(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series is a unique experiment combining humor and science fiction. As humor, it lampoons everything from philosophers, psychoanalysts, and economists to the BBC, American television, and the publishing business. The trilogy also deals in high irony. For example, while the authorities are planning to demolish Arthur’s house and coming up with all kinds of morally bankrupt reasons for doing so, they are about to have their habitat demolished, for equally vacuous reasons. Likewise, the rejects from Golgafrincham are portrayed as inept, useless idiots, but they survive while their fellow Golgafrinchams are wiped out by a plague contracted as a result of a dirty telephone.

As science fiction, the series creates a universe that becomes real to readers, although, again ironically, it is one in which reality is elusive, conditions constantly shift, and the meaning of life may be completely unknowable. Douglas Adams’ universe is an existential one in which there is no knowable godhead to supply authoritative guidance and morals are relative. In the fourth novel, Adams offers love as an answer, but it is not a dominant theme in the work. As in François Marie Arouet de Voltaire’s Candide (1759), readers might draw the lesson that one should simply mind his or her own business, but Arthur is not allowed to do that. Trouble finds him, whether he is looking for it or not. Thus, Adams gives urgency to the questions he raises, though he gives no answers.

There is, in addition, an occasional environmental theme, as in the story “Young Zaphod Plays It Safe.” As might be expected, no such crusade could long be sustained in this work, because environmentalists, like everyone else, must be lampooned. Their cause rests on the same flimsy philosophical foundations as all human ideals and principles.