Saturday, October 15, 2005

A mostly harmless book

There are times when you come across a good find. Something similar to finding a Leprechaun's pot of gold, minus the Leprechaun of course.

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon the science fiction novels of Douglas Adams, otherwise known collectively as The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

A brief introduction to the story and the book.

The first incarnation of this story was Radio 4 comedy series. Since its cult success it has been remade as a play, an album a series of books, comic books, a computer game, a tv show, a tea- towel and among other things a big budgeted movie.

I first encountered the story as a comic book series. The first series was called "The Hitchikers' Guide to the Galaxy" and the second series was called "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe". Then the comic series stopped. I am not sure why it did or if it ever did stop. Perhaps, the distributor did not see much profits in it. I guess you cannot make a killing if only people who genuinely read it will actually buy it. But again it could be just me, I lost track of it.

The comic books were funny.

Later however, I have since learned that the books were definetly more funnier. And a few months ago I learned that the first incarnation of the story, the radio plays, were funnier than all the rest. The plethora forms that Adams' tale underwent seemed that it too went into the proverbial improbability drive found in the tale.

Unfortunately, to obtain the radio-plays can be quite costly and it would seem more practical to obtain the book. The DVD/VCD version of the movie can wait. One can easily get that when the price drops.

But how to get the book? Was it worth it buying the whole set of paperbacks? The inner tightwad and spendtrift in me were on a collision course.

It was like a tug-of-war between buying the books and not buying books. Whenever, I passed a bookstore I would always debated with myself on the practicality or impracticality. More often the stingy-side of me would win. Until that fateful day.

On the way home I stopped by one of the small bookstores around Cubao. This particular bookstore was around a tenth of the size of National Book Store, which was a five story building, or that of Fullybooked, which occupied a commercial space for a small supermarket. This petite bookstore was not a thrift bookshop. It was quite elegant and professional in its appearance and ambience. The brown bookshelves and the sofa made it that I think. Anyway, the bookstore had a sale that lasted for the whole month. So I stepped in on more than one occassion to take a look-see at their collection.

What caught my eye was a compilation of Douglas Adams' Hitchikers Guide series in one hardbound book.

Six Stories by Douglas Adams: The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide - The Five Complete Novels and one

And there it was the whole gamut of novels:

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Life the Universe and Everything
So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
Mostly Harmless
Young Zaphod Plays it Safe

Plus it was on discount, for the price of two paperbacks you can get the whole caboodle,in hardbound. All I had to do now was to wait for payday. My mind was still debating about it though, mentally twiddling the pros and cons of the purchase. The spendthrift in me was sort of humming a tum-tee-tum-tee-dum ditty, it knew it was winning. And the apologist in me was already forumalating justifications.

In the end I bought it and read the first book. As I perused the pages a smile formed in my mouth and small chuckles begin to come out like soap bubbles from an old 1950s waching machine. Here is what I read:

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 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, one girl sitting on her own in a
small cafe in Rickmansworth suddenly realized 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 terribly 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 Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - not an Earth book, never published on Earth, and until the terrible catastrophe occurred, never seen or 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 publishing houses 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 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 EasternRim of the Galaxy, the Hitch Hiker'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.(The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Adams)

It truly is a funny book.


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