I have read The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy many times, and I am sure I will read it many times more.
Recently, at work I have been getting rather annoyed at the amount of time I’m wasting listening to Smooth Radio and the repetitive noise that is Karrang (which is still playing the same songs I used to listen to when I was 15). And so, instead of sneaking books around in my pockets and swearing under my breath every time I have to put it aside to actually do some work, I have decided to try listening to a few audio books.
Today, I decided to start listening to the Hitchhikers Guide, read by Douglas Adams himself. I was instantly reminded just how perfect this book is and how the introduction pretty much sums up my entire world view in roughly 600 words.
Tonight, I arrived home, plugged myself into the matrix and the first thing I saw was the Google main screen, which today features an animated image of a computer desk, along with moving dials, a window looking out into space, an automatic door which opens to reveal a certain paranoid android, a travel bag, a towel and of course the great guide itself.
Completely unbeknownst to me, today marks the 61st birthday of Douglas Adams, and I couldn’t help but laugh thinking to myself ‘How like Adams to present me with such a marvelously pointless coincidence’.
So, to celebrate his birthday and to honour the book, I thought I would post the aforementioned introduction, which I think is a small masterpiece of literature in itself.
If you have not read the book then I sincerely urge you to do so, if you have, then let’s read it again to mark the day…or simply just to re-read it once again.
Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy, lies a small unregarded yellow sun.
Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.
This planet has – or rather had – a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time.
Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.
And so the problem remained; lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches.
Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans.
And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, a girl sitting on her own in a small cafe in Rickmansworth suddenly realised what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.
Sadly, however, before she could get to a phone to tell anyone about it, a terrible, stupid catastrophe occurred, and the idea was lost forever.
This is not her story.
But it is the story of that terrible, stupid catastrophe and some of its consequences.
It is also the story of a book, a book called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – not an Earth book, never published on Earth, and until the terrible catastrophe occurred, never seen or even heard of by any Earthman.
Nevertheless, a wholly remarkable book. In fact, it was probably the most remarkable book ever to come out of the great cooperation of Ursa Minor – of which no Earthman had ever heard either.
Not only is it a wholly remarkable book, it is also a highly successful one – more popular than the Celestial Home Care Omnibus, better selling than Fifty-Three More Things to do in Zero Gravity, and more controversial than Oolon Colluphid’s trilogy of philosophical blockbusters Where God Went Wrong, Some More of God’s Greatest Mistakes and Who is this God Person, Anyway?
In many of the more relaxed civilizations on the Outer Eastern Rim of the Galaxy, the Hitchhiker’s Guide has already supplanted the great Encyclopedia 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 secondly it has the words ‘Don’t Panic’ inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover.
But the story of this terrible, stupid Thursday, the story of its extraordinary consequences, and the story of how these consequences are inextricably intertwined with this remarkable book begins very simply.
It begins with a house.