See yourself through the eyes of others: “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”
One of the recurring pop culture references in the hit sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” centers around the book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. Sheldon Cooper calls it a beloved novel. Leonard Hofstadter says it was his favorite book growing up. Penny bought Leonard a first edition of the novel as a birthday present. Howard Wolowitz and Rajesh Koothrappali debate the answer to a scientific mystery by referring to the plot of the book.
2021 is a great time to experience this cult science fiction classic. This year marks the 42nd anniversary of the publication of this novel which gave birth to the original pentalogy. Since the number 42 is one of the book’s most crucial plot points, fans of the novel are celebrating the anniversary as a milestone. A new Hulu series is also reportedly in the works, more than 15 years after the 2005 film’s release. “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams (42nd Anniversary Edition, 2021, Del Rey) begins, quite ordinarily, on a Thursday morning in a quaint English suburban town. Arthur Dent, whose only claim to fame is that he works at the local radio station, is stunned when he realizes his house is being demolished to make way for the freeway. His friend Ford Prefect intervenes and saves Arthur from a cataclysmic event that makes his house demolition seem completely irrelevant in comparison. What follows is a trippy, rowdy adventure of galactic proportions. The novel is funny, ingenious, and deliciously cheeky. It seamlessly combines the best of absurd humor with a penetrating look at the weaknesses of human society from an objective ‘alien’ perspective. As such, we find ourselves laughing out loud and pondering deep ideas about human behavior in equal measure. “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is a superb satire on science fiction tropes. He lovingly embraces the hero’s journey, physics, cosmology, the search for alien life, robotics and our preconceived notions of UFOs, alien abductions and dystopian futures. Ford Prefect, an alien who has lived on Earth for 15 years, is the archetype of characters like Sheldon Cooper. He can be grossly callous, inappropriate, and downright bizarre at times. His seemingly incomprehensible actions, however, serve a selfless purpose and he is, at its core, a decent humanoid alien hitchhiker.
Arthur Dent provides the perfect foil for Ford Prefect. As an ordinary human who is unceremoniously parked in the far reaches of space, Arthur is understandably confused and often quite nauseous. His natural human emotions pair well with Ford’s more calculating reactions. Their “complete strangers” and witty banter provide much of the novel’s comedic fodder, much like the hilarious dynamics of Sheldon and Leonard’s roommates fuel the hijackings of “The Big Bang Theory.” “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is also a brilliant piece of speculative fiction. In 1979, when the novel was originally published, the closest thing to a personal computer was the 1 megahertz, 96 kilobyte Commodore Personal Electronic Transactor (PET) and the Atari 2600. for a comprehensive information resource was the heavy 30-volume Encyclopedia Britannica sitting on a dusty shelf in the school library.
The novel, however, foresaw the rise of eBooks and audiobooks, touchscreen, motion sensor, drones, live streaming, and Wikipedia-like online information resources at least two decades before. their marketing. In fact, in addition to being the title of the novel, a state-of-the-art fictional travel guide called “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” features prominently in the novel. Ideal for those who wish to explore the outer reaches of the cosmos on a budget, the Guide merges the comprehensiveness of a travel book series like Lonely Planet with the powerful point-to-point search and direction functions of Google Maps. Although it contains a billion data streams to account for every planet, star, moon, gas cloud, asteroid belt, and life form that can be found in the vastness of this galaxy, it is present in an easily updatable electronic format in a device the size of a large pocket calculator. While we now take for granted that gigabytes of such information can be contained on our modern cell phones, remember that in the late 1970s it would be like carrying an entire library of books in your backpack. .
Basically, the novel is an incisive and innovative – albeit irreverent – ethnography of “the other”, a socio-cultural examination of those whose way of life is “foreign” to us. By seeing ourselves from another person’s perspective, we develop a greater sense of empathy. We are becoming more circumspect in our words and actions. We better understand the value of diversity, tolerance and inclusion. Hopefully we will also learn not to take anything for granted, as it would be a shame to waste time, goodwill, opportunities and even relationships. Instead of offering searing, blunt commentary that people tend to ignore or even resist, the novel offers us easier-to-digest nuggets of wisdom wrapped in humor. If laughter is the best medicine, then books like “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” are the sweet flavors of candy that coat the pills we took as kids. The flavors may not be therapeutic, but they make the medicine go down easily. About the Authors: Rory J. Bolivar is a certified microbiologist, educator, and writer. Robespierre L. Bolivar is the recipient of the Gawad Mabini, one of the highest presidential distinctions awarded to Philippine diplomats. Follow them on Facebook @robroryreads and visit robroryreads.wixsite.com/bookreviews
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