Study Guide

Douglas Adams

Douglas Adams Essay - Adams, Douglas (Noel)

Adams, Douglas (Noel)

Introduction

Douglas (Noel) Adams 1952–

English scriptwriter and novelist.

After writing comedy for a number of successful British television shows, Adams wrote The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and sold it for broadcast on British radio. The program proved immensely popular, spawning a theater production, a television series, albums and cassettes, and a novel trilogy, with a motion picture in preparation. The trilogy has spread Adams's fame abroad, adding to an already large and enthusiastic following, especially on college campuses.

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979), along with The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980), and Life, the Universe and Everything (1982), Adams uses the literary devices of science fiction to spoof humanity. The trilogy unfolds the adventures of Englishman Arthur Dent and his alien friend Ford Prefect as they hitch rides across the galaxy after Earth is destroyed to make room for an intergalactic highway. Along the way they meet new life forms that demonstrate Adams's inventiveness. The trilogy is fast-paced and, like the irreverent comedy of Monty Python, mixes deadpan humor, absurdity, satire, and silliness. Most critics have reacted favorably to Hitchhiker, viewing it as rollicking farce seldom seen in science fiction.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vol. 106.)

Kirkus Reviews

[The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is science fiction] Monty Python-style—as West England villager Arthur Dent becomes the only survivor of Earth, rescued by Ford Prefect of Betelgeuse, a roving researcher for The Hitchhiker's Guide…. The hideous Vogons torture our heroes by reading poetry to them, but then they're miraculously picked up by the Starship Heart of Gold—which is powered by "the Infinite Improbability Drive," commanded by Galactic President Zaphod Beeblebrox, and staffed by an epically depressed robot named Marvin with a smark-aleck computer that sings "You'll Never Walk Alone." They're all headed for the legendary planet Magrathea, where roaming Arthur discovers Slartibartfast, the guy who originally made Earth ("Norway … that was one of mine. Won an award, you know. Lovely crinkly edges") and is now working on Earth Mark Two…. Lots of pure silliness, too many English references for U.S. readers, but—like moviegoers who sat through [the Monty Python movie] Life of Brian for the sake of a few good chuckles—fans of absurd deadpan-parody will happily flip through this likable send-up in order to extract a couple of dozen fine giggles.

A review of "A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," in Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1980 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), Vol. XLVIII, No. 14, July 15, 1980, p. 941.

Lisa Tuttle

[The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is] science fiction and it's extremely funny—a rare and precious conjunction in a field where what usually passes for humor is a bad pun at the end of a dull story.

There's nothing dull about the Guide, which is inspired lunacy that leaves hardly a science fictional cliché alive. It relates, in an almost linear fashion, the adventures of an interstellar hitchhiker who calls himself Ford Prefect (when he's visiting that mostly harmless planet called Earth, at any rate) and his dazed companion Arthur Dent, who is fated to see not only his house but his entire world demolished to make way for a new expressway. On their travels they encounter, among other things, aliens, computers, a depressed robot, the third worst poetry in the universe, and even the long sought after answer to the great question of Life, the Universe and Everything. It's all over much too soon. But—don't panic—there's a sequel on the way.

Lisa Tuttle, "As Other Worlds Turn," in Book World—The Washington Post (© 1980, The Washington Post), November 23, 1980, p. 6.∗

Peter Kemp

Douglas Adams's book, The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy—a spin-off from his radio series—shot hilariously away from the gravity that so often weighs down modern science fiction, and proved an appropriately astronomical success. Now, he has launched a follow-up, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

It contains the same central figures: Arthur and Trillian, who escaped just before the Earth was destroyed to make way for a hyperspatial express route; Ford, who 'was in fact from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse and not from Guildford as he usually claimed'; Zaphod, rogue President of the Galaxy, 'recently voted the Worst Dressed Sentient Being in the Known Universe'; and Marvin the Paranoid Android, an oppressively depressive robot with 'this terrible pain in all the diodes down my left side'.

In The Hitch-Hiker's Guide—a sardonically funny exercise in galactic globe-trotting—they hurtled through space. Here, they also speed through time—finally reaching Milliways, the fabled 'Restaurant at the End of the Universe', an ultra-chic eatery boasting 'lavatory facilities for all of fifty major lifeforms' and laying on apocalypse as cabaret, since it is situated at the closing moments of the cosmos (for those who want to go to the opposite extreme, there is the Big Bang Burger Bar).

Not that Adams's characters spend much time eating. As usual, they...

(The entire section is 495 words.)

Gerald Jonas

["The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"] is the book that answers "The Great Question, The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything." The answer, as it happens, is "forty-two." Since the largest computer ever built (known as Deep Thought) takes seven-and-a-half million years to come up with the answer, the disappointment of the original questioners is perhaps understandable. They are even more disappointed when they learn that the only way to understand the answer is to phrase the question a little more specifically. For this, an even bigger computer and another ten million years are required. It turns out that this computer….

But that is telling the story in chronological order, a narrative trick that Douglas Adams (who once wrote discontinuity for "Monty Python's Flying Circus") is never guilty of. He prefers to tell his stories backward, sideway and even inside out if that will help anyone, which it probably won't. (p. 24)

Humorous science fiction novels have notoriously limited audiences; they tend to be full of "in" jokes understandable only to those who read everything from Jules Verne to Harlan Ellison. The "Hitchhiker's Guide" is a delightful exception, being written for anyone who can understand the thrill that might come to a crew of interstellar explorers who discover a mysterious planet, dead for five million years, and then hear on their "sub etha" radio a ghostly voice, hollow, reedy, insubstantial: "Greetings to you…. This is a recorded announcement, as I'm afraid we're all out at the moment…." (p. 25)

Gerald Jonas, in a review of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1981 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), January 25, 1981, pp. 24-5.

Philip Howard

Hot Black Desiato has made so much money out of ear-shattering plutonium rock music that he is having to spend a year dead for tax reasons. Gargravarr is a man whose mind and body have agreed to live apart on the grounds of incompatibility. And here again, bleep bleep hooray, is Marvin the Paranoid Android robot, who manages to look permanently lugubrious, as far as it is possible for something with a totally metal face to show self-pity.

In short, and indeed in prolixity, chums, [The Restaurant at the End of the Universe] is the sequel to The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which has attracted a cult even among those normally impervious to the mechanical charms of science fiction. A summary of the plot would read like case notes of a nervous breakdown. Here be further adventures of Ford Prefect and his companions with odd numbers of heads in the highways and byways of the Universe. It is not le silence eternel of these infinite spaces that terrifies, but the incessant smart-aleck chatter of creatures like the nastier plastic things that come out of cornflake packets. Put your analyst on danger money, baby, before you read this….

It is a space 1066 and All That crossed with [Alice in Wonderland] and Gulliver's Travels, best read after a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster slug of the universal hooch, Jynnan Toenick. [Jonathan Swift in Gulliver's Travels] satirized...

(The entire section is 455 words.)

Kirkus Reviews

[The Restaurant at the End of the Universe is the] sequel to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy—and again the sf parody here is deranged, deadpan, satirical, hyperbolic, wildly erratic … but with rather less of a British accent than its predecessor…. [The heroes encounter] Milliways, the restaurant at the end of the universe (where dinner walks up to introduce itself, and the entertainment is, literally, doomsday); Hotblack Desiato, leader of the galaxy's loudest rock band (he's spending a year dead for tax purposes); a colony of joggers, hairdressers, and PR men (they'd like to invent the wheel, but can't decide what color it should be); and the man who rules the universe (he's not at all sure...

(The entire section is 163 words.)

John Clute

I don't think anyone could pretend that Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which novelizes part of his extraordinarily successful BBC radio series of the same name, ever amounted to much more than a job of media transplant for its author who, having once already told the jokes and the story they engendered, was very likely, at the point he wrote the novel, also preparing to run the whole package through yet another transformation—into a television series, also successful. But whatever form this blatant package comes in, it's a joy.

To begin with, Hitchhiker is indeed a novel about how to travel free around the galaxy; somewhere in between it is a cosmological fable...

(The entire section is 382 words.)

Claudia Morner

[The hitchhikers in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe] are searching for a perfect cup of tea and for a question, the answer of which is 42. They blunder onto one absurd situation after another, such as the Restaurant of the title, which is located in space and time at the very end of the universe. It is a nightclub that offers its guests the opportunity to watch the universe come to an end as floor-show entertainment every evening at the same time. Reminiscent of Stanislaw Lem's writing (without his underlying seriousness) and of Kurt Vonnegut's science fiction, it is both an entertaining, silly story and a successful satire of the worst of S.F. novels. As a sequel to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the...

(The entire section is 178 words.)

Sally Emerson

Douglas Adams's latest space extravaganza this time starts life as a novel [Life, the Universe and Everything]. The first two novels of the series—The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe—were first born as a radio series….

The major characters of the first books return—the vulnerable, bemused Dent; the wise-cracking, know-all Ford Prefect; the cool, half-comatose Zaphod and the manic depressive robot Marvin. Although the plot flags a little here and there much of the writing is dazzling and there are episodes of comic genius, in particular the confrontation between the time-travelling Dent (still in his original dressing gown)...

(The entire section is 196 words.)

Kirkus Reviews

If The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was a work of genuine lunacy, and its sequel The Restaurant at the End of the Universe less inspired and considerably more ragged, [Life, the Universe and Everything] is a much busier but practically mirthless offering: the whole notion palls, the dialogue is frequently reduced to the characters telling one another to "zark off," and even the chunks of furious hyperbole have an ominously serious ring…. [There] are some amusing spots, including: Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged, bored with being immortal, has decided to travel about insulting everybody in the universe—in alphabetical order; and the longest, most destructive party ever held, attended by...

(The entire section is 170 words.)

Tom Hutchinson

Humour is not that rare a quality in science fiction, but Douglas Adams's contribution to future mock must surely be unique: he violates SF taboos while at the same time and quite obviously regarding them with deep affection: you only hurt the genre you love. He is a treasure and science fictioneers should place a preservation order upon him.

Life, The Universe and Everything …, his latest guide to such spatial hitch-hikers as everymanic Arthur Dent, the insufferable Ford Prefect, and guru Slartibartfast has them saving the Galaxy from the revived Krikkit robots and their kind. The game of flanneled fools, you will be interested to know, is a racial memory of a previous, horrendous galactic...

(The entire section is 239 words.)

Richard Brown

Television and radio announcers have a distinctive but necessarily rather limited critical vocabulary. They use up all their superlatives on "gripping sagas", "action-packed crime-busters" and "uproarious, side-splitting" comedies, and have little left with which to package anything more genuinely youthful, imaginative and funny. It reflects rather badly on everyday programming that Douglas Adams's clever science-fiction comedies The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy are unfamiliar enough to be introduced into the domestic arena as "zany" and "madcap", and it is a comment on the mass audience that the enjoyment of such unexceptionable pleasures should be thought of as some kind of cult.

...

(The entire section is 674 words.)

Peter Stoler

Whimsy is currently in short supply, a deficiency that makes Douglas Adams' new book all the more welcome. Life, the Universe and Everything … is like nothing ever published before except, perhaps, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, also written by Douglas Adams. Once again the protagonist is a reluctant wanderer named Arthur Dent; once again his intergalactic guide is an extraterrestrial named Ford Prefect. Vooming around the void accompanied by a two-headed, three-armed creature who once controlled the universe and a sexy space cadet, Dent manages to avert Armageddon and save the world for life as we never knew it. Adams delights in cosmic pratfalls, and if he sometimes loses track of his...

(The entire section is 248 words.)

Brian Stableford

It is probable that no one will enjoy Life, the Universe and Everything as much as its predecessors. Once you expect the unexpected, it is no longer unexpected, and that which is startling and amusing only as long as it remains surprising cannot endure being spun out into trilogies. The books, in any case, cannot be as funny as the radio show: the dialogue of Marvin the paranoid android, for instance, is pretty dull in print but a real scream when rendered in … [a] magnificently morose (and electronically distorted) voice. Then again, this third volume gives way more than the second (and much more than the first) to the inherent gloominess of Adams' temperament. His irony was always bitter, underlaid—and,...

(The entire section is 291 words.)