Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy: 36 years later.

In case you missed it.... it's Douglas Adams's Birthday today. One of the greatest sons of Cambridge, second only to the founder of the circling poets of Kakrafoon, 5th in line in froodness from the Jamaican roti wagon man who is the holder of the perspex pillar of justice with wich he scrapes grease from the grease trap. A man who still owes a script to the BBC which graciously has granted him yet another extension, having missed the last 8, at least 3 out of  simple habit and one out of mischief. We may yet rescue a story from one of his hard drives but I suspect it will be more Silmarilion than Restaurant at the end. In the interim, we can read, watch or listen to any number of versions of his Magnum Opus till that day comes to pass.

I was moved to write today mostly out the need to tell as many people as I could about the hoopie little features the BBC has laid on for the HHGTTG cognoscenti around the world. I set the mood first by tuning into  this wonderful site holding the radio plays   or here as they went out that  first time in 1978. I could have also gone to the specially designed BBC page complete with reconstituted retro game even, but chose to not wait till next week, tho in fairness, I need little provocation to listen again and do so at the slightest excuse or if  I have a long train ride that would otherwise be punctuated by offers of bad biscuits and overpriced East Coast hot beverages. (scripts for the radio shows here, follow the logical links)

Play the game again or for the first time
Ah yes....  er, Games,  yes. If you're old enough, you'll remember the joy of early gaming where you typed instructions and dialogue into a programme that if you were lucky, had you trained in the appropriate machine language responses required to get past the bulldozer. If however you are alive now and were not a spotty youth in 1984, you will find bewildering the manner in which you interact.  Don't Panic, the kind boffins at the BBC have included several tabs that help you navigate the Neanderthal retro game with ease. It has lots of cool sound effects and once you get the hang of it, it even begins to make sense. I having been a past master when it first came out, took only 10 minutes to finally get out the house before I was crushed to death by the bulldozer. Not bad as it's been nearly 30 years since I played it last. Truth be told, even then it was a miracle that first time when I made onto the Vogon cruiser. I won't give any more away, but if you get  onto the Heart of Gold, do please pay a visit to the Nutrimatics drinks dispenser. You know what the sad thing is ? Even now I'm getting the details from memory. 

And that's the thing about Douglas Adams, he wrote other things.... Dirk Gently, Doctor Who eps and lots of other stuff, but what sticks like glue in our collective minds , occupying precious space that could be storing valuable information like where I left that Dalek cookie cutter or the alleged safe place  I last left my datastick in, is the entirety of HHGTTG, all of it, the radio plays, the telly plays and the books. Greater even than Shakespeare and his many plays, better than JRR Tolkein's LOTR, HHGTTG has managed to be ever present babelfish Sci Fi trope treasure trove and existentialist Woody Allen sketch edited by a Pythoner filtering the rest of life for you. If you're like most of my geek mates of a certain age, that's precisely the sort of thing that would appeal to you. Give it to a young person  who's just turned old enough to start considering the question of Life the Universe and Everything, and you'll soon find out if you have a deeply curious person who may turn into scientist, philosopher or both. A constant questioning vein of humour runs throughout the entire work and distracts the reader/listener from the fact that Douglas Adams turned inconsistency, lack of continuity and writing by the skin of your teeth into an art form. If you read it correctly, you can actually hear him thinking out loud, wondering which turn to take and more often than not, wondering how to get himself out of yet another trap of his own making. His most famous such trap was left unresolved in the upstairs landing of Dirk Gently's Apartment building. Like the Gordian Knot of old, a man from the removal firm finally sawed it in half. 

If you're new to the obsession, I warn you that you'll need all of it. Well maybe not the film, it was a mess and you'll only mutter darkly afterwards, but the rest, you'll need it all. Here's why.  Our boy could never leave anything well enough alone, consequently  when the radio plays were made into telly plays and books, details would change, some not so important others more so. If you have heard the radio plays, you'll know there is a giant statue with bird people living in the head, they are never heard from again but the statue reappears later in a cave. If you read the books published separately, the perspex pillar is also the award for the most gratuitous use of the word fuck in a screenplay, but in the omnibus, it's now Belgium. You're not even safe with the omnibus editions, I'm not sure but I think that from the the one without "Zaphod plays it safe" to the one with, there are more minuscule alterations.  My point is that if you pick up any of the books out there, from the radio scripts to the novelizations to the omnibus, you can have a differently spiced version every time.

Our book club is reading Hitch Hiker this month, I know some of them won't get it. The undisciplined mind that created the Electric Monk and the interconnectivity of all things is just too scattered and easily distracted for the type that prefers a traditional beginning , middle, end going somewhere with this story. HHGTTG is not one of those books, it's more of an exploration of reality, spirituality and the universe through humour and viewed via the filter of the British stiff upper lip  that dances on the border of madness and control. One of the tensest scenes in the entire story takes place in a railway dinner in which a single packet of biscuits is shared by two people who each think the other is stealing their biscuits. Propriety and fair play in the midst of bureaucratic intransigence arises time and again as if it were a game of cricket. In fact cricket as life and as philosophy of life is never far from the surface. 

Marvin the Paranoid Android is the fatalistic Russian Jewish side of the story that springs up at you
forever pointing out that life is hard and that G-d, if he exists, has it in for you. The planet Krikkit is inhabited by Daily Mail readers who hate outsiders and Arthur Dent is himself a shlemiel who finds out the long hard way that it's the little things in life and tea, that remain constant, not the same, but constant, that sometimes certain people are in fact the centre of the Universe and the rest of us will never be.  I could explain that in greater detail, but I would much rather you read the books.

The only way to enjoy these books is to let go of  structure and allow the narrative to take you on a ride through surrealism and  alternate streams of thought occasionally resting in a oasis long enough to have a go at yet another social blunder, security blanket or fad. I'm not saying he's Joseph Conrad, Tolstoy or Kafka, tho at times you would swear he'd been reading them just before he sat down to write. Then again, if  you like Woody Allen, Mel Brooks and Kafka, it stands to reason you like Adams. You need a corkscrew  sort of mindset to get into the stories, they are all about everything and about nothing. 

I'm going to have a piece of Faery cake and a cup of tea now, even in the darkest depths of space in the most advance ship ever known, there is always time for tea and a bit of a bath.

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