30 Day Book Challenge: Day Three

Book that makes you laugh out loud: The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – Douglas Adams

This is Sci-Fi done right. I’ve read a lot of funny books and books with funny passages, but I rarely laugh out loud while reading. Usually it’s because it’s something incredibly clever rhetorically or something that is actually humorous. Every page of Hitchhiker’s Guide has both. The story begins with Arthur Dent, the protagonist, trying to stop his house from being demolished so the absurdly bureaucratic local government can build an intercity bypass only to be swept away into outer-space by his best friend, Ford Prefect (who, unbeknownst to Arthur, is actually an alien) because earth is going to be demolished by the absurdly bureaucratic harbingers of doom, the Vogons, who are trying to build an intergalactic bypass. They hitch a ride onto the Vogon spaceship and when they are discovered they are tortured by readings of Vogon poetry and are eventually put to death, but are luckily and highly improbably rescued by the Zaphood Beeblebrox who has commandeered the Heart of Gold, which actually makes sense because the ship is actually powered by an Improbability Drive. The book basically continues along this path of absurdist plot devices and narrative shifts, until we discover that Earth was actually a super-computer designed by mice – the smartest creatures on Earth, along with dolphins, and humans rounding out third place – in order to provide the question to the answer “42,” which is actually the meaning of life.  The mice try to operate on Arthur’s brain in the hopes of salvaging anything that may link him to Earth, but luckily he and the gang escape, leaving the book open for a sequel, which would eventually turn into a trilogy of five books, and another book recently by some other author, but we won’t even go there right now.

On top of the absurd plot structure, the book is also populated by brilliantly sketched characters. I think my personal favorite would have to be Marvin, the chronically depressed robot. Marvin really represents what makes the book so wonderful, which is Adams’ ability to subvert expectations. Not only does the plot move in unforeseeable directions, but the characters too upset many preconceived and established Sci-Fi conventions. Technology is rarely given autonomy in Sci-Fi, and A.I. robots tend to be pretty one-dimensional. What makes Marvin so funny is that he’s just like your ubiquitously over-qualified headcase that has a PhD in Pure Math but has an office job at a telemarketing firm. Marvin is also great because he gave us the monicker “Paranoid Android,” which is the title of one my all-time favorite songs by Radiohead.

At face value, you’d think Hitchhiker’s Guide would translate beautifully onto the big-screen, but the film version was actually somewhat of a disaster. The obvious culprits would be the script and the direction (the whole Humma Kavula side-plot was ridiculous). I thought casting was excellent and the effects, sets, and costumes were all wonderful. The real problem with the film was the absence of the consistent narrative voice. The funniest parts were when the voice did enter the film, as was brilliantly handled by Stephen Fry. Not sure how many people know this, but Hitchhiker’s Guide was first manifested as a radio series before appearing in its novelized form, soI think that omniscient narrative voice is almost inextricable from its spirit. The over the top, absurdist plot delivered in a dry, immutably British voice is the beating heart of Hitchhiker’s Guide, without that it really comes across kind of flat and somewhat Family Guyishly random and irreverant, which is a damn shame.

I’m pretty sure this is the original radio program (tell me that narration doesn’t own):




~ by braddunne on June 15, 2011.

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