contains a very similar style and pacing to the last one. There are more excerpts of what might be written about certain things in The Guide. There are more zippings here and there around the Galaxy. There are more Vogons.

And time. Yes, there's some time traveling, too. Those who vehemently dislike these types of complications might want to stop at number one. Those who only dislike them because they aren't handled well can rest easy and enjoy the ride.

Also on the same lines as the last one, there's little more character developing done here. Zaphod has a good while off by himself. In fact, he finds his own little mission of sorts. So a little more is done with his character in particular, but the others remain, at the most, functional.

This book's ending isn't nearly as concrete as the first's. Sure, it ends, but even if you had no idea there was another book written, there's a part of you that knows this can't be the end. Adams just couldn't leave them like this. Could he?

Again, I read this with the help of an audiobook. This time, I sped up the audio to match my reading speed (approximately x1.7), so instead of going the allotted 5-or-so hours, it took less.

Approximate Reading Time: 4 hours

Life, the Universe and Everything by Douglas Adams
~Life, the Universe and Everything~
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Book 3
By Douglas Adams
Amazon ~ Borders ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

A bit more time has passed now. Last time it was a mere 2 hours. This time...well, it's been 5 years.

Some of you may be wondering if you read that right. To you, I say, yes. 5 years. Even with a quasi-cliffhanger, we join our characters 5 years after the end of the last book. Then again, this changes in the first couple chapters, as we again start time-traveling.

If you really aren't a fan of time-travel, you should not read this book. At all. In fact, there's so much of it, that Adams even had to introduce a sort of Time Squad to keep the order of things. Not that they actually make things any easier. No, if anything they only increase the amount of time-traveling. And this time, it isn't as neat.

Right off the bat, this book came off as less comical and more...serious. There, I said it. There seems to be an actual attempt at a straightforward plot...and villains...and a mystery woven in. And I'm not sure they all really work.

The crew is given the task of saving Life, the Universe and Everything, and it ends up being a purpose that weighs heavily on the story. They still have their jokes, but with this over-arching purpose, this goal, the crew aren't nearly as carefree and frivolous as they once were. Granted, there are times when Ford Prefect pokes fun at this, saying, "But we don't care enough to save the universe!", yet the group tries anyway. Even the random, anecdotal ramblings play into the story at large (though how exactly, I won't say).

This book has a conclusion. You could definitely say that the 3rd part of the trilogy ends things quite nicely, and stop right there. In fact, I might almost recommend it...

Approximate Reading Time: 4 hours

So Long and Thanks for All the Fish by Douglas Adams
~So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish~
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Book 4
By Douglas Adams
Amazon ~ Borders ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

This book almost seems as a new beginning for the series. A new jumping-off point, sorta like Orson Scott Card's Ender's Series does.

It is in a completely different style. There are no random links to what The Guide might say about something. In fact, The Guide doesn't play a large part in this book at all. Also, there is very very little space travel. Most of the book takes place on Earth (time-travel, perhaps? nope, I'm not telling), and focuses on Arthur Dent.

Arthur gets a good bit of character development here. In fact, this entire book might be taken as a character study. As such, I almost wouldn't recommend reading it, except that it is written well, and it contains a well-rounded story, and there's really nothing wrong with it. It simply isn't like its predecessors.

Approximate Reading Time: 3 hours

Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams
~Mostly Harmless~
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Book 5
By Douglas Adams
Amazon ~ Borders ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

You can definitely tell that Douglas Adams did not want to write this book. Well, if he did, he did not want to write it then. He, apparently, did not like deadlines and, I've heard, was fed up with having to write these books by now. You can tell from the first chapter.

The book is, in short, only for Hitchhiker fans (or fanatics). Well, if you've made it this far, I would assume you would be.

It does not stand on its own. It hardly stands as part of the series. If you found Life, the Universe and Everything unappealing, then you probably shouldn't try this one.

Two words: Parallel Universes. Okay, that's not exactly what they call them in this book, but that's the easiest thing to understand. There's a lot of techno-babble in this book, and unlike in previous novels, Adams doesn't do a great job explaining them. We're often in the same boat as Dent, who feels he should understand something, is really trying to, but eventually has to leave it be and move forward.

It has character development...which seems completely unnecessary in the long run. It has a number of plots...which try to get resolved. It has a complete absence of 3 (of my favorite) characters...then again, you're almost glad for that by the end.

Oh, the end. I must say that the end is a let-down. There's a lot of tension by the end. There are a lot of people and plots converging at once, and it all seems rather rushed. You're thinking, 'what rabbit is Adams gonna pull out next?'... And then... Well... Nobody likes the ending.

Adams had said he was considering writing another book, to better resolve some of these issues, but he died suddenly in 2001. And so, that was the end...

Approximate Reading Time: 5 hours

Overall Impressions

If you couldn't tell above, liked the reading-style of the first two books the most. They were light, humorous, exciting, randomly "informative", and took you along for the ride. Any questions you had were answered, or you found yourself not really caring about the answer as a new twist popped up. This was the style I fell in love with.

Starting with Life, the Universe and Everything, everything started to feel bogged down. We lost the light, whimsical feeling, and exchanged it for a (partially unwanted) purpose for our characters. Unlike the Star Wars Trilogy, in which the 2nd and 3rd movies acted as one continuous plot, we were handed this heavy plot out-of-the-blue in the 3rd act. The fourth book was completely random (even the cover of my copy - adorned with a seal - was random) and, in relativity to the series as a whole, completely unnecessary. And the fifth was so serious (and, in some respects, depressing) that you wonder why it wasn't just left off at 3.

As far as characters go, I was very disappointed to find that Trillian's character was the least explored. Okay, she gets a good bit of effort devoted to her in Mostly Harmless, but that ends up being a Parallel Universe Trillian, and so it doesn't actually tell us much at all. It would have been great had she gotten some attention back in the third book, when she, out-of-the-blue, amazingly proves to be useful. Yet, on the back of the book, the only description she's given is "sexy space cadet Trillain". I don't know if he had something against the poor girl, or if maybe she was left on the cutting-room floor, all I know is she got a rather poor showing.

I'm now about to continue on to Eoin Colfer's recently written sequel, And Another Thing... which was commissioned by Adams' widow for the 30-year anniversary. It supposedly gives things a little more closure, but I'll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, have a pleasant existence.