Hitchhicker's Guide to the Galaxy

date Aug 11, 2014
authors Douglas Adams
reading time 10 mins

I have a big portion of non-fiction reading in the past. But, sometimes reading fiction is great as this one, because it implants a seed of a plausible future. Inter-galactic travel and planet hopping - how long will humanity take?

##The Story

Any star, the Sun

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.

What does money mean?

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.

unimaginable distance imaginable

“What do you mean, you’ve never been to Alpha Centauri? For heaven’s sake, mankind, it’s only four light-years away, you know. I’m sorry, but if you can’t be bothered to take an interest in local affairs that’s your own lookout.

Decision making

Most of the others secretly believe that the ultimate decision-making process is handled by a computer. They couldn’t be more wrong.

Survival of the fittest?

They never evolved again: they should never have survived. The fact that they did is some kind of tribute to the thick-willed slug-brained stubbornness of these creatures.

What would lead to being discovered in the Universe?

Thus the planet Vogsphere whiled away the unhappy millennia until the Vogons suddenly discovered the principles of interstellar travel.

Possible to travel such vast distances?

The report was an official release which said that a wonderful new form of spaceship drive was at this moment being unveiled at a Government research base on Damogran which would henceforth make all hyperspatial express routes unnecessary.

The Wikipedia of the future…

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s a sort of electronic book. It tells you everything you need to know about anything. That’s its job.”

A hitchhicker’s job in a cheap cost…

Which is exactly the sort of thing you need to know if you’re an impoverished hitchhiker trying to see the marvels of the Universe for less than thirty Altairian dollars a day. And that’s my job. Fun, isn’t it?”

How would rich kids party in the future? planet hopping?

“A teaser? Teasers are usually rich kids with nothing to do. They cruise around looking for planets that haven’t made interstellar contact yet and buzz them.” “Buzz them?”


The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language. The speech patterns you actually hear decode the brainwave matrix which has been fed into your mind by your Babel fish. “Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mind-bogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a fina and clinching proof of the nonexistence of God.

The argument of existence of God

“The argument goes something like this: ‘I refuse to prove that I exist,’ says God, for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.’


“Space,” it says, “is big. Really 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, but that’s just peanuts to space … The simple truth is that interstellar distances will not fit into the human imagination.

Empty space

The record for hitchhiking this distance is just under five years, but you don’t get to see much on the way.

Warp drive travel

The Infinite Improbability Drive is a wonderful new method of crossing vast interstellar distances in a mere nothingth of a second, without all that tedious mucking about in hyperspace.

Into the star and its planet

A red star the size of a small plate crept across it followed quickly by another one - a binary system. Then a vast crescent sliced into the corner of the picture — a red glare shading away into deep black, the night side of the planet.


Mighty starships plied their way between exotic suns, seeking adventure and reward among the furthest reaches of Galactic space.

All kinds of life forms…

Somewhere in the cosmos, he said, along with all the planets inhabited by humanoids, reptiloids, fishoids, walking treeoids and superintelligent shades of the color blue, there was also a planet entirely given over to ballpoint life forms.

Rise of new professions: custom-built planets

“Well, you see, five million years ago the Galactic economy collapsed, and seeing that custom-built planets are something of a luxury commodity, you see …”

Popular fact

It is an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem.

Assumption much?

For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.

Dolphins trying to communicate to humans

The last ever dolphin message was misinterpreted as a surprisingly sophisticated attempt to do a double-backward somersault through a hoop while whistling the “Star-Spangled Banner,” but in fact the message was this: So long and thanks for all the fish.

What is infinity?

It wasn’t infinity in fact. Infinity itself looks flat and uninteresting. Looking up into the night sky is looking into infinity— distance is incomprehensible and therefore meaningless.

Earth, a manufactured planet?

“The Earth …” whispered Arthur. “Well, the Earth Mark Two in fact,” said Slartibartfast cheerfully. “We’re making a copy from our original blueprints.”

Manufactured fjord of Norway

“that you originally … made the Earth?” “Oh yes,” said Slartibartfast. “Did you ever go to a place … I think it was called Norway?” “No,” said Arthur, “no, I didn’t.” “Pity,” said Slartibartfast, “that was one of mine. Won an award, you know. Lovely crinkly edges. I was most upset to hear of its destruction.”

The secret of Earth

“Earthman, the planet you lived on was commissioned, paid for and run by mice. It was destroyed five minutes before the completion of the purpose for which it was built, and we’ve got to build another one.” Only one word was registering with Arthur. “Mice?” he said. “Indeed, Earthman.”

Questions… eternal ones

There are of course many problems connected with life, of which some of the most popular are Why are people born? Why do they die? Why do they want to spend so much of the intervening time wearing digital watches?

The infamous question of life, universe and everything

“All I wanted to say,” bellowed the computer, “is that my circuits are now irrevocably committed to calculating the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything.”

And the answer is…

“Forty-two!” yelled Loonquawl. “Is that all you’ve got to show for seven and a half million years’ work?”

Why on earth is the answer 42?

“I checked it very thoroughly,” said the computer, “and that quite definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is.” “But it was the Great Question! The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything,” howled Loonquawl. “Yes,” said Deep Thought with the air of one who suffers fools gladly, “but what actually is it?

The question is more important than the answer

“Exactly!” said Deep Thought. “So once you do know what the question actually is, you’ll know what the answer means.”

Who built the Earth

“Deep Thought designed the Earth, we built it and you lived on it.” “And the Vogons came and destroyed it five minutes before the program was completed,”


“You know,” said Arthur thoughtfully, “all this explains a lot of things. All through my life I’ve had this strange unaccountable feeling that something was going on in the world, something big, even sinister, and no one would tell me what it was.” “No,” said the old man, “that’s just perfectly normal paranoia. Everyone in the Universe has that.”

What to do with the paranoia?

“Everyone?” said Arthur. “Well, if everyone has that perhaps it means something! Perhaps somewhere outside the Universe we know …” “Maybe. Who cares?” said Slartibartfast before Arthur got too excited. “Perhaps I’m old and tired,” he continued, “but I always think that the chances of finding out what really is going on are so absurdly remote that the only thing to do is to say hang the sense of it and just keep yourself occupied. Look at me: I design coastlines. I got an award for Norway.”


“Well, I mean, yes idealism, yes the dignity of pure research, yes the pursuit of truth in all its forms, but there comes a point I’m afraid where you begin to suspect that if there’s any real truth, it’s that the entire multidimensional infinity of the Universe is almost certainly being run by a bunch of maniacs. And if it comes to a choice between spending yet another ten million years finding that out, and on the other hand just taking the money and running, then I for one could do with the exercise,”

Making it sound significant

Sounds very significant without actually tying you down to meaning anything at all. How many roads must a man walk down? Forty-two.

Phases in Civilisation…

It said: “The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why and Where phases. “For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question How can we eat? the second by the question Why do we eat? and the third by the question Where shall we have lunch?”

##Reading to peer into imagination

I remember reading Tintin’s Destination Moon which was written by Hergé in the 1950s, but the first moon landing was almost a decase later. Or Jules Verne’s Around the world in 80 days - now it’s within a day.

Fascinating to think what science fiction authors are penning today might come true in our lifetime.

I looking to read more such science fictions maybe starting with the Foundation Series next.

What other science fiction book on space, universe and adventure would you recommend?