The Steampunk’s Guide to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

quotes-hitchhikers-12Wednesday May 25th was Towel Day. What is Towel Day, you ask? It is a day when fans of a strange comedic SF writer named Douglas Adams carry a towel around in order to identify other initiates into an even stranger fandom known colloquially as HG2G.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a different kind of fandom. If you haven’t seen/read it you know that you haven’t seen/read it. You get the jokes, but you don’t understand what they’re about. You’re either in, or you’re out. You can’t ride the fence as if this were Star Trek or the MCU. It’s also extremely easy to pick out the other fans in casual conversation. The catchphrases of many fandoms can some time’s be misunderstood as normal remarks but blurting out “42” in the midst of an existential discussion is a pretty obvious cue. The people laughing are the ones who know what you are talking about.

Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.

The_Hitchhiker's_Guide_to_the_GalaxyThe Series

It all starts with a radio play which evolved into a series of books and a TV show. The first book is named after the book within the book. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is an early imagination of a sort of Wikipedia. It’s a huge compendium of information of more or less use to a random traveler trying to see the world on less than ten altarian dollars a day. In the words of the book itself:

In many of the more relaxed civilizations on the Outer Eastern Rim of the Galaxy, the Hitchhiker’s Guide has already supplanted the great Encyclopaedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom, for though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, it scores over the older, more pedestrian work in two important respects. First, it is slightly cheaper; and second, it has the words “DON’T PANIC” inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover.

The series consists of five books in total. The first one, by the above mentioned name, and then The Resturaunt at the End of the Universe, Life, the Universe, and Everything, So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, and Mostly Harmless. The books get darker and less funny as they progress, finally coming full circle and ending where they begin–with the complete destruction of Earth and the death of everyone on it.

coverThe Sequel

The storm had now definitely abated, and what thunder there was now grumbled over more distant hills, like a man saying ‘And another thing… twenty minutes after admitting he’s lost the argument.

Douglas Adams died in 2001 and the world was deprived not only of a comedic genius, but also of any hope of a better ending for the series. His widow apparently felt the same, for in 2008 it was announced that she had given her blessing to Eion Coifer to write and publish a sixth book in the series. And Another Thing… managed to logically undo all that had been done in Mostly Harmless and end the series on a far more positive note. While the writing could never be mistaken for the sarcasm of Adams’ himself, it is a fair imitation and nobody is complaining too much.

The Radio Show

The radio series, the first version of HG2G, was broadcast by the BBC in 1978 and 2005. The radio programs are rather difficult to get a hold of now, although the scripts were published in 2003 as part of the 25th anniversary of the series, and some episodes can be found on Youtube. Live versions of the program have also been performed, starring original or guest stars, such as the much coveted performance last year in which Neil Gaiman played The Book. Gaiman is also the author of the Official Companion to the Guide which might prove to be a more through overview than this one.

The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.

MV5BMjEwOTk4NjU2MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMDA3NzI3._V1_SX640_SY720_The Movie

The movie was collaborated on by Douglas Adams, and did not manage to get finished and released until four years after his death. Despite a star studded cast, that included the voice of Alan Rickman as Marvin the depressed robot, the movie lacks the brilliance and originality that made the book so funny. It was mildly successfully, mildly reviewed, and mildly ignored by anyone who actually cares about Douglas Adams. Of far more interest to the hoopy froods who know what they want is…

“You know,” said Arthur, “it’s at times like this, when I’m trapped in a Vogon airlock with a man from Betelgeuse, and about to die of asphyxiation in deep space that I really wish I’d listened to what my mother told me when I was young.”
“Why, what did she tell you?”
“I don’t know, I didn’t listen.”

The TV Show

In 1981 the BBC released a mini-series of the books. In six episodes and three hours, it is almost a word-for-word adaptation featuring all of the BBC’s best and brightest, including David Dixon as Ford Prefect, and Peter Davidson (Yes, THAT Peter “Doctor Who” Davidson) as the meat of the day. If you have never seen the series, you really ought to. If you’re not a person who likes to read, then this is the best way to get an introduction into a world that’s as quotable as the Princess Bride. And to get you started, the first episode is on Youtube. The theme tune is perfect in an 80s sci-fi kind of way, and it’s as authentically British as they come. But don’t just take my word for it. Go see for yourself.

There was a point to this story but it has temporarily escaped this chronicler’s mind.

The Game

Of course if you are a die-hard fan of the series and you have the first book memorized and the original series on cassette tape, and you can point out every line that the 2005 film got wrong and you have definite opinions on who should play Marvin in the remake, and you’ve only been reading this post for the sake of nostalgia and to make sure I don’t commit any unforgivable mistakes, then you are ready, young novice, to move on to the next stage.

In 1984 Infocom released an interactive fiction game version of the novel. It is a text-based game that brings a sense of nostalgia even to those who were not born to remember such things. It is best navigated by one who has an inkling of what is going on, since some of the scenarios are so inexplicably bizarre that you would never guess them without some pointers. The best part is that it is still available online, and you can go waste time playing it right now.

Katie Lynn Daniels is the author of Supervillain of the Day, and the mastermind behind Vaguely Circular. She blogs about science and things that are peripherally related to science. You can read all her posts here.


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