As I am sure many of you in the know will realise, today is Towel Day. For those of you who may be reading this and thinking “What the hell is Towel Day?” then it is a day whereby we carry around a towel, as a tribute to the Sci-Fi series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, written by Douglas Adams.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a series of novels and radio shows (called “A trilogy in five parts – or now six parts since the release of And Another Thing... by Eoin Colfer) that tell the story of Arthur Dent, an Englishman that is taken on an amazing journey through space and time when he discovers that his best friend Ford Prefect is actually an alien from Betelgeuse – and not from Guilford as originally thought! Ford Prefect saves Arthur from the destruction of Earth from the aliens, the Vogons, who are demolishing Earth to make space for a new hyperspace bypass. Hiding away on their ship, Arthur and Ford go on an amazing journey throughout space – meeting up with a variety of many bizarre, but hilarious characters. These include Zaphod Beeblebrox, a narcissistic space outlaw – Trillian, a girl that Arthur Dent had a crush on back on Earth and was swept away by Zaphod – and, possibly my FAVOURITE character of the whole series, Marvin The Paranoid Android, a manically depressed robot that is constantly moaning and very unhappy. The series has also been adapted into a brilliant TV series by the BBC, and a rather disappointing (in my opinion) film.
Douglas Adams, as some of you may have read from my “About the Author” sections in my books, is one of my favourite all time authors and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is one of my favourite book series of all time. I love the humour and comic timing of the piece, the delightfully wonderful characters that, even though are alien, you still can relate to and find interesting. The comic timing of the story is spot on and the dialogue is just so beautifully crafted that it will raise anything from a chuckle, to a full blown laugh. An example of this is when the character Slatibartfast tells Arthur Dent to hurry or else he will be late. “Late... as in the Late Arthur Dent... It’s supposed to be some kind of threat.”
The Hitchhiker’s series is also responsible for creating possibly one of the most famous esoterical questions – or rather answers – in the form of the computer Deep Thought, a computer created to find the answer to the Ultimate Question. The answer of course, being “42”. But what is the question? Well, that’s never been explained fully, but it’s come to become a bit of a joke amongst the people of the world when they ask the question “What is the meaning of Life?”
Anyway, one of the things I love about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the little “asides” and expositions that it does now and then. Whether it’s describing a race, a person, a scientific breakthrough – or even something just as mundane as an object, the Guide will occasionally pop up with a small bit of exposition explaining to the reader what is happening. Normally, these sorts of things can slow down a story, but Douglas Adams writes it with such flair and humour that these can almost be a story in their own right! It helps breathe life into the Universe and the many races out there and goes on to explain some of the more amazing stuff in the world.
I think one of my favourite descriptions in the book is when the Guide goes onto explain the science behind flying – to make it work, you have to accidentally miss the ground. Such a simple statement, but it made me laugh due to the way it was phrased so deadpan and seriously. Another favourite is mine is describing the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster, a drink that is described as both "the alcoholic equivalent of a mugging - expensive and bad for the head", and "like having your brain smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick".
Occasionally, little sub-plots can start from the most mundane of situations. For example, in the first book Arthur Dent just says a rather harmless line “I seem to be having tremendous difficulty with my lifestyle”, which is then sent through a wormhole and sent back many years to an alien galaxy, and is the cause of starting a mass war! Just goes to show “careless talk cost’s lives!”
One particular note in The Hitchhiker’s series is it’s somewhat Existentialistic look on religion. Adams himself was an Atheist and this kinda shows in his writing. One such example is the fabled Babel Fish (which ironically is now a website used for translation purposes), a species of fish that, once you put in your ear, you can translate any alien language. Within the context of the story, it also is responsible for the proving, and disproving, of God’s existence. Here is a section of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that shows how it goes.
"I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."
"But," says Man, "the Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED."
"Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
Douglas Adams was a very talented writer and The Hitchhiker’s series is the one he’s best known for. But he is also known for doing work on the long running Doctor Who series, serving as a writer and sometimes producer. He also wrote the Dirk Gently series which, as he describes it, is a "a kind of ghost-horror-detective-time-travel-romantic-comedy-epic, mainly concerned with mud, music and quantum mechanics." Interestingly enough, the Norse Gods (who also appeared in The Hitchhiker’s series) also make an appearance in this book, giving a feel of a “shared universe”. Since his death, a posthumous sixth book in the series has been released, penned by Artemus Fowl author Eoin Colfer, called And Another Thing... Some people criticised this book for not having the same wit and humour that Douglas Adams had, but I think he did a good job.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy remains for me one of the absolute gold standards when writing comedy Sci-Fi – along with Red Dwarf. It’s chock full of humour, imaginative characters, vivid settings and very well thought out, yet somewhat complex science – and overall a great story that is epic in scale and leaves you wanting to read on. So to Douglas Adams, I say – Thanks for all the fish!
Oh yeah, I was going to tell you what Towel Day is, wasn’t it? Well, as the Guide says, towels are a very useful thing to have when partaking in interstellar space travel! XD
Happy Towel Day everyone!