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Christian Erkenbrecher

The "Hitchhiker's Guide


to the Galaxy" Revisited
Motifs of Science Fiction and Social Criticism

Diplomica Verlag
Christian Erkenbrecher
The "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" Revisited: Motifs of Science Fiction and Social
Criticism

ISBN: 978-3-8428-1177-5
Herstellung: Diplomica® Verlag GmbH, Hamburg, 2011

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Different Medial Realizations of the Hitchhiker’s Guide ……………... 5

2. On Science Fiction …………………………………………………………………...…. 7


2.1 The Struggle of Defining SF ………………………………………………….. 7
2.2 The Most Important Historical Facts, Icons and Events of SF ……………. 8
2.2.1 Is There a ‘First’ Work of Science Fiction? ………………....….…. 9
2.2.2 The Age of Enlightenment ………………………………….….….. 11
2.2.3 Industrial Revolution ……………………………….....…………… 14
2.2.4 Jules Verne …………………………………………....……..…….. 16
2.2.5 H. G. Wells ……………………………………………………...….. 17
2.2.6 Hugo Gernsback and the Genre-Defining Magazine Era ……... 20
2.2.7 From the ‘Golden Age’ to the 1980s ….……………………...….. 22
2.2.8 New Wave ………………………….……………………………... 23
2.2.9 Notes on the Latest Developments up Until the 1980 …………. 24
2.3 Templates of Science Fiction and their presence in Hitchhiker's ..……… 24
2.3.1 Planetary Romances ………………………………………………. 25
2.3.2 Future Cities ………………………………………………………... 26
2.3.3 Disasters ……………………………………………………………. 26
2.3.4 Alternative Histories ………………………………………….……. 27
2.3.5 Prehistorical Romances …………………………………………... 27
2.3.6 Time Travels ……………………………………………………….. 28
2.3.7 Alien Intrusions ……………………………………………….……. 28
2.3.8 Mental Powers ………………………………………………...…… 29
2.3.9 Space Opera ………………………………………………..……… 29
2.3.10 Comic Infernos ……………………………………………….…… 31
2.3.11 Mock SF ……………………………………………………..…..… 31

3. Motifs, Ideas, Conventions of Science Fiction and their usage in The Hitchhiker’s
Guide to the Galaxy ………………………………………………………..….…. 33
3.1 Alien Life ………………………………………………………………….…… 33
3.1.1 Humanoid Extraterrestrials ……………………………………….. 34
3.1.2 Animal-like Extraterrestrials …………………………………….... 35
3.1.3 Hybrid Aliens …………………………………………….…………. 35
3.1.4 Bodiless Creatures ………………………………...…………...…. 35
3.2 Alien Life in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy …………………….…. 36
3.2.1 Humanoid Extraterrestrials ……………………………………….. 36
3.2.1.1 Ford Prefect ………………...……………………………. 36
3.2.1.2 Zaphod Beeblebrox ………………………………...…… 37
3.2.1.3 Slartibartfast ……………………………………………… 37
3.2.2 Animal-like Extraterrestrials ………………………………………. 38
3.2.2.1 Mice ……………………………………………………….. 38
3.2.2.2 The Babel Fish ………………………………………..…. 39
3.2.3 Hybrid Aliens ……………………………………………………….. 39
3.2.3.1 Vogons ……………………………………………..…….. 39
3.2.4 Bodiless Creatures ………….………………………….…………. 40
3.2.5 Conclusion concerning alien life in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to
the Galaxy …………………………………………………………... 41
3.3 Technology ………………………………………………………………..….. 42
3.3.1 General Use of Technology ………………………………….…… 43
3.3.2 The Guide …………………………………………………………... 45
3.3.3 Teleportation and Matter Transmission ………….……..……….. 46
3.3.4 Suspended Animation ……………………………….….…....…… 48
3.4 Space Travel …………………………………………………….……………. 50
3.5 Weapons and Interstellar War ……………………………………...…..…... 53
3.5.1 Weapons …………………………………………………...…..…… 53
3.5.2 Interstellar War ………………………………………………...…... 55
3.6 Artificial Intelligence ……………………………………………………...….. 56
3.6.1 Artificial Intelligence with Ticker Tape ………………...……….... 56
3.6.2 Marvin – Artificial Intelligence With a Little Problem …………… 59
3.7 The Towel …………………………………………………………………….. 61
3.8 Plurality of Worlds/Parallel Worlds …………………………………….…… 62
3.9 Answers to “Big Questions” in Hitchhiker’s? ……………………………… 65

4. Elements of Social Criticism ………………………………………………………….. 70


4.1 Science Fiction as Social Criticism? ……………………………………….. 70
4.1.1 Terminology …………………………………………………........... 72

2
4.1.1.1 Social Criticism ............................................................. 72
4.1.1.2 Satire vs. Parody .......................................................... 72
4.2 Criticism of Governmental and Bureaucratic Structures .......................... 73
4.3 Criticism of Human Behavior and Character Traits: An Attack on Human
Hubris .................................................................................................. 76
4.4 Does Social Criticism in a Comic SF Novel Work? .................................. 80

5. Summary and Concluding Remarks on The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy..... 80

6. Appendix ............................................................................................................... 83
6.1 Plot Outline of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy ............................... 83
6.2 The Three Laws of Robotics .................................................................... 84

7. List of Works Cited ............................................................................................... 84

3
1. Introduction: Different Medial Realizations of the Hitchhiker’s Guide

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy […] not only is […] a


wholly remarkable book, it is also a highly successful one –
more popular than the Celestial Home Care Omnibus, better
selling than Fifty-three 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? (Adams 5)

This description of the fictitious Hitchhiker’s Guide in the eponymously titled novel by
Douglas Noel Adams reveals elementary details of the work itself but also of its
author. The first and most obvious aspect is the humorous tone of the novel which is
maintained throughout the story. Another fact that becomes clear from this short
introduction is the comic mocking of philosophical questions. For the non-Hitchhiker it
may be startling to learn that the The Hitchhiker’s Guide actually was not intended to
become a novel at all; It started out as a radio program.
The first radio series came from a proposal called The Ends of the Earth; six
self-contained episodes, “each of which would all deal with the destruction of the
Earth for a completely different reason” (Gaiman 24). Douglas then changed the
structure of the stories from six independent episodes to one continuing story,
featuring an alien guide as a field researcher for an interstellar guidebook1.
On March 8 1978, the first episode of a six-part series of the radio program
was aired on BBC Radio 4. Despite its unfortunate broadcasting time (10.30 on
Thursday evenings), Hitchhiker’s became an instant success. Driven by the radio
program’s triumph, Adams turned the radio scripts into the novels The Hitchhiker’s
Guide to the Galaxy (1979) and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980).
The first book appeared simultaneously with a double-LP record which contained all
the radio episodes.
Having been established as a small “franchise” of its own, The Hitchhiker’s
Guide had its first visual appearance on BBC 2 in January 1981. Adams, together
with producer Alan J.W. Bell, created a total of six episodes out of the material of the
first two books. It is remarkable that despite Hitchhiker’s typical British humour, the
TV show and the books were also very successful in the USA.
1
It is one of the most prominent anecdotes concerning Hitchhiker’s that Douglas Adams first came up with that
idea when he was hitchhiking across Europe in 1971. Lying drunk in a field in Innsbruck, having an edition of
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Europe with him, he imagined a Guide for the whole galaxy.
5
The next medium to be touched by Adams’s creation was the theatre.
Altogether, “there have been three major productions of Hitchhiker’s in the theatrical
world. Two of these have been successful. The other was a disaster of epic
proportions. It is somewhat unfortunate, […] that the disaster is the one that got
noticed” (Gaiman 61). The first performance was shown at the Institute for
Contemporary Arts in London, in the first week of May 1979. Even though each
show’s audience was limited to eighty spectators it can be counted as a success;
Even the newspaper reviews “were unanimous in their praise” (Gaiman 62). The next
performances were shown in Wales, between January 15 and February 23 1980.
This was a production of Clwyd Theatr Cymru, and was directed by Jonathan
Petherbridge. The third and least successful stage show was held at the Rainbow
Theatre in London, in July 1980; Fans and critics alike condemned the over-
production of the material.
During the early 1980s, video games became increasingly popular.
Accordingly, the next manifestation of Hitchhiker’s came in the form of an interactive
video game. The text-based adventure game, distributed by Infocom and co-
designed by Douglas Adams, was also very successful. A more graphic approach
was tried by D.C Comics’ comic books adaptations between 1993 and 1997. Those
attempts, however, did not receive much consideration and were even disgraced by
Adams (cf. Shirley,J. “A Talk With Douglas Adams.” 172-176).
After years of setbacks and efforts to start the production of a big-screen
movie adaptation, pre-production process finally began in 2003, resulting in a movie
which premiered in London on April, 20 2005. Sadly Adams was not able to
experience this dream of his, on which he had worked for so long; He had died four
years earlier as a result of a heart attack he suffered while exercising on May, 11
2001.

Among all the different forms of appearance of the Hitchhiker’s Guide, the
literary manifestations must be considered to be the most significant ones. This is
due not solely to the fact that the books were big commercial successes (to this day,
more than 14 million copies of the first book were sold world-wide), and translations
into more than thirty languages exist. Moreover, the first two novels represent the

6
core of Adams’s original ideas and are therefore most suitable for analysis2. In this
book, the focus will exclusively be on the first book as it is the most consistent novel
in the series and is considered to have had the biggest impact on the literary world.
In order to be able to fully understand all the implications of the Hitchhiker’s
Guide, the genre in which it is rooted shall first be surveyed. It is important to
scrutinize the different facets of the field of Science Fiction because there are various
aspects of this mode of writing the Guide refers to. Yet, first of all, it has to be
clarified how SF can be defined, and accordingly, what is to be depicted as the
genre’s first work.

2. On Science Fiction

2.1 The Struggle of Defining Science Fiction

There is one feature which all works dedicated to the research on Science
Fiction share, namely the inconsistency when it comes to defining the term ‘Science
Fiction’. Not only have the viewpoints changed on what has to be classified as
Science Fiction (SF), but also have the (human) preconditions for understanding this
particular style of writing been subject to constant change.

From a modern point of view one could argue that Science Fiction has to do
with spaceships in the remote future. However, “not all SF concerns space and
space travel, [nor] does all SF concern the future. [Furthermore], not all SF concerns
machinery or technological artifacts. Yet, what all SF has in common is that it takes
the reader, viewer, listener away from the ‘mundane’ world into radically different
worlds or altered worlds” (Pringle 10). Moreover, SF is not exclusively directed
“outward” and into the future; its point of view is quite often redirected “inwards”, i.e.
towards ourselves.
The ingredients of a SF story are so various and inconsistent that it is quite
hard to differentiate between what to classify as “real” Science Fiction – if this
statement can be made at all – and what to assign to other genres like “Fantasy”.
Some claim that SF tries to be rational, adhere to the laws of nature as we
2
The three following books (i.e. Life, the Universe and Everything [1982], So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
[1984] and Mostly Harmless [1992]) were written as sequels to the original, and were less appreciated by fans
and critics.
7
understand them and takes the real world as a starting point for extrapolation. The
writer J.G. Ballard came up with a brief differentiation: “SF is fiction inspired by
science, whereas Fantasy is fiction inspired by fiction” (Pringle 12). As The
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy proves, the boundaries between SF and Fantasy
are also often blurred. Therefore, it can be said that “SF is not so much a single
genre as a cluster of overlapping sub-genres” (Pringle 11).
A broader definition is given by the Encyclopedia Britannica’s online version:
“[Science Fiction is] a form of fiction that deals principally with the impact of actual or
imagined science upon society or individuals”3. However, not all SF is occupied with
science, as the variation called “Soft SF” shows4.
Another more general definition was put forth by Brian Attebery: “SF is not
only a mode of story-telling but also a niche for writers, a marketing category for
publishers, a collection of visual images and styles and a community of like-minded
individuals” (33). One realizes the different opinions and features that have to be
taken into account in order to create a definition which roughly encompasses the
various phenomena SF consists of.

What will be shown in this book is that SF is ideally united by its didactic
character offering a message for the reader. It can be stated that Science fiction, by
attempting a look to the future, it mirrors the present.
In order to end this otherwise infinite debate on the definition of Science
Fiction, one of the leading authors, critics and historians of the “genre” will be cited;
Brian Aldiss flippantly states in Trillion Year Spree that “Science Fiction is whatever is
been sold under the label SF” (16).

2.2 The Most Important Historical Facts, Icons and Events of SF

All of mankind’s social, political and - most importantly - technological


developments have traditionally been reflected in the arts. Accordingly, the different
literary styles and genres that have evolved throughout the centuries must be seen
as logical consequences and thus products of their times.

3
http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9066289/science-fiction
4
Soft SF predominantly deals with psychological issues e.g. connected to space travel, other worlds and alien
races.
8
In the following, the task is to plough through (literary) history in order to
identify the most important contributions to the field of SF. It is important to note here
that it is impossible to include all works that are in some way or other related to the
field of Science Fiction. Furthermore, it is vital for an analysis in the field of SF
literature to look for the most significant innovations that have been introduced in
utopian and fantastic literature and which today are depicted as Science Fiction.

2.2.1 Is There a ‘First’ Work of Science Fiction?

There is no consensus among the various scholars engaged in SF literary


criticism concerning the “birth” of Science Fiction. The Cambridge Companion to
Science Fiction contains a chronologically ordered list of works of Science Fiction.
The first title on this list is Thomas More’s5 Utopia6 (1516). More depicts an unknown
island on which a society had been established which is organized in such a manner
that it serves as an idealized, improved representation of More’s contemporary
environment. As More not only took inspirations from classical writers, but also – and
this is the crucial point - from recent historical experience, he can be considered to
be the first writer of what we today call Science Fiction.
However, the first contributor to the Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction,
Brian Stableford, claims that the first work associated to the canon of SF works is
Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis (written 1617; published 1627), a representative of the
‘imaginary voyage’ genre. He justifies his choice by stressing that Bacon was “one of
the first and foremost champions of the scientific method” (15). The underlying idea
here is that ‘science’- fiction needs the application of the scientific method, i.e. that
“reliable knowledge is rooted in the evidence of the senses” (15), in order to make
Science Fiction work.
In accordance with the Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, Marcel
Feige states that the early social utopias like New Atlantis by Bacon, Utopia by More
or Civitas Solis (The City of the Sun; written 1602, published 1623) by Tommasso
Campanella represent the first SF literature. This is due to the fact that “still today,
utopias belong to the basic structure of fantastic literature and that those works are

5
In some texts More’s name is changed to ‘Morus’ due to the fact that he wrote in Latin.
6
The name derived from Greek ‘u-topos’ which can be translated as ‘no-place’, i.e. an (not yet) existing place.
9
the political playground of Science Fiction” (7)7. Utopian fantasies of the early 17th
century took scientific and technological advancements into account. Yet, matters of
social, political and religious reform remained at the heart of the stories.

According to Dieter Wuckel’s work Science Fiction, the beginnings of Science


Fiction are inseparably connected to the age of Renaissance. Wuckel stresses the
fact that scientific progress and geographical discoveries set the cornerstone for new
philosophical directions; Copernicus (1473-1543) redirected the Earth from the centre
of the universe into its actual place, thus chipping away at the dogmatic belief that
the Earth is a unique, god-given gift to humanity.
Upon Earth, science and exploration opened up new spaces and frontiers;
Columbus discovered a new continent8 (1492), Magellan sailed around the globe
(1519-1522) and later, philosophers and scientists like Descartes, Bacon and Newton
paved the way for grave changes in human understanding of the world.
Nevertheless, Wuckel points out that the emerging philosophical utopias of
Renaissance have their archetype in classical Greek writings, thus deferring the
earliest influences on what was to become Science Fiction into an even more remote
past; Plato (427-347 B.C.) wrote the most influential social utopia, with Politeia (ca.
370 B.C.).
Yet, for the development of the basic ideas and concepts underlying modern
Science Fiction, another Greek writer is credited by David Pringle in his Ultimate
Encyclopedia of Science Fiction to have been more influential than Plato; The
Lucianic Satires (named after Lucian Samosata, a Greek writer of the 2nd century AD)
are a type of fiction tending to the fantastic but containing elements of discussions
and dramatizations of ideas. In his fictions, Lucian discussed ideas of Classical
Greek philosophers like Plato and Homer, who can be considered exponents of early
science. Lucian Samosata thus serves as “an appropriate father-figure for Science
Fiction” (Pringle 13).

It is deemed impossible to identify the very first work of Science Fiction, as


“science fiction can no more be said to have ‘begun’ with Lucian than space flight
‘began‘ in Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks […]” (Aldiss 28).

7
Translated: „Wenn also Utopien auch heute noch zum Grundgerüst der phantastischen Literatur gehören, sind
sie von Anfang an eher das politische Spielfeld der Science Fiction“.
8
From a European perspective.
10
The main problem in determining what belongs to the ‘literary tradition’ of
Science Fiction is the scholars’ establishment of connections or the false
identification of influences between unrelated texts. Brian Aldiss states that a writer is
always most influenced by his actual surroundings and that “scholars rake through [a
variety of] books and pass over in a couple of pages the thirteen long centuries that
lie between Lucian and Ariosto” (28).

2.2.2 The Age of Enlightenment

Even though there is quarrel about the actual ‘origins’ of SF and about the
question of which early works can and must be added to the literary “genre” of SF,
accordance among the critics can be attested from the early 17th century onwards.
Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis is – despite not always being the very first
example - always included in a history of Science Fiction. New Atlantis can be
considered a classic social utopia in the tradition of More’s Utopia. However, certain
other features of the book justify its incorporation into the SF canon, as it is one of
the first literary works that mentions fantastic scientific innovations. Bacon included
high-performance optical instruments, machines enabling humans to fly and
describes simple – what we today would call – genetic experiments. In addition,
experiments with light and sound are mentioned as well as advanced anatomic
examinations.
The next publication worth mentioning here is also a work by a scientist who
included speculations and extrapolations of scientific findings in his fictional writings;
Johannes Kepler’s Somnium (A Dream; 1634) reworked scientific argument into
visionary fantasy. The German astronomer embedded elements of the Copernican
Theory, which clarified that the world is not the center of the universe. He juxtaposes
the heliocentric view and the old-fashioned, faith-supported geocentric cosmology in
order to argue for the scientific correctness of the Copernican Theory. For the first
time such theories, which had been labeled ‘heretics’ for centuries and made many
scientists and non-scientists burn at the stakes, were increasingly accepted.
Scientists could now afford to publicize reliable facts even though they might have
been inconvenient to the Church. Kepler’s book paved the way for discussions about

11
the plurality of worlds (i.e. planets)9 in the universe. Our Sun being “one star among
many others remained part of fantastic imagination until science was able to prove
the opposite” (Stableford 16).

In Thomas More’s times, it was still possible to set the location of an


undiscovered utopian society within the boundaries of the Earth. But “the gradual
removal of Terra Incognita from maps of the Earth’s surface helped to force utopian
and satirical images out into space” (Stableford 17). Four years after Somnium,
Francis Godwin’s The Man in the Moone10 (1638) tells the story of the first traveler
to the Moon. Godwin’s main protagonist, the Spaniard Domingo Gonsales, journeys
to the Moon, where the inhabitants lead happy lives in perpetual springtime. The
satirical element of the story is evident, as murder, lying and adultery are unknown
and whoever commits a sin is sent down to Earth.
The Man in the Moone is a representative of the literary tradition of Utopian
Voyages. Even though it could be disputed whether Utopian Voyages belong to
Science Fiction or not, it is the fantastic element which utopian and SF stories share.
Therefore, a discussion of the historical influences on SF literature must not neglect
works like Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) or Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s
Travels11 (1726). In Robinson Crusoe, Defoe reworked the factual fate of the British
sailor Alexander Selkirk, who was marooned on an island. Such practices were a
commonly known fact in Defoe’s times. However, the fantastic element in Crusoe are
the exaggerated time span the sailor spends on the island (28 years), as well as the
fact that the leprous man does not imbrute or degenerate despite the lack of contact
with ‘proper’ society. As pointed out before, the extrapolation of contemporary
occurrences is a vital part of the SF genre.
Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels hints at a different issue. Virtually all
utopias criticize existing circumstances and show different ways of living. Yet, a
change or improvement in mankind’s state evolves in Gulliver’s Travels through
contact with “others”. These others are not yet aliens from foreign planets but

9
Cf. chapter 3.8 in this thesis.
10
According to Marcel Feige (2001), the complete title of the book is The Man in the Moon, or A Discourse of a
Voyage Thither by Domingo Gonsales, the Speedy Messenger. Yet, the short form is more commonly used.
11
Again, the actual title of the book is quite long and therefore rarely used: Travels Into Several Remote Nations
of the World. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and Then a Captain of Several Ships. According to Feige
(2001):13.
12
fantastic beings, i.e. the Liliputs, which Swift juxtaposes with humans in order to
expose mankind’s faults.

The next literary work that introduced elements of Science Fiction was the
Dane Ludvig Holberg’s Nils Klim12 (1741). The hero Nils (also sometimes spelled
‘Niels’) accidentally discovers in a cave the entrance to a subterranean world called
Nazar. On this world, intelligent tree-beings live in an utopian society13.
Holberg introduced various themes and novelties to the literary world. Paying
credit to the fact that at his time of living almost every part of the world has already
been discovered, he moved the setting of the story underneath the surface of the
Earth. Secondly, the “others” were no longer humanoid or animal-like but intelligent
tree-beings. Furthermore, Holberg was one of the first writers to introduce feminist
utopia; the female characters in his story are equipped with the same rights as their
male counterparts and are even able to become judges. Both equal rights for both
sexes and professional independence of women from men are social achievements
which had not yet been installed in Holberg’s times and are therefore utopian
elements. Nils Klim additionally hints at fantastic scientific progress, as the story
features ships moving on a subterranean ocean propelled by “secret machinery”
which the hero is not able to understand.

In advancing on the timeline of the history of SF, we come across the French
philosopher Voltaire’s Micromegas (1752). This “conte philosophique” (philosophical
tale) brought visitors from Sirius and Saturn to Earth. Nevertheless for the
advancement of scientific fiction, the prime innovation Voltaire introduced can be
seen in the inversion of the typical cosmic journey of humans out into space.

Another French writer is credited for introducing time-related utopian writing;


L’An deux mille quatre cent quarante (The Year 2440) by Louis-Sebastien Mercier
was published in 1771. However, the time-transfer embedded in the story was not
achieved by technical means – such elements will find their way into SF in about 100
years’ time - but by sleeping. Mercier’s protagonist awakes almost 700 years after
having fallen asleep, realizing that drastic reforms have changed human social life.

12
Other title: Nicolai Klimii's subterranean Journey.
13
The capital of Nazar is self-explicably called ‘Potu’, which is ‘utop’ read backwards.
13
All of the reforms Mercier thought necessary for his contemporaries have come true
in the fiction. Concerning the theme of time-transfer, Wuckel points out that

[Mercier's book] is not only interesting for the history of Science


Fiction due to the introduction of the motif of change in time by
sleeping or cataleptic rigidity, but due to the fact that the
common spatial social utopia [...] was joined by temporal social
utopia.14

The motif of time-transfer will be an extensively employed feature of subsequent SF


stories.

2.2.3 Industrial Revolution

During the time of the Industrial Revolution, the European nations experienced
significant changes concerning social structures and working environments. These
changes also had an impact on the spiritual lives of the people. Some feared the
ongoing advancement in science and technology; others hailed the changes with
enthusiasm. These currents consequently found their way into literature.
One of the first works to mingle technological optimism and the potential
problems it might bring along is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the Modern
Prometheus (1818). It is a story about a Swiss student who builds an artificial man
from parts of exhumed bodies and then suffers the moral consequences of his act15.
Mary Shelley used the motif of the ever-searching scientist (cf. Goethe’s Faust), who
tries to become god-like by creating life or by gaining absolute knowledge, and
embedded this theme in a novel of Gothic style.
With Frankenstein, Shelley introduced SF to the novel-format16. Pringle states
that

14
Translated from German: "für die Geschichte der Science Fiction ist das Werk nicht nur deshalb interessant,
weil das Motiv der Veränderung in der Zeit durch Schlaf oder kataleptische Starre erstmals auftaucht, sondern
deshalb, weil zur bis dahin üblichen Sozialutopie im Raum, [...] die Sozialutopie in der Zeit trat." (Wuckel 32)
15
According to Wuckel, Frankenstein’s ‘predecessor’ can be identified in the creature Golem, which is created
from clay (45).
16
It can be argued that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was the first ‘scientific romance’, although the gothic
fiction character of the story makes Frankenstein count as anti-science fiction. This is due to the fact that the
“book is a fatalistic disaster story and can thus be considered antithetical to the philosophy of progress”
(Stableford 19).
14
it is one of the first works which is both sf and a novel, with
realistically depicted characters acting in a recognizable
modern world. Most earlier sf works […] are not so much
novels as utopian tales, satires or fictionalized philosophical
discussions - Lucianic Satires, in short. (17)

Another prime achievement of Shelley was the introduction of the ‘Zauberlehrling-


motif’ into SF; the created being turning against its creator will later become a basic
topic in SF. This motif’17 as used in Frankenstein was used quite often in scientific
fiction and as early as 1827 the British writer Jane Webb Loudon used the motif for
The Mummy! A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century in her exploration of futuristic
fiction. However, many subsequent works employ this motif in a slightly altered
manner; the monster of Frankenstein will eventually become the incontrollable robot,
e.g. in Isaac Asimov’s robot stories.

Evolving out of Gothic Fiction, Edgar Allan Poe is also among the writers who
deserve credit for creating fiction constituting an impact on Science Fiction. Wuckel,
in accordance with Aldiss, mentions four works by Poe which carry elements of SF:
The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall (1835), A Descent into the
Maelstrom (1841), Some Words with a Mummy (1845) and The Narrative of Arthur
Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838). According to Brian Stableford, Edgar Allan Poe
was the first writer to combine imaginative writing and modern science. Proof for this
are the milestones of his career starting with the poem Sonnet – To Science (1829)
and culminating with the poetic essay Eureka (1848), in which Poe discussed the
nature of the universe newly revealed by astronomical telescopes.

However, for the world of Science Fiction, the story of Hans Pfaall is the most
important one and is claimed by some critics to be the first 'real' Science Fiction work,
as it features a travel to the moon in a balloon. In Poe's times, ballooning was still the
only way for humans to leave the surface of the earth. Yet, for his story to work, Poe
needed to “invent” technical means for making the journey possible. This feature –
the extrapolation of contemporarily available technology – justifies the claim of Poe
being the first writer of ‘real’ Science Fiction.

17
The Zauberlehrling-Motif is quite strikingly called „the Frankenstein formula“ by Brian Stableford (19).
15
In the same year Poe published Eureka, “Robert Hunt – a significant pioneer
of the popularization of science - published The Poetry of Science” (Stableford 19).
Hunt’s writing subsequently inspired the English writer William Wilson to coin the
term ‘science fiction’ in his work A Little Earnest Book Upon a Great Old Subject
(1851).
Poe’s works eventually were translated in other languages and were very
successful in France18, where they inspired one of the early masters of Science
Fiction: Jules Verne19.

2.2.4 Jules Verne

In a book about Science Fiction, the role of Jules Verne can not be
underestimated. Even though Verne (1828-1905) earned a doctorate degree in law
he decided not to pursue an academic career but eventually became a writer. He
found a major supporter in the publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel, who partially advised
Verne on his writing. Beginning with Verne’s first book Cinq semaines en ballon (Five
Weeks in a Balloon, 1863), Hetzel published two Verne novels annually until Verne's
death in 1905.

Verne successfully combined the fable-stories of adventure and travel


literature (the so-called voyages imaginaries) with contemporary issues of ongoing
technical and scientific development in the world. Thus he developed the well-known
structure of the voyages imaginaries into his voyages extra-ordinaires.
Verne is said to have noted down every available fact concerning scientific
progress. Therefore, he was able to let the latest ongoing developments slip into his
stories. The claim for realism was amplified by placing the beginning of most of his
stories in the near future or recent past of the actual date of appearance of the
book20.
In the stories, Verne celebrates Man’s triumph over nature. However, the
social consequences of the technological developments are hardly ever discussed in

18
Credit has to be given to Charles Baudelaire, who was responsible for translating E.A. Poe’s works into
French.
19
The continuation of Poe’s story of Gordon Pym with the The Sphinx of the Ice Fields (1897) proves Poe’s
influence on Jules Verne.
20
For a detailed list of the publishing dates see Wuckel p. 57.
16
his works21. Due to the prevailing optimism concerning technology that was evident
throughout the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century, Verne’s progress-
oriented style of writing can in fact be seen as one of the major factors responsible
for Verne’s success.

Verne as a creator of great stories was remarkable but he was a genius when
it came to anticipating future developments. In his scientific fictions, he foresaw not
only travels to the moon with astounding authenticity but also technical inventions like
a submarine (in 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas, 1870) or a helicopter (Robur le
conquerant; The Master of the World, 1886). This accurate extrapolation of scientific
facts is what makes Verne one of the most important figures in the history of Science
Fiction.
Verne’s most important works are: De la terre à la lune (From the Earth to the
Moon; 1865); a story about a trip to the Moon lacking a successful landing; In Autour
de la lune (Round the Moon; 1870) Verne again does without a landing as he could
not figure out a plausible way to return his travelers back to Earth again. Voyage au
centre de la terre (Journey to the Centre of the Earth, 1864) together with Vingt mille
lieues sous les mers (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas, 1870) – both self-
explanatory titles - represent the author’s most important and well-known works.

Only in his late phase of creation, Verne allowed dystopian elements to enter
his visions. In the posthumously published L’éternel Adam (The Eternal Adam, 1910)
he introduced the topic of the last – and consequently again the first – man on Earth
after a huge catastrophe into Science Fiction literature.

2.2.5 H. G. Wells

The English writer Herbert George Wells (1866–1946) took inspirations for his
writing from two main sources. Already as a child, he read works by Voltaire, Swift,
Paine, but also by Jules Verne. Another major influence was his biology professor at
the Normal School of Science in South Kensington, Thomas Huxley - great-
grandfather of writer Aldous Huxley.

21
The only exception is The Begum’s Fortune (1879), which is classified as “Verne’s only utopia” (Aldiss 453).
17
Thomas Huxley was a rebel against orthodoxy of the church and a strong
supporter of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. By his mentor, Wells was trained in
rational, scientific reasoning. Consequently, atheist tendencies in some of Wells’s
works derived from this science-oriented way of thinking that left no room for
something supernatural like God22.
Throughout his novels, Wells functions as a teacher for his audience, as all of
his works contain didactic elements which are often disguised behind an adventurous
plot. Additionally, he familiarized his readers with topics like time-travel, man-eating
plants and war in space. Those themes shall become extensively exploited subjects
of SF in the years to follow. Some of Wells’s works today stand out as classics of the
Science Fiction genre. In the following, a few words will be said concerning his most
important works.
In his first “scientific romance”, H. G. Wells realized the “necessity of replacing
dreams as a means of exploring possible futures” (Stableford 24). The Time Machine
(1895) takes the reader 800,000 Years into the future. To a time when the world’s
population is divided into two groups; one lives in dark subterranean realms, the
other on the surface of the Earth. Despite the social and moral implications
embedded in the story, the focus is definitely on its scientific elements. The time
machine as a technical instrument was meant to be a plausible apparatus, even
though the entire technological process itself was not (and, of course, could not be)
explained to the reader.
Another work which is still relevant today is The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896).
With Dr. Moreau intervening in natural processes of human beings as well as
animals, Wells gave an early warning of the potential consequences of genetic
engineering long before the feat could technically be performed. Yet, the story has
more to it than a straightforward warning. It is important to note that

Wells […] and his audience […] were aware of evolutionary


theory. They are the first generation to understand that it was
no mere fancy as hitherto to regard man as animal; it was the
simple betraying truth, and formalized religion began to decay
more rapidly from that time onwards. (Aldiss 126)

22
It will be shown later on that in this incident, parallels between H.G. Wells and Douglas Adams are realizable,
as both held agnostic and atheist worldviews.
18
Furthermore, through The Island of Dr. Moreau, a connection can be established
between Mary Shelley and H.G. Wells, i.e. the main characters (Frankenstein/Dr.
Moreau) both function as “God-like” characters creating new beings.
One must not forget that Wells did not exclusively direct his thinking into the
future, but also towards the past. “Well’s mind is the first to venture so far into the
past as well as the future” (Aldiss 120). Thus Wells introduced the sub-genre of ‘tales
of prehistory’23 into Science Fiction in his book A Story of the Stone Age (1897).

The War of the Worlds (1898) features an alien invasion from Mars that
threatens the existence of the whole of humanity. The story was also successful as a
CBS radio adaptation by Orson Welles and was first broadcast on October 30 1938.
It caused panic among the listeners who mistook the program for an actual news
report. Brian Aldiss points out that “Science Fiction has always been effective on the
‘unknown fear’ level, as was demonstrated by this occasion” (131).
However, the story with its action packed plot contains a call for pacifism: The
Martians are not destroyed by military force or cunning warfare tactics but by their
own mistake not to consider the impact of the smallest organisms – i.e. bacteria – on
Earth.
Wells’s The First Men in the Moon (1901) together with Verne’s various
voyages to Earth’s cosmic neighbor24 served as the template for the first Science
Fiction movie ever made; Le voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon, 1902) by
Georges Méliès was a 14-minute silent movie.
The World Set Free (1914) deals with a new energy source comparable to the
atomic bomb, which was not yet invented at the time. Just as in The Island of Dr.
Moreau, H.G. Wells pronounces a warning to humanity not to take part in scientific
advancement carelessly. This forewarning just before the start of the First World War
stresses the relevance of Science-Fiction literature: be cautious of the future.

Dr. Moreau and War of the Worlds are all moral fables in the tradition of
‘contes philosophiques’ by Wells’s French predecessors. However, these works
generated - due to their thrilling and often violent elements – imitations whose
authors were only interested in the melodramatic potential of “monster-makers” (Dr.

23
Cf. chapter 2.3.5 in this book.
24
E.g. Around the Moon, From the Earth to the Moon etc.
19
Moreau) and alien incursions (War of the Worlds). Those effects will be widely
exploited during the pulp-magazine era succeeding Wells. For the domain of
‘scientific romance’ and later Science Fiction, Wells managed three unique
achievements:

He elevated the freak event – a visit to the Moon, an


invasion from another planet – into an artistic whole. In
consequence, he greatly extended the scope and power of
such imaginings. And he brought to the genre a popularity and
a distinctness from other genres which it has never lost since,
despite the blunders of many following in his wake.
Wells is the Prospero of all the brave new worlds of the
mind, and the Shakespeare of science fiction. (Aldiss 133)

Accordingly, Wells not only set the stage for a vast variety of action-adventure fiction
but also for serious speculative (science-) fiction.

2.2.6 Hugo Gernsback and the Genre-Defining Magazine Era

Hugo Gernsback (1884-1967) was an American engineer and entrepreneur in


the electronics industry, who imported radio parts from Europe to the United States25.
In 1909, he founded Modern Electrics, the world's first magazine about electronics,
which spawned another similar magazine in 1913, Electrical Experimenter. This
magazine was renamed Science and Invention in 1920.

Gernsback intended his magazines not only to educate but also to “convert his
readers to the habit of thinking about the future” (Attebery 34). It was in these
magazines that he began including scientific fiction stories alongside serious science
journalism. Thus, Gernsback’s first novel, Ralph 124 C41+ (written in 1911) was
published in Modern Electrics as a series.

In August 1923 Gernsback issued a special edition of Science and Invention


dedicated exclusively to fictions about science, which he called ‘scientifiction’. The
success of this special-issue led to Gernsback contemplating publishing a periodical
magazine containing nothing but ‘scientifiction’26 stories. In April 1926, the world’s

25
Originally, he was born Hugo Gernsbach in Luxemburg. However, the Americanized version of the name will
be used in this paper, as it is the more widespread version.
26
In one of the forthcoming issues, Gernsback spoke of ‘Science Fiction’, the term that is still in use today.
20
first SF magazine entitled Amazing Stories was published. This format being an
instant success, he further issued Amazing Stories Quarterly and Amazing Annual
(both 1928).

Layout-wise, the magazines were smaller in comparison to the commonly


known pulp-magazines. The increasing demand of stories was satisfied by reprinting
classics by authors like E.A. Poe or Jules Verne but foremost by hiring young
American authors engaged in scientific writing. The literary quality of the magazines
decreased after the classics were gradually more often substituted by new fictions of
inexperienced authors. The plots were rather shallow and uninspired27 due to the fact
that the technology-oriented Gernsback put emphasis on describing technical
accomplishments, fantastic and explanations of technical processes.

In Gernsback’s Amazing Stories, three writing traditions came together: First


of all, he made use of the literary mode called ‘scientific romance’ represented by
authors like Poe, Verne and Wells. Secondly, a mix of popular story-telling formulas
previously developed in dime novels was applied. Thirdly and remarkably, Gernsback
did not give up on serious scientific journalism.

The success of Amazing Stories spawned many other successors like Science
Wonder Stories (1929), Amazing Stories Quarterly (1928), Air Wonder Stories
(1929), Astounding Stories (1930), Thrilling Wonder Stories (1936), Tales of Wonder
(1937) or Planet Stories (1939). Between 1926 and 1935 alone, 11 periodicals had
been founded28.

The inconsistency of SF, as pointed out in the introduction to this chapter, is


reflected by the various names of these pulp magazines. However, the pulps are not
only important for Science Fiction due to their success in popularizing the new style
of writing29. Moreover, “sf magazines like Astounding Science Fiction were chiefly
responsible for creating a sense of sf as a distinctive genre“(Attebery 32). Even if this
genre-defining era was not beneficial to quality and reputation of SF, the pulps were

27
Cf. Wuckel pp. 117-20.
28
Cf. Sauerbaum et al (1981): 53
29
Gernsback’s overall accomplishment for the world of SF was honored by the introduction of the annually
bestowed Science Fiction award called ‘Hugo’ in 1953.
21
a starting point for the careers of many SF writers who are internationally
appreciated today.

The pulp magazine era also brought along a novelty which is essential for the
progress of every literary mode: literary criticism. Around the 1930s, the first fan
clubs of science fiction were founded. The German “Verein für Raumschiffahrt” (Club
for Spaceship Travels, founded in 1929) was the role-model for associations like the
International Scientific Association. Those associations published own periodicals
entitled ‘Fanzines’ (a portmanteau of ‘fan’ and ‘magazine’) where SF stories were
discussed and ideas concerning the topics were exchanged. Most importantly, letters
by fans to the magazine editors were printed in the pulps and thus stand out as first
attempts to create a critical movement devoted specifically to SF.

In 1937, john W. Campbell Jr. (a former MIT student and author for Amazing
Stories) became editor of Astounding Stories. He introduced differentiation into three
basically different types of SF stories; the ‘gadget-story’ focused on technical tricks,
the ‘concept-story’ dealing with creative invention and the ‘character-story’
concentrating on the personality of the characters. As Campbell put more emphasis
on content and quality of the stories published in his magazine, the late 1930s are
known as the “Golden Age of Science Fiction”.

2.2.7 From the ‘Golden Age’ to the 1980s

Especially before many authors were drafted for WWII, Campbell’s Astounding
magazine was very influential. He allowed fantasy-elements to enter the scientifically
oriented fictions in his publications. Thus it was possible to create plots enabling the
characters to travel at (more than) the speed of light, establish telepathic contact or
make use of supernatural powers in order to enhance the stories30. The premise
established by Gernsback that all SF must be based on logic - depicted as
“Gernsback’s delusion” (Sauerbaum et al. 57) - was not valid anymore. This change
was quite beneficial for the quality of forthcoming SF literature. However, “older” SF
(e.g. Wells, Verne) was still deemed superior to newer publications.

30
Those elements of SF will from then on play a big role and will be extensively used in the template ‘Space
Opera’; cf. chapter 2.3.9 .
22
The depiction of the time between 1935 and 1950 as the ‘Golden Age of SF’ is
nevertheless misleading due to the fact that the following literature was not worse
than its predecessors, “and the older texts [,as mentioned above,] were still relevant”
(Sauerbaum et al. 55).

2.2.8 New Wave

After WWII, SF was internationalized after SF of American trait had been


introduced throughout Europe. However, this process did not happen on a broader
scale the other way around. Very rarely have SF works from other countries than the
USA had any impact on other countries’ SF developments31.
In the early 1950s, a group of British SF authors made their way into American
magazines. Those writers later on decided to write not for an international or
distinctively American audience but for British ‘fans’ of the genre. Writers like J.G.
Ballard or Brian Aldiss tried to establish a new style of Science fiction containing
vanguard tendencies. However, the experiment to replace “ordinary American SF”
with “more sophisticated New Wave” failed.
Sauerbaum et al. ascribe this to a certain inertance among the SF readership.
A radical change is not possible, as readers’ expectations and market conditions can
only be gradually altered “through an evolutionary process” (Sauerbam et al. 60)32.

However, the genre of Science Fiction benefits from this evolutionary process.
The limited number of themes in SF forces the writers to vary and introduce
innovative novelties. Every new story underlies the pressure of being new to the
reader’s experience and to being different to previously published SF if it claims to be
genuine.
Some topics that had been fertile for SF in the past have quickly become
unproductive, as the topics are part of familiar reality (e.g. travels to the Moon,
computers, robots), so that the writers are scanning every scientific discipline for
possible SF subjects. Very often Science Fiction discusses issues (such as
environmentalism or manipulation of opinion) before they have become popular
outside of literature.

31
The major German contribution to international SF can be seen in the Perry Rhodan series, which still exists
today.
32
Translated from German: „[…] sondern nur auf dem Wege der Evolution weiterentwickeln lässt“.
23
2.2.9 Notes on the Latest Developments until the 1980s33

At this point, it is not supportive for the cause of this book to go into detail of all
the SF works published until 1980. Some more attention will be paid to this matter in
the next chapter, when the templates of SF will be examined. However, certain
trends can be identified which were responsible for shaping the genre of SF as it is
still valid today:

1. The belief in progress in earlier times is replaced by a critical or negative attitude


towards developments of technology and society.
2. The amount of fantasy elements in the stories is still growing. After authors like
Lovecraft and Tolkien had been established as cult-heroes, the influence of fantasy
elements in SF increased.
3. A gradual tendency towards issues concerning the “Inner Space”, i.e.
psychological, moral problems of the individual character can be observed. This
focus onto the Inner Space is also extended to non-human creatures like androids,
robots or aliens.34

In the following, the most important templates and motifs of Science Fiction
will be identified and applied to Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy35.

2.3 Templates of Science Fictionand their presence in Hitchhiker's

Throughout the history of SF various reoccurring story templates have been


established. Even though it may be difficult to formularize the “genre” SF, Science
Fiction writers „take advantage of a number of basic patterns within which their ideas
can be displayed“(Pringle 21). These “basic patterns” constitute guidelines which are
realizable throughout various manifestations of SF. In order to be able to classify the
otherwise confusingly complex SF cosmos, templates serve as items of identification

33
A detailed history of SF after 1980 can be neglected due to the fact that the subject of discussion was written
in 1979. Accordingly, the question of whether Hitchhiker's influenced the genre or vice-versa remains untouched
in this book.
34
Cf. the list by Sauerbaum et al. on page 60.
35
If desired, a plot summary of The Hitchhiker’s Guide can be found at the appendix of this thesis. It is not
elaborated here in order to not spoil any interesting features of the story.
24
for each type of SF story. However, it is impossible to deliver a qualitative judgment
concerning templates as it is possible for a pattern to occur in both high- and low-
quality Science Fiction.

In his Ultimate Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, David Pringle has collected


ten types of templates of SF, i.e. Planetary Romances, Future Cities, Disasters,
Alternative Histories, Prehistorical Romances, Time Travels, Alien Intrusions, Mental
Powers, Space Opera and Comic Infernos. In the following, those patterns will be
discussed in respect to Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy36.

2.3.1 Planetary Romances

Planetary Romances involve characters participating in adventures set on a


foreign planet. Stories bearing this template often feature long journeys which take
the hero(s) through exotic environments and peculiar societies. Additionally, to what
David Pringle calls “world-building” (24), i.e. the creations of extensive worlds
imitating the variety of reality, planetary romances are focused on romance among its
characters.
One of the first - and still today most well-known - writings of this type of story
is Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars (1917). However, as the predominating
opinion on Mars approached the conviction that it was highly improbable that Mars
could serve as a home planet for (intelligent) life, the settings of planetary romances
were moved into the depths of the unknown universe. Thus, the template is still in
use today, as novels like The Book of Mana by Ian Watson or Shadow’s End by
Sheri S. Tepper (both 1994) prove.

Even though the “hero” In Hitchhiker’s, Arthur Dent, sets out on a journey
through the most exotic environments, and Douglas Adams achieves the creation of
a whole universe, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy can not be counted as
planetary romance as the crucial point, i.e. romance between its main characters, is
missing.

36
For reasons of completeness, even those templates which show little or none occurrence in Hitchhiker’s will
be discussed in short and a few examples of stories containing the respective templates will be given.
25
2.3.2 Future Cities

This type of template is employed in stories which deal with changes that
continued progress has brought along. Those stories often feature a “conventional
thriller plot or a tale of revolution against high-tech oppressors” (Pringle 25). David
Pringle also points out the importance of the city as a vital part of SF literature:

When sf writers speculate about the future of life on earth, their visions are inevitably
dominated by the visions of the city; human history is largely the story of the founding
and growth of cities – that is the meaning of the word ‘civilization’ (Pringle 25).

The optimism that dominated the early future cities stories like Louis-Sebastien
Mercier’s Memoirs of the Year Two Thousand Five Hundred (1771) was eventually
replaced by more pessimistic stories featuring destroyed or decayed places as in
Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968). Accordingly, the
template of the future city can either be employed to put focus on the city itself but
also on the humans inhabiting these cities.
Just like the planetary romance template, future cities do not play a major role
in Hitchhiker’s. The settings into which the characters are projected are a small town
in England, on board a space ship (i.e. The Heart of Gold) or on the surface of a
planet (Magrathea). Yet, no city is mentioned in such a way that it would qualify the
story for the template of future cities.

2.3.3 Disasters

Literature which features the disaster template depicts its characters on the
brink or after a huge catastrophe. This event was either caused by intruders usually
from outer space but it can also be the result of human misbehavior, e.g. war or
irresponsible treatment of nature.
In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’s case, the alien race of the Vogons is
responsible for the main disaster, i.e. the demolition of the Earth. It is this incident in
the story that makes the template of disaster a major element of the novel. It will later

26
be shown in what special way Adams treats this template and uses it for his own
purpose37.

2.3.4 Alternative Histories

In these kinds of stories, a change in the course of history is embedded and


the consequences evolving out of this change are extrapolated. “The alternative
history template involves setting a story in a world which might have developed had
some crucial event in history happened differently” (Pringle 28).
Many works in this field are related to WWII, making life in Europe and the
world had the Nazi-regime won the war subject of discussion; The Man in the High
Castle (1962) by Philip K. Dick and Fatherland (1992) by Robert Harris shall serve as
the outstanding examples of novels utilizing this theme.
The template of alternative histories can not be identified in Douglas Adams’s
first novel38.

2.3.5 Prehistorical Romances39

This template tells the story of humans in a distant past who are involved in an
adventure that usually sets mankind onto its way to civilization. Quite often the
authors of such stories have embedded the latest discoveries in paleontology or
anthropology in their stories. Examples of novels including the pattern of prehistorical
romance are H.G. Wells’s A Story of the Stone Age (1897) and Jean Auel’s The Clan
of the Cave Bear (1980).
However, no significant references to this theme can be found in The
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy40.

37
A quite prominent variant of disasters in SF literature is what Dieter Wuckel calls the “Adam-und-Eva
Situation” (218), i.e. sole survivors of a huge catastrophe are responsible for rebuilding a civilization.
Nevertheless, this situation does not occur in Hitchhiker’s and is therefore exempt from further examination.
38
However, this template will occur in Douglas Adams’s Life, the Universe and Everything (1982).
39
It might seem inappropriate to include a template exclusively dedicated to the field of prehistory in a survey on
literature usually dealing with the future. However, David Pringle points out that mankind’s knowledge of the
past results from deduction based on the collection and scientific analysis of fossils, bones and primitive tools
(30). Accordingly, it is necessary to include prehistorical romances in this analysis as they constitute a type of
science-based fiction.
40
Again, this statement is true for the first part of the series. Similar to time travels or alternative histories,
Adams utilized them in the follow-up novels to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
27
2.3.6 Time Travels

The theme of time travel can also be referred to as “chrononautische


Abenteuer” (cf. Wuckel 65). In these “chrononautic adventures” the hero is involved
in moving forward or backward in time. Stories before Wells’s Time Machine involved
sleeping or dreaming as the only means to overcome long periods of time. Only after
the “great general in dreamland” (Aldiss 117) had introduced a machine for doing so
were these travels undertaken by technical means. Self-evidently, Wells’s Time
Machine stands out as the most influential story which features time travels but later
manifestations have been manifold and were also successfully made use of by
Hollywood.
Again, this template can not be found in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
but is evident in Adams’s subsequent novels.

2.3.7 Alien Intrusions

This template is depicted as “the simplest of all […] that are used in science
fiction” (Pringle 33) and its features are explained quickly; everyday life is interrupted
by intruders from elsewhere or elsewhen.
This template is widely used in Science Fiction for its universal applicability.
Again, H.G. Wells delivered the masterpiece with The War of the Worlds. Until today,
variations of the theme are found in a vast number of follow-ups by writers like Isaac
Asimov (The Gods Themselves, 1972) or Algis Burdrys (Hard Landing, 1994).
The template was also picked up by Douglas Adams in Hitchhiker’s. It is the
incident of Earth’s demolition by the Vogons that serves as one incident of the
template’s utilization. However, unlike Wells’s Martians, the intruders do not
classically land on Earth but carelessly blow up the whole planet. Another important
“intrusion” is that of Ford Prefect, who has been living on Earth for more than fifteen
years without anyone around him actually realizing that he is an alien “from a small
planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse” (Adams 19). In his case, one has to
speak of a “peaceful intrusion”. A more detailed discussion of Ford Prefect follows in
the following chapter on the conventions of SF.

28
2.3.8 Mental Powers

Mental powers are the superordinate term for all abilities that surpass the
(human) senses of seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting and smelling. Those superpowers
are in part adjacent to the field of SF but have their origins – and greatest quantum of
usage – in fantasy literature. Yet, parapsychologic abilities like telepathy (thought-
reading), precognition (foreseeing certain events) or telekinesis (moving objects by
will power) are nonetheless used in science fiction. As examples for stories utilizing
mental powers, Olaf Stapledon’s Odd John (1935) and Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965)
shall be mentioned here.
Even though Hitchhiker’s contains various elements on the brink of fantasy
literature (e.g. the Infinite Improbability Drive), the template of mental superpowers
can not be identified.

2.3.9 Space Opera

Due to its significance for Hitchhiker’s, the theme of space opera will be
discussed more elaborately than the preceding templates. The expression “space
opera” was coined by Wilson Tucker in 1941 due to analogy to two different TV
formats, i.e. horse opera (Westerns) and soap opera (TV serials of low
sophistication, originally produced for housewives). According to Gary Westfahl,
three characteristics define space opera; first of all, a space-ship is needed.
However, the story not necessarily has to be set completely on board the ship. He
points out that “even narratives occurring on the surfaces of alien planets must have
nearby spaceports, creating the possibilities of departures to or arrivals from other
worlds” (Westfahl 2003, 197).
Secondly, space operas traditionally tend to be exciting adventure stories,
which picture a richly populated universe. Between the races inhabiting the
respective universes, conflicts occur which often culminate in war. The focus on the
military side of the tales is evident throughout all space operas. Interestingly, the
most widely known saga classified as space opera is called Star Wars.
The third aspect of the template “space opera” Westfahl mentions is the
tendency of space operas to “succumb to formulaic plots and mediocrity” (“Space
Opera” 198). Similar to soap-operas, which are presented as a serial, every

29
successful space opera spawned sequels; the so-called father of the space opera is
E. E. “Doc” Smith, who published his Skylark of Space (1928) in the pulp-magazine
Amazing Stories. The story features the cliché ingredients like interplanetary space
travel and scientific double-talk, combined with simple love-story elements. Despite
its low literary quality it was very successful among the readership of Amazing
Stories. Thus, Smith went on to write two sequels to Skylark initiating the “Golden
Age of classic space opera” (Westfahl 2003, 199).

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the three characteristics of space


opera established by Westfahl can easily be recognized. The inevitable spaceship is
represented by The Heart of Gold, the ship Zaphod Beeblebrox stole and on which
the journey to Magrathea is made. Westfahl’s second point, the adventurous plot and
the occurrence of conflicts in space, can also be confirmed to be obviously evident in
the story.
Without taking the literal quality of Adams’s creation into consideration, the
text can be identified as a typical space opera due to the occurrence of the third
characteristic, i.e. a formulaic plot. The fact that this was done on purpose by Adams,
and why will be subject of discussion in the forthcoming analysis.
The classification of Hitchhiker’s as a kind of space opera is validated by both
David Pringle and Gary Westfahl. However, both writers distinguish and emphasize
the special focus the novel has on the theme of space opera: “The ideas and themes
of early space opera are mercilessly parodied in Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s
Guide to the Galaxy […]” (Pringle 22). Westfahl even calls Hitchhiker’s the
“outstanding example of satirical space opera” (Space Opera 203) and describes it in
the Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy (2005) as “epic, comic
space opera that uses the freedom of science fiction to highlight by exaggeration the
absurdity of human existence” (1081).

Confirmed by the preceding argumentation, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the


Galaxy qualifies as a type of space opera. However, the characteristics of the novel
which parody “rules” and firmly established conventions of science fiction writing led
to its classification as what Pringle calls “comic infernos” (36).

30
2.3.10 Comic Infernos

This last of David Pringle’s ten templates of SF “involves distorting the world
we know – either by projecting it into the future or displacing it to an alien location –
in order to expose its absurdities” (Pringle 36).
The origins of satirist writings date back to ancient Greece, where “satyr-plays”
coexisted with classic drama. It is noteworthy that “all earnest literary forms are
shadowed by works which use their motifs to poke fun; it is from ‘satyr-play’ that the
modern word ‘satire’ is derived” (Pringle 36).
Besides The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, two other works shall be
mentioned as outstanding representations of what Carl Kropf depicted as “mock-sf”
(61), Red Dwarf (a British TV series from 1988 which spawned various book
adaptations like Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers, 1989) and The
Dragonhiker’s Guide to Battlefield Covenant at Dune’s Edge: Odyssey Two (1988) by
David Langford.

2.3.11 Mock SF

The newly introduced term “mock-sf” deserves a closer look as it represents a


key to understanding the way Adams’s novel(s) distort SF within his story, as well as
the whole genre altogether. Carl R. Kropf classifies the evidence for his coinage in
three categories:

Adams’s mock SF novels reverse most of the paradigmatic


expectations readers have learned to bring to the genre.
Second, by reversing the usual conventions of the genre,
Adams also reverses its entire ideological function. Finally, like
the writers in other mock genres, Adams presents his implied
narrator as a bungling author whose works embody disorder
and aimlessness as opposed to the genre’s usual embodiment
of order and direction. (61)

One paradigmatic expectation a reader of SF presumably brings along – especially


during the pulp-magazine era – is the celebrated hero equipped with extraordinary
powers and abilities. In Hitchhiker’s however, the “hero” is the ordinary, lazy English
everyman, Arthur Dent, who does not actively solve any situation but is merely a by-
stander in most situations. In addition, “conventional SF depicts the Earth’s discovery
31
of or return to its rightful place as first among equals in the galactic community”
(Kropf 62). Adams’s novel on the contrary, begins with the destruction of Earth,
leaving only two humans – Trillian and Arthur. The successive absence of an
expected love-story between those two is another example for the anti-paradigmatic
style of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
As made clear in the preceding historical overview of Science Fiction (cf.
chapter 2.2), the genre has often been extensively exploited as a means of
celebrating mankind’s creative strength and the superiority of the “human spirit” over
destructive powers. However, with the destruction of Earth at the beginning of
Hitchhiker’s, Adams reverses the ideological function of the usual prevalence of
humanity. Furthermore, the triumph of the “human spirit” over alien threats thus has
become unachievable.
Kropf’s third argument, i.e. Adams portrays his characters and the plot
disordered and aimless in contrast to SF’s usual embodiment of order and direction,
shall stand out as the most important claim made. Ever since Aristotle introduced the
division of a sophisticated work into beginning, middle and end, critics insisted on the
significance of closure. Adams however, purposefully denies closure in various
incidents. “Adams’s novels […] are a chronicle of aborted endings and inconclusive
conclusions in the course of which the author does everything possible to outrage
verisimilitude” (Kropf 65); the spaceship of Zaphod Beeblebrox, the Heart of Gold, is
propelled by one of Adams’s most genuine inventions, i.e. the Infinite Improbability
Drive. It creates an improbability field in which anything, no matter how unlikely it is,
may occur. In one incidence, this device enables the crew to escape an otherwise
concluding, i.e. plot-ending situation; as the ship is attacked by two nuclear missiles,
the improbability drive is switched on and turns the two otherwise death-bringing
rockets into a bowl of petunias and a sperm whale. On the one hand, Adams thus
denies his readers a "convincing" ending to the story, but on the other hand enables
them to experience one of the most unlikely adventures known to Science Fiction.

32
3. Motifs, Ideas, Conventions of Science Fiction and their usage in The Hitchhiker’s
Guide to the Galaxy

In the following analysis, the main elements which are usually prevalent in SF
will be surveyed in respect to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It will be shown
how Douglas Adams deliberately perverted the conventions of the genre and reused
them in his book.
As a guideline for the analysis, the motifs presented in David Pringle’s
Ultimate Encyclopedia of Science Fiction will be employed (pp. 38-55).

3.1 Alien Life

One motif central to SF is the existence of and interaction with alien life forms.
Creatures radically different from those inhabiting Earth have already been described
in some of the early works in the canon of SF. Ranging from the intelligent tree-
beings in Nils Klim’s underground voyage to the peculiar Liliputs in Gulliver’s Travels,
such life forms have taken various shapes. According to David Pringle, for SF
literature, H.G. Wells introduced the most significant manifestations of foreign life;
The “monstrous Martians of The War of the Worlds, seeking extermination of all
human life on Earth and the well-organized hive-society described in The First Men in
the Moon” (Pringle 38) were role-models extensively used in later Science Fiction.
During the pulp magazine era, a new standard motif of SF was established
with the creation of the so-called “Bug-Eyed-Monster” (BEM). These predominantly
ugly, usually hostile and exclusively inhuman creatures were exterminated without
the fear of moral consequences. It is noteworthy that the outer appearance of aliens
often metonymically stands for their general attitude towards humans; The ugly ones,
often equipped with the “repulsive characteristics of snakes, insects and slugs” are
hostile and deserve death, the beautiful ones which “usually resembled birds or the
cuter kinds of furry mammals” (Pringle 38) are portrayed as friendly and
sophisticated.
The fear of foreign life forms in classic SF eventually was replaced by the
notion of the necessity of finding a way to get along with each other in a shared
universe. Such ideas are widely portrayed in the Star Trek books and TV series and

33
stand contrastive to the menacing aliens of cinematic manifestations like Alien
(1979), Predator (1987) or Independence Day (1996).
In SF literature, another different approach to alien life was delivered, which
might count as inadaptable for cinema; Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris (1961) portrayed
alien life beyond human understanding41.
David Pringle points out that with programs like SETI (i.e. the Search for
Extraterrestrial Intelligence) running on a global scale, more recent SF like Carl
Sagan’s Contact (1985) will continue to support the idea of contact and
communication with other civilized races in space. However, “the predominant
anxiety of contemporary sf is that we might prove unworthy of admission to the
galactic community” (38).
However, as the popular German Physicist Harald Lesch points out, no
scientific proof for the existence of (intelligent) extraterrestrial life in the universe has
been found by humanity so far42. Neither by radio telescopes, satellite probes nor by
direct contact has this human yearning been fulfilled. As there is no proof for the
existence of intelligent alien life and therefore no factual scientific basis which had
otherwise limited imagination, it is possible for Science Fiction authors to extrapolate
solely from one’s own fantasy and optionally neglect any laws of physics.

3.1.1 Humanoid Extraterrestrials

Humanoid extraterrestrials resemble human beings in general, even though a


variation in respect to limbs, heads or other physical features is possible. The crucial
characteristic here is the human-like exterior of a creature. The Phagors in Brian W.
Aldiss's Heliconia series (1982-85) and the Porquinhos in Orson Scott Card's
Speaker for the Dead (1986) are typical exponents for humanoid extraterrestrials in
written Science Fiction.

41
Lem’s book was used as a template for the eponymously titled movie in 2002. However, the movie version is
commonly understood to neglect basic ideas of Lem and replaced those facets with typical Hollywood action
elements.
42
http://www.heise.de/tp/r4/artikel/20/20875/1.html
34
3.1.2 Animal-like Extraterrestrials

Similar to humanoid beings, animal-like creatures are classified according to


their outer appearance. The variety of extraterrestrial animal-like creatures is based
on the spectrum of real existing animals on Earth but is by far more varied and
extensive due to the option for SF writers to combine any given types. Accordingly, it
is possible to embed insectoid and arachnid aliens (e.g. the Cinnrusskin of James
White's Sector General series, 1983), reptiles (e.g. the Gowachin of Frank Herbert's
Whipping Star, 1970) or felines (e.g. the Fefethil in Robert Westall's Urn Burial, 1987)
in any SF story.

3.1.3 Hybrid Aliens

The Hybrid Alien type shows characteristics of both humanoid and animal-like
creatures and all other conceivable combinations. The archetypal Alien is best
exemplified by the pulp magazines’ Bug-Eyed-Monsters and has become one
worldwide known template of SF by cinematic conversions such as Ridley Scott’s
Alien (1979). Due to the creatures’ monstrosity and hostility towards human beings,
as well as their gloomy appearance – all of which are factors addressing human
primal fears – the classical Alien brute can be considered the most “successful”
manifestation of alien life in SF.

3.1.4 Bodiless Creatures

Bodiless alien life forms are, compared to the other types, rare in Science
Fiction writing. Such creatures are often employed if the overall theme of the work is
focused on philosophical issues. However, Lem’s Solaris shall be mentioned here
again as a case in point representing written SF, and the first motion picture of Star
Trek (1979) representing film adaptations of the genre, dealing with bodiless beings.

35
3.2 Alien Life in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams makes use of various
kinds of alien life forms of SF ranging from inconspicuously humanoid beings to
intangible, surrealistic creatures like the Hooloovoo – a “superintelligent shade of the
colour blue” (29). The most important alien characters deserve closer scrutiny as
they stand out as indicators for Adams’s way of satirizing SF.

3.2.1 Humanoid Extraterrestrials

3.2.1.1 Ford Prefect

The first contact with an alien life form the reader makes is that with Ford
Prefect. Ford has been a good friend of Arthur for almost six years without revealing
his true identity; He actually is a field researcher for the guidebook Hitchhiker’s Guide
to the Galaxy. Actually, Ford is from “a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of
Beetlegeuse” and is not “descended from an ape” (11). His humanoid outer
appearance together with his fake identity of “an unemployed actor” (11), apologizing
for his strange behavior, made his disguise on Earth successful.
The role of Ford Prefect is used to introduce Arthur Dent to the possibility –
and urgent necessity – of space travel and to the concept of the electronic book
entitled “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. However, the character’s importance for
the plot diminishes during the second half of the book and is limited to giving rather
useless remarks and drinking Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters with Zaphod Beeblebrox.
Ford does thus not represent the wise extraterrestrial that is in many ways superior to
the inhabitants of Earth but is rather a common everyman like Arthur Dent. The only
fact that separates the two characters is a different home planet and thus a totally
different view of the universe. For Ford, it is not a big issue to travel through space,
but on the – in galactic terms – backwardly planet Earth it is still one of the major
wonders for the common man43.

43
The image of the Earth as a backwardly planet will be discussed in chapter 4.3.
36
3.2.1.2 Zaphod Beeblebrox

This character, despite possessing two heads and three arms, must be
counted to the humanoid aliens. Regardless of having physical features like two legs,
walking upright and the absence of animal characteristics like a tail, he undoubtedly
carries human psychological features such as egoism and blatancy. He is described
as “adventurer, ex-hippie, good-timer (crook? quite possibly), manic self-publicist
[and] terrible bad at personal relationships” (28). He was elected president of the
galaxy despite – and maybe because of – his unpredictable character. As the
president’s “job is not to wield power but to draw attention away from it”, Zaphod was
the right choice and is “amazingly good at this” (29). Moreover, he uses his position
to steal the ship called The Heart of Gold at its primal launch when he was supposed
to give a speech. Additionally, when Ford and Arthur are brought onto the Heart of
Gold, they realize that the two are actually cousins and have spent great parts of
their youth time together.
With Zaphod Beeblebrox, Douglas Adams introduces a funny character
serving a serious purpose. The character is used to disparage those in power over
other people and to hint at corruption among governments (cf. chapter 4.2).

3.2.1.3 Slartibartfast

Slartibartfast is one of the engineers working on the planet building-world of


Magrathea and was responsible for creating the fjords of Norway on the first Earth, a
job which even earned him an award. Similar to Zaphod, he is equipped with
distinctly human features. He is described as an old man and also behaves like one;
When he is commanded to design Africa on Earth Mark II, his reluctance to change
and adapt to new challenges becomes evident:

In this replacement Earth we’re building they’ve given me Africa


to do and of course I’m doing it with all fjords again because I
happen to like them, and I’m old-fashioned enough to think that
they give a lovely baroque feel to a continent. And they tell me
it’s not equatorial enough. Equatorial! (128)

37
This denial of truth is said to be found with elderly people and seems to be out of
place for an extraterrestrial who is responsible for creating such awe-inspiring natural
phenomena as the Norwegian fjords.

3.2.2 Animal-like Extraterrestrials

3.2.2.1 Mice

At first glance it may seem inappropriate to include mice on a list of


extraterrestrial beings, but in The Hitchhiker’s Guide’s case it is of utmost importance
to do so. Actually, they are of vital importance for the progression of the story of
Hitchhiker’s.

The reader learns that Trillian brought two white mice on board the ship Heart
of Gold (cf. Hitchhiker’s p. 75). However, the creatures are not mentioned again until
the last chapters of the book. As it turns out, the mice are not "minor creatures"
brought from Earth into space but the case is in fact fundamentally different.
Slartibartfast explains that the mice “are merely the protrusion into our dimension of
vastly hyperintelligent pandimensional beings” and that “the whole business with the
cheese and the squeaking is just a front” (109). He also points out that the mice were
only present on Earth to supervise an experiment and that the whole planet with all
its life forms was an organic super-computer built to fulfill an important philosophical
calculation. They first built the supercomputer Deep Thought to calculate the all-
important question of “Life, the Universe and Everything” (113). As the outcome of
five million years computation was the cryptic and therefore unsatisfying answer
“forty-two” (120), they let Deep Thought construct another, even more powerful
organic machine to find the actual question to the answer. This machine turns out to
be the Earth. However, through Earth’s destruction by the Vogons at the beginning of
the story, the running program is also aborted only five minutes before its completion.
The fact that mankind always thought that mice were just little mammals which
were used for all sorts of experiments without realizing the creatures’ actual intention
is depicted with the words “such subtlety, […] one has to admire it” (110) by
Slartibartfast.

38
3.2.2.2 The Babel Fish

This being is introduced in the story when Ford gives one specimen to Arthur
in order to enable him to understand the Vogon captain’s message (cf. pp. 40-43).
The Babel Fish is a small, yellow, leech-like fish which enables everyone who carries
one in his ear to understand any language spoken in the whole universe. Therefore,
it must be stuck in one’s ear, where it can perform the translation process:

It feeds on brainwave energy received not from its own carrier


but from those around it. It absorbs all unconscious mental
frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. It
then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix
formed by combining the conscious thought frequencies with
nerve signals picked up from the speech centers of the brain
which has supplied them. (42)44

Thus, Douglas Adams solves the mystery - and storytelling awkwardness - of


intergalactic interracial communication. He nevertheless hints at the fact that despite
being able to communicate, the different races throughout the galaxy are not able to
live along in peace. This might be due to the fact that language is classically viewed
not only to convey information but also to “represent alternative modes of thinking,
unique takes on reality” (Hanlon 115). The ambiguity that every language entails on
the lexical, syntactic and semantic level makes correct understanding of language so
heavily dependent on context. Taken into account that spoken language, unlike
written language, “is full of ‘erms’ and ‘ahs’ and false starts as well as the horrors of
dialect and differing pronunciation” (Hanlon 119), mechanical or natural direct
translation is object to many seemingly insolvable difficulties. Accordingly,
misunderstanding may not be eradicated despite a Babel Fish.

3.2.3 Hybrid Aliens

3.2.3.1 Vogons

The Vogons are a hybrid form of alien, endowed with both anthropomorphical
features such as a pair of arms, one head with one nose but also animalistic features

44
The reason this important information can be found on page 42 shall at this point be counted as coincidental
and is not surveyed any further here.
39
like “dark green rubbery skin” (33). However, not only appearance-wise do these
creatures resemble humans; they suffer under typically human flaws such as having
a distorted self-picture and overestimating one’s own capabilities. The latter trait
becomes especially clear when the Vogon captain reads some of his poetry to Arthur
and Ford and almost kills Ford by doing so45.
Adams’s selecting the body color green and making the Vogons very ugly
showing a “mean callous heartless exterior” (47) can be seen as fulfillment of the
paradigmatic expectations of many SF fans who suppose alien races to be
fundamentally different from us humans on Earth. Furthermore, it may be expected
that aliens who destroy a whole planet full of life are fundamentally evil. However,
despite their antipathy towards hitchhikers (here, only the status is taken into
consideration, not the outer appearance or race of the traveler), Vogons are not
hostile towards humans (unlike e.g. Wells’s aliens) but they are simply over-
bureaucratic and therefore uninterested in other life forms’ matters. Therefore, the
extermination of Earth at the beginning of the book does not constitute an act of
aggressive violence. It rather seems justified because Earth's destruction is inevitable
to achieve the bureaucratically set aim, i.e. the construction of a new hyper spatial
express route. In the Vogons’ case, Douglas Adams in part fulfills but mainly
reverses the reader's expectations of typical SF stories; Hostility is resolved by
misunderstood carelessness and disgusting body structure is almost pitifully
explained by “evolution [having] given up on them” (33).

3.2.4 Bodiless Creatures

As mentioned before, the mice in Hitchhiker’s are described as


pandimensional beings, which means that they must be present in more than one
dimension at the same time. Additionally, the fact that that the beings chose to
manifest themselves as mice, and therefore their appearance being a matter of
choice, allows the assumption that their spirit is independent of the physical
appearance. This description allows the classification of mice as at least partially
bodiless creatures.

45
The Vogons seem to be the only race in the universe which does not realize how bad their own poetry actually
is. It is described as the “third worst in the universe”, only deferring to “that of the Azgoths of Kria” and that of
“Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings of Greenbridge, Essex, England” (45).
40
Another bodiless creature was already mentioned in the introductory remarks
to this chapter: A Hooloovoo , which is a “superintelligent shade of the colour blue”
(29). This creature, which was involved in designing the Heart of Gold, lacks closer
description and is never mentioned in the book again.46

3.2.5 Conclusion concerning alien life in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Douglas Adams provides his humanoid aliens with features common to


ordinary “earthlings”. This is noteworthy due to the fact that in many Science Fiction
works, humanoid aliens usually possess some kind of feature that distinguishes them
from humans originating from Earth. Either human-like extraterrestrials are equipped
with some supernatural power, e.g. “the Force” in the Star Wars series (1977, 1980,
1983, 1999, 2002, 2005), or they are capable of achieving feats which are impossible
for ordinary humans (e.g. psychic foresight in Stapledon’s Odd John, 1935).
The underlying point here is that Adams purposefully makes his humanoid
alien characters appear and behave like ordinary human persons, no matter which
remote part of the galaxy they are from. By doing so, Adams reverses the human
hubris which can be surveyed throughout most mainstream SF and states that
human (-oid) beings might universally be as faulty and constrictive as they actually
are here on planet Earth. He pokes fun at the often-celebrated “triumph of the human
spirit” (Kropf 62) that is evident predominantly in classic SF works, such as those by
Jules Verne.
The theme of non-humanoid alien life forms shows a general tendency
towards trivialization throughout the book. Instead of introducing monstrous, abstract
creations, Adams keeps the alien life forms simple and even stays earth-bound
concerning their shapes. Therefore, alien life forms such as mice or old people (cf.
Slartibartfast) are no oddity in this peculiar universe. Adams does not introduce any
terrifying spiders or huge centipedes and leaves out the Bug Eyed Monster template
completely. Except in the Vogons’ case, in which a trend towards monstrosity can be
realized. However, this is remedied by the fact that the reader is almost inclined to
feel pity for the ugly creatures, as they were being neglected and unaffected even by
evolution.

46
The term can be considered an onomatopoetically motivated pun, using kids' talk mimicking ghosts. Thus,
Adams playfully creates a term of absurdist mystery.
41
Feasibility of communication between different alien races in SF literature is
often neglected, ignored or made possible by introducing electronic means. By
introducing the Babel Fish Adams solves the problem of intergalactic communication
and evades establishing mysterious electronic high-tech devices. Again, an important
issue, i.e. communication, is trivialized to an extent where the reader becomes aware
of the absurdity contained in Adams’s work. The absurd factor of the Babel Fish is
even strengthened by Adams in telling the recipient that “the poor Babel Fish, by
effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and
cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of
creation” (42). Thus, he pokes fun at the supposition that if communication between
all races can be achieved, all problems and wars could be eradicated. The problem
does not seem to be communication but the communicators.

3.3 Technology

Technology has always been a vital part of Science Fiction. After all, it was
technology which inspired the first SF writings. Long before editors like Campbell or
Gernsback emphasized the technology-oriented style of their publications, literates
played with the idea of science beyond contemporarily possible capabilities; Mary
Shelley uses electricity - then a still new and therefore feared scientific
accomplishment - to awake the monster in Frankenstein, Verne invents rockets
capable of easily catapulting humans to the moon (in From Earth to the Moon, 1865)
when it still took months for a man to travel around the world, and in Time and Again
(1951) Clifford Simak introduces machines (in this case robots) with such a high level
of intelligence that they eventually begin to fight for their independence. All of these
three examples are fantastic extrapolations of their times’ cutting-edge technologies,
be it electric current, space travel or artificial intelligence. David Pringle notes that
“Science-fiction writers have always tried to extrapolate the possibilities of newly
emergent technologies. In the early 1940s, they wrote extensively about nuclear
power; in the 1950s, about computers, and so on” (40).
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which was written in the late 1970s,
features classical SF themes such as space travel, super weapons and, of course,
artificial intelligence, but also more contemporary topics like suspended animation or
advanced information technology. In regard to occurrence of technology, The

42
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy does not differ from other SF books; It is full of
references to technology far advanced from our current level. However, as will be
shown here, the approach of Douglas Adams is fundamentally different from that of
other writers of Science Fiction. Yet, it even stands in antonymic relation to the
genre’s conventions.

3.3.1 General Use of Technology

Adams introduces useful devices alongside absurd gadgets. Some of those


inventions show clear reference to existing technology but they are altered in a way
typical for SF. Accordingly, Adams conceives medial means like gigantic
loudspeakers or three dimensional cameras; Shortly before the Vogons start to
destroy the Earth, humanity is treated to “the very ultimate in sound reproduction, the
greatest public address system ever built” (25) in order to explain Earth’s upcoming
destruction, and when Zaphod Beeblebrox is filmed before he is supposed to give a
speech in honor to the newly built Heart of Gold, he is filmed by a “robot tri-D
camera” (30). These two examples are obviously Science Fiction, yet the technology
described is based on commonplace reality. The essence of which is that the
universe of the Hitchhiker’s Guide is just a larger-scaled earth, with quite familiar
technology. The only alteration seems to be that of scale and design.
Douglas Adams also extrapolates from real existing machinery when he
describes means of transportation. Thus, Zaphod’s boat, with which he is
approaching the Heart of Gold’s inaugural ceremony, does not float on “water at all,
because it was supported on a hazy cushion of ionized atoms” (29). Later in the
book, when Slartibartfast takes Arthur on a trip around Magrathea, they travel in a
“Hovercraft, [which] shed a dim pool of light around it” (101). Slartibartfast later
simply calls this flying vehicle “[his] aircar” (103). Another means of transportation is
briefly introduced when Ford Prefect tells Trillian about a trick he and Zaphod played
when they were young, using a so-called “trijet scooter designed for stratosphere
work”. With this device, the two youngsters manage to cross “three parsecs in a
matter of weeks” (both 125) and get on board a freighter ship in order to demand
Conkers from the captain.
These three examples show a mingling of recently feasible and plain futuristic
technology. Whereas it is possible to built boats which merely touch the water due to

43
enormous speeds or hovercraft technology using a cushion of air to move, scooters
capable of crossing parsecs within weeks are purely SF47.
As mentioned above, Adams did not only introduce serious extrapolations of
technology but also created nonsensical gimmicks, two of which will be discussed
briefly. Such elements are the Vogons’ “poetry appreciation chairs” (45), which are
used for holding unwelcome guests on board their ships so that the Vogons can read
some of their poetry to them for torture.
Another nonsensical invention is the Nutri-Matic machine Arthur Dent
encounters on board the Heart of Gold. It is designed to perform an

instant but highly detailed examination of the [ordering]


subject’s taste buds, a spectroscopic analysis of the subject’s
metabolism and then [sends] tiny experimental signals down
the neural pathways to the taste centers of the subject’s brain
to see what is likely to go down well. (83)

Even though such a machine is expected to be highly sophisticated, and supposed to


be of good use on a spaceship, Adams’s manifestation is already overtaxed when
Arthur demands a cup of tea. The liquid he is delivered “was almost, but not quite,
entirely unlike tea” (83)48. Douglas Adams explains this incapability of the Nutri-Matic
with the machine having been manufactured by the “Sirius Cybernetics Corporation,
whose complaints department now covers all the major landmasses of the first three
planets in the Sirius Tau Star system” (83).

As one can realize from these examples concerning the general use of
technology in Hitchhiker’s, in Adams’s universe even the most refined inventions
have their flaws, and those devices which are working properly are of no vital use (cf.
the Vogons’ poetry appreciation chairs). This setting can be regarded as a hint at
Earthly technology, which annoyed the early Douglas Adams: “In a 1982 interview he
considered computers to be, if not intrinsically malevolent, then useless” (quoted in
Gaiman, 147). However, there is technology embedded in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to
the Galaxy, which is vital for developing the story, such as artificial intelligence or

47
A parsec is the distance of 3,262 light years (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parsec).
48
Due to this discrepancy, which keeps the Heart of Gold’s main computer busy calculating a real tea for Arthur,
the ship is unable to perform dodging maneuvers against two nuclear missiles sent from Magrathea. More of this
incident will be discussed in the chapter Weapons and Interstellar War.
44
space ships capable of interstellar travel. Those inventions, which are well-known SF
templates, are comically altered by Adams, as the following analysis will show.

3.3.2 The Guide

Douglas Adams named his novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy after
the item of the same name featured in the book. He uses the fictional traveler’s guide
in order to explain selected characters and settings of the story.

The Guide is described as a “wholly remarkable book” (5) that looks “rather
like a largish electronic calculator [which] has about a hundred tiny flat press buttons
and a screen about four inches square on which any one of a million ‘pages’ could be
summoned at a moment’s notice” (20). It is lavishly pointed out that even though it
contains information which is “apocryphal [and] wildly inaccurate” it has “supplanted
the great Encyclopedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and
wisdom” (6)49.
Even though the reader is made familiar with the Guide from the very first
pages, it is not introduced in the story until Ford and Arthur find themselves on board
the Vogons’ space ship. Ford describes it as a “sort of electronic book” (37) and
encourages the earthling to look up ‘Vogons’ in order to read about the first
extraterrestrial life forms – besides Ford – he is going to encounter in his life.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy represents a means of advanced
information technology containing huge amounts of data. It is published “in the form
of a micro sub meson electronic component” due to the fact that “if it were printed in
normal book form, an interstellar hitchhiker would require several inconveniently
large buildings to carry it around in” (20).
The 21st century reader is instantly reminded of recent computer technology
with microprocessors capable of processing millions of bits of information in seconds
and small-sized storage devices with huge memory space. Due to the fact that The
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was written long before such technological
achievements became reality, the foresight Douglas Adams proved in his work is

49
With Wikipedia, the idea behind The Guide has become reality today, uniting contributors from all over the
world. Even more so, since the start of the website, Wikipedia had to fight the problems of both inaccuracy and
unreliability, which are noticeable parallels to Adams’s creation.
45
remarkable. In this case one can truly speak of sensible extrapolation and is apt to
realize parallels to great SF authors like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.

Despite the strong allusion to scientific correctness and feasibility, Adams’s


Hitchhiker’s contains various elements which again trivialize any introduced technical
means. Thus it is explained that the Guide has many omissions and is not as reliable
as expected. This might be due to the fact that the Guide is edited as an ordinary
travel guide having field researchers like Ford Prefect contributing to it.
Furthermore, the outer appearance of the Guide is used to poke fun at a
typical SF trait, i.e. mystification of advanced technology. In cases where the
invented technology is so far advanced that it seems incomprehensible for the
reader, cryptic names or mystic outer appearances are often created by the authors.
The intelligent super computer in Stanley Kubrick's movie 2001 - A Space Odyssey
(1968) HAL 9000, carries such a cryptic name and additionally features a single red
eye resembling the eye of a Cyclops50.

The Guide in Hitchhiker’s, however, is not mystified in any way. Conversely, it


is trivialized by having a simple plastic cover which “has the words ’DON’T PANIC’
inscribed in large friendly letters” (6) on it. This inscription became one of the most
widely known Douglas Adams quotes and is, even though it may seem highly
inappropriate, depicted by Arthur Dent as “the first helpful or intelligible thing
anybody’s said to [him] all day” (37).

3.3.3 Teleportation and Matter Transmission

The difference between teleportation and matter transmission is that the first
term denotes “moving oneself from place to place without passing through the
intervening space” (Pringle 53), whereas the latter describes moving other objects. It
has to be noticed that “teleportation was originally synonymous with psychokinesis,
[i.e.] the ability to move objects by will power” (53), but its original use was widely
substituted by teleportation means such as Star Trek’s “transporter”.

50
The movie was co-scripted by acclaimed SF writer Arthur C. Clarke and is based on his story The Sentinel
(1948).
46
The tendency of SF to highlight both an invention’s benevolent features as
well as its malevolent ones can also be noticed when teleportation and matter
transmission is considered. Whereas manifestations like Star Trek’s “transporter”
stand for the positive aspects of the technique, horror visions as described in George
Langelaan’s The Fly (1957) represent the opposite51.
In SF, there are two different types of matter transmission, one that relies on a
receiver and one that functions without. Nevertheless, the method requiring a
receiver52 is depicted as “far less convenient” by David Pringle. He Furthermore
states that

some sf stories argue that matter transmitters ought, in theory,


also to function as matter duplicators on the grounds that once
an object is reduced to a signal it can presumably be copied
with relative ease. (53)

In reality, researchers acclaimed first successes on the quantum-level, which point at


the eventual feasibility of matter transmission on a larger scale. However, the
problem of the huge amount of energy that would be needed is not yet solvable.
Michael Hanlon in The Science of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005) points
out that it “would require quite a lot of energy, several million times that released by a
large thermonuclear explosion” to dematerialize a body’s atoms into “free quarks and
electrons” (135), which could then be transferred.

In the world of Hitchhiker’s, matter transmission apparatuses are made use of


and are of great importance. By means of such a device Arthur and Ford enter the
Vogons’ ship shortly before the Earth is disintegrated. The device is called an
“Electronic Thumb” (20) and is referred to as “an electronic sub-etha signaling
device” (36) by Ford. However, it is not explained how the appliance works. The only
insight Adams allows for is that through the transmitting process, the human body
loses “some salt and protein” (35) and thus accounts for the hangover-like state
Arthur Dent finds himself in after waking up on the Vogon ship. The shock to the
human system can only be mitigated by copious quantities of salt, protein and

51
This story of a man being accidentally intermingled with a fly during the teleporting process spawned movie
versions in 1958, 1959, 1965, and more recently in 1989 starring Jeff Goldblum.
52
The problems occurring with sender/receiver transmission is addressed in Eric Brown’s novel Meridian Days
(1992).
47
“muscle relaxant” (19), i.e. alcohol. This is the reason why Ford and Arthur pay a visit
to the nearest pub - despite the fact that Arthur’s house is torn down and the Earth’s
upcoming destruction - in order to drink three pints of bitter each. After Arthur has
regained consciousness on board the Vogon ship, Ford offers him some peanuts and
explains that “you’ve never been through a matter transference beam before, you’ve
probably lost some salt and protein. The beer you had should have cushioned your
system a bit” (35).
In this case, Douglas Adams again plays with unfulfilled expectations of the
“typical” SF fan and uses comic elements to explain – or better mystify – features in
his book. Highly technologically advanced systems like teleportation devices work
perfectly well except for some minor effects on human beings, which can easily be
mitigated. The fact that this can be achieved via peanuts and beer can be seen as an
instance of Adams’s love for food and drink having found their way into the book. As
Glenn Yeffeth points out, “[Douglas] Adams wasn’t always obsessed with food.
Sometimes he was obsessed with drink” (133).
The only other occurrence of matter transfer technology in Hitchhiker’s is
reported when Ford tells the story of him and Zaphod Beeblebrox sneaking on board
an Arcturan Megafreighter. After having drunk and eaten, the ship’s captain
“teleported [the two] back into the maximum security wing of the Betelgeuse state
prison” (125).

3.3.4 Suspended Animation

The scientific discipline of astronomy delivers more and more facts accounting
for the vastness of space53. Accordingly, SF authors are looking for ways which
enable their heroes to survive traveling a distance which would – at least in sub-light
speed – last much longer than a human’s life. The solutions found to this discrepancy
include teleportation/matter transfer, time travel, and quite often suspended
animation. Especially in early SF, sleeping was extensively used to project a novel's
character into the future. The most prominent early representatives are L.S. Mercier’s
Memoirs of the Year Two Thousand Five Hundred (1771), Edward Bellamy’s Looking
Backward (1888) and H.G. Wells’s When the Sleeper Wakes (1899). Later, from the

53
There is ongoing discussion on whether the universe is infinitely expanding or if it will stop expanding and
collapse, or if the expansion will come to a halt and keep its structure (cf. Hanlon 11 ff.).
48
pulp magazine era until modern SF, the theme of "sleeping" has become a widely-
used method for crossing interstellar space and is also featured in blockbuster
movies like Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979).
Another quite prominent manner allowing characters to live longer than
humanly possible is that of “cryonic suspension”. The first story involving a primitive
version of this method is W. Clark Russell’s The Frozen Pirate (1887). As real
science concerning the matter advanced further, the process was no longer depicted
as “refrigeration” but was substituted by the more scientifically sounding term
“cryonic suspension” (Pringle 53).
Furthermore, SF authors introduced other, more eccentric ways of achieving
time-transfers, such as mummification of a person (e.g. in Edgar Lee’s Pharaoh’s
Daughter, 1889) or “alternative methods of suspended animation inspired by animal
hibernation (e.g. Hot Sleep, 1979; revised as The Worthing Saga, 1990, by Orson
Scott Card).

Douglas Adams’s approach to suspended animation is different from foregoing


stories. In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the role of a sleeper who awakes is
extended to a whole planet, i.e. Magrathea.
The entry in the Hitchhiker’s Guide concerning Magrathea relates that “far
back in the mists of ancient times, [Magrathea] was home to custom-made luxury
planet building”, an industry serving the “Galaxy’s richest men” who had become
discontent with their home planets in that “either the climate wasn’t quite right in the
later part of the afternoon, or the day was half an hour too long, or the sea was
exactly the wrong shade of pink”. However, due to Magrathea being so successful, it
became the “richest planet of all time and the rest of the Galaxy was reduced to
abject poverty”, which in turn caused a financial breakdown throughout the whole
galaxy. Thus, “Magrathea itself disappeared and its memory soon passed into the
obscurity of legend” of which, as the Guide concludes, “in these enlightened days, of
course, no one believes a word of it” (78).
As the story continues it becomes clear that Magrathea in fact was “lost” for
over five million years and that it was Zaphod Beelbebrox’s aim to find it again. On
the planet, Arthur encounters Slartibartfast, who explains that

49
five million years ago the Galactic economy collapsed, and
seeing that custom built planets are something of a luxury
commodity […] we decided it would save a lot of bother if we
just slept through it. So we programmed the computers to
revive us when it was all over. […] The computers were index-
linked to the Galactic stock-market prices, so that we’d all be
revived when everybody else had rebuilt the economy enough
to afford our rather expensive services. (102)

Accordingly, suspended animation in Hitchhiker’s is made use of in a very untypical


way for SF. There is neither a philosophical justification (e.g. the spreading of some
superior spirit throughout the galaxy and therefore interstellar space travel), nor any
expected scientific prospect (e.g. the discovery of new planets) explaining the
Magratheans’ choice for suspended animation. The decision of the Magratheans to
change to a state of hibernation was fuelled only by monetary contemplation. This
can again be seen as one of Adams's sarcastic attacks on the flawed human
condition; In this case, greed.

3.4 Space Travel

According to Pringle “the idea of space travel is much older than sf”, however,
he declares that “early pioneers tended to turn a blind eye to the problems involved in
moving outside the Earth’s atmosphere” (50). This neglecting of actual scientific
problems was eventually substituted by invention of crafts which could withstand
Space’s vacuum and coldness.
Early spacecrafts were often spherical or bullet shaped, others bore
resemblance to Earthly technology (e.g. submarines). Streamline-shaped rockets54
were first introduced to the world of SF by Konstantin Tsiolkovski who promoted this
new idea in Outside the Earth (1920). In the late 1940s, when the concept of the
“flying saucer” was widely distributed by the media55, the shapes of Science Fiction
vehicles took on discoid shapes. This manifestation was especially successfully
employed in the pulp magazines. However, during the era of the pulps, not
exclusively fantastic, unrealistic SF was introduced but also reality-based fiction

54
Pringle states that “the idea that spaceships owe their fascination to phallic symbolism is jokingly reflected in
The Big Space Fuck (1972) by Kurt Vonnegut.
55
The so-called Roswell-incident was mainly responsible for creating the “’flying saucer’ craze“(Pringle 50),
when news about an alleged crash of an extraterrestrial space ship on a New Mexican farm were spread. Even
though officially demented and explained as a crash of an ordinary weather balloon shortly after, the incident
ignited a widespread fascination with UFOs which is still alive today.
50
found a growing readership. As an example, Robert A. Heinlein was the first writer to
make so-called generation starships the center of the setting in Universe (1941). He
thus paid credit to the seeming insurmountable distances between stars which would
last longer than several human lives to travel. Furthermore, the USA’s “Apollo
missions did not make sf about space travel redundant, but they ushered in a new
era of realistic fiction about the psychological problems of astronauts” (Pringle 51);
Kings of Infinite Space (1967) by Nigel Balchin or The Falling Astronauts (1971) by
Barry Malzberg stand out as early examples of this current.
Vital elements of space travel are the means of propulsions which enable the
characters to actually achieve the travel to outer space and beyond. In this respect,
SF writers have long left the field of rocket propulsion and introduced futuristic
devices like photon drives, warp drives and the travel through hyperspace. Even
though some of these means are based on actual scientific assumptions (e.g. Star
Trek’s “warp drive”) and are theoretically possible, they clearly have to be considered
inventions of SF due to their technical infeasibility in reality.

The first space ships which are mentioned in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the
Galaxy are the Vogons’ constructor ships which visit the earth in order to destroy it.
There is, however, no concrete description available, except for that they are “huge
yellow chunky slablike somethings, huge as office blocks, silent as birds” (20), which
“hung in the sky much the same way that bricks don’t” (25). It is interesting to note
that the constructor ships are - similar to their Earthly equivalents, the bulldozers –
yellow. Adams thus draws a parallel between the Vogons’ ships coming to destroy
the Earth and the construction company which wants to demolish Arthur’s house at
the same time.
Another even more important manifestation of spaceship is the Heart of Gold,
the vessel Zaphod Beeblebrox stole in order to look for Magrathea. It is on board this
ship that the main characters of the book meet. Zaphod, Trillian and the robot Marvin
are already aboard, Ford and Arthur are picked up after the two had been thrown out
of the Vogons’ ship.
The Heart of Gold is also utilized by Adams for introducing a method of
propulsion unknown to Science Fiction before. It is notably that all of the cutting-edge
propulsion technologies of SF have become widely accepted without further
inquisition as to how they actually work. Douglas Adams presumably did not want to

51
lengthen the list of “common SF-drives” and therefore invented an appliance unlike
anything that has gone before. The Infinite Improbability Drive is described as

a wonderful new method of crossing vast interstellar distances


in a mere nothingth of a second, without all that tedious
mucking about in hyperspace. It was discovered by lucky
chance, and then developed into a governable form of
propulsion by the Galactic Government’s research team of
Damogran. (60)

With such a powerful propulsion device like the Infinite Improbability Drive, it seems
plausible that other futuristic technologies like a “conventional photon drive” (75) are
no reason for wonder or excitement anymore.

It has to be noted that the Infinite Improbability Drive is not exclusively used
for travel. Due to the improbability field the drive generates, anything - no matter how
highly improbable it is - can occur. Thus, the drive must be credited for bringing
Arthur and Ford on board the Heart of Gold only one second before they would have
died of asphyxiation in space. When the ship’s computer is consulted on the
improbability of the two getting rescued, the result is “two to the power of two
hundred and seventy-six thousand, seven hundred and nine to one against” (69). As
it turns out, this number is, “by complete chance”, in fact “the telephone number of an
Islington flat where Arthur once went to a very good party” (54) and met Trillian for
the first time.
Douglas Adams, who reportedly did not believe in mythic occurrences but
rather in scientific fact, might have been pointing at the human characteristic of
mystifying highly improbable incidents. Logically speaking, highly improbable does
not mean impossible. Therefore in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it is nothing
but a funny coincidence to be rescued in open space at a level of improbability
exactly matching a telephone number on Earth.

Another instance showing the importance of the Drive can be found when two
nuclear missiles sent from the Magrathean defense system threaten to hit the Heart
of Gold. Shortly before impact, Arthur accidentally hits the button igniting the Drive.
One result of which is that the interior of the Heart of Gold is redesigned, but also,
and more importantly, the two projectiles are transformed into a sperm whale and a
52
bowl of petunias falling to the ground. The Infinite Improbability Drive thus represents
the most apparent item of opposition to SF’s “usual embodiment of order and
direction” (Kropf 61) in Hitchhiker’s.

In addition to the possibilities which travel by Improbability Drive brings along,


SF’s often utilized travel though Hyperspace is also mocked by Adams. Hyperspace
is defined as a multidimensional space beyond the three dimensions that we can
easily represent. Accordingly, it can be assumed that travel through hyperspace
requires highly advanced physics and technology. Conversely, in Hitchhiker’s, the
Earth is destroyed in order to make way for a new “hyperspatial express route” (25 f),
so that one is apt to think that a device resembling an Earthly motorway is needed for
traveling Hyperspace.
Adams further mocks interstellar space travel by introducing “teasers” (38).
Teasers are described by Ford as “rich kids with nothing to do [, who] cruise around
looking for planets that haven’t made interstellar contact yet”. Once teasers discover
a new planet

they find some isolated spot with very few people around, then
land right by some poor unsuspecting soul whom no one’s ever
going to believe and then strut up and down in front of him
wearing silly antennas on their head and making beep beep
noises. (39)

In Hitchhiker's, Space travel obviously does not require any important preparations or
is dangerous in any way but is merely a pastime activity practiced just for fun.

3.5 Weapons and Interstellar War

3.5.1 Weapons

The discovery of x-rays and radioactivity at the end of the 19th century led to
many authors imagining new weapons in Science Fiction. exemplary, George
Griffith’s last novel, The Lord of Labour (1911), which contained a war fought with
atomic missiles and disintegrator rays shall stand out as an early example of the
prominence of futuristic weaponry. From Griffith’s time onwards “superweapons”
became a vital part of SF. Especially during the early 1940’s pulp magazine era
53
authors celebrated all types of laser guns, stun-rays and nuclear arms. Only after the
horrible bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 did this trend begin to diminish,
as the threat of a nuclear overkill grew.
Strangely, the use of nuclear bombs in Japan did not put an end to the
(American) writers’ fascination with military SF. The famous Robert A. Heinlein’s
Starship Troopers (1959) best represents this type of fiction and was used as a
template for a Hollywood movie in 1997. This example shows that the occurrence of
weapons is even better displayed in the visual arts, i.e. in movies or comics, than in
written SF. Accordingly, inventions like a “light saber” (e.g. Star Wars) originate from
cinematic representations of SF 56.

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy there is evidence of typical SF


arsenal, as well as absurd mock-weaponry. The first is represented by the Vogons’
“stun-ray” (49) weapons, which are never used in the book, the latter is embodied by
the Intergalactic Police’s Kill-O-Zap blasters. When the police come to arrest Zaphod
for stealing the Heart of Gold, Trillan, Arthur, Ford and Zaphod dodge the Kill-O-
Zap’s energy bolts. It can be assumed that this weapon is lethal as everything the
blast hits is instantly fried. The comic aspect of the weapon is its usage by the police
as the two policemen seem to be firing randomly at the hidden subjects so that “the
computer bank [Arthur and co. were hiding behind] was beginning to disintegrate”
(138). In this incident Adams exaggerates the usage of future weapons so that the
recipient is prone to experience the scene as both surreal and funny at the same
time.
Further weapons prominent in Hitchhiker’s are comparable to real existing
weaponry. The two “guided missiles [which are] fully armed [with] nuclear warheads”
(84) fired from Magrathea at the Heart of Gold can clearly be considered to have their
role-models in actual war technology.
Adams additionally includes another way of “warfare”, functioning without SF
superweapons but with intellectual exposition. When the two intergalactic policemen
almost achieved the capturing and/or killing of Zaphod and his companions, the two
surprisingly drop dead. It turns out that the permanently depressed android Marvin
had linked himself to the police ship and “talked to the computer at great length and

56
On the topic of weapons in American SF, H. Bruce Franklin’s War Stars: The Superweapon and the American
Imagination (1988) is depicted as an “excellent survey” (52) by David Pringle.
54
explained [his] view of the Universe to it [so that it] committed suicide” (142). Due to
the fact that the two policemen’s life support systems were connected to the ship,
they died when the ship killed itself.
Adams thus resolves a critical situation for the characters not by bravery of
one of the characters or cunning application of advanced technology – as a reader of
SF might presumably expect – but by an odd coincidence. The implication of this
event can be interpreted as one’s mind having the capability of being a weapon
stronger than any electronic device a writer of SF could ever imagine.

3.5.2 Interstellar War

From Douglas Adams’s point of view, even interstellar war is a joke. Other
fictions, like Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, make it the center of the story and exploit
the human desire for conflicts, yet Adams only reserves a footnote-like comment on
interstellar war. When Arthur states: “I seem to be having tremendous difficulty with
my life-style“(128), wondering if he has gone insane, he accidentally provoked
interstellar war in a distant Galaxy far back in time. Due to the fact that “in the Vl’hurg
tongue I seem to behaving tremendous difficulty with my life-style was the most
dreadful insult imaginable, and there was nothing for it but to wage terrible war for
centuries” (129). After having decided that this thousand year’s war between the
races of the Vlhurgs and the G’Guggvuntts was a mistake, the warring parties
decided to attack our galaxy:

For thousands more years, the mighty ships tore across the
empty wastes of space and finally dived screaming on to the
first planet they came across – which happened to be our Earth
– where due to a terrible miscalculation of scale the entire
battle fleet was accidentally swallowed by a little dog. (129)

Adams explains this incident by noting that “those who study the complex interplay of
cause and effect in the history of the Universe say that this sort of thing is going on
all the time, but that we are powerless to prevent it. ‘It’s just life,’ they say” (130).

55
3.6 Artificial Intelligence

3.6.1 Artificial Intelligence with Ticker Tape

According to David Pringle, “the science fictional ancestors of computers were


‘mechanical brains’, [which were] first employed as story-devices in the 19th century”
(38). However, the idea of a mechanical evolution leading to artificial intelligence was
not popularized before the pulp-magazine era through works like The Last Evolution
(1930) by John W. Campbell Jr.
Similar to many other items of SF, artificial intelligence (AI) was approached in
two different ways, namely it was either appreciated or feared. Those writers who
welcomed advancing computer technology considered this trend as an emancipation
“from the irrationalities of human decision making” (Pringle 39), whereas the
adherents to the opposing view portrayed computers - and consequently AI - as
means of oppression57. After the introduction of the first microprocessors, the
monolithic supercomputers of the 1950s and 1960s became increasingly smaller and
were eventually rendered as an interconnected network.
The advancing computer technology in reality fuelled an even more horrifying
type of anti-AI concept in Science Fiction, i.e. machine evolution running out of
control. The underlying idea here is that an interconnected network of high-
performance machines might develop its own consciousness and might start a
rebellion against humanity58. The basics of this idea were first hinted at in William
Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) but its most popular manifestation was portrayed in
the movie The Matrix (1999), which was followed by two sequels, namely The Matrix
Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions (both 2003).

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy artificial intelligence occurs in various


forms. The first of which is in supercomputers. There are two supercomputers
described in the novel, Deep Thought and the Earth. Deep thought is the computer
built by the hyperintelligent pandimensional beings, whose manifestation in our
dimension is that of mice, and who want to find the answer of “Life, the Universe, and
57
Isaac Asimov’s The Evitable Conflict (1950) can be considered a representative of the Pro-AI movement,
whereas John Brunner’s The Shockwave Rider (1975) must be listed as one of the most important works on the
negative aspects of AI.
58
The basic principle can be identified as the „Zauberlehrling-Motif“, i.e. the created being turns against its
maker(s). Accordingly, Shelley’s Frankenstein could be depicted as a forerunner of this type of Science Fiction.
56
Everything” (113). As mentioned before in this book, the answer is the seemingly
unsatisfying “forty-two” (120), which in turn leads to Deep Thought constructing an
even more powerful computer – i.e. the Earth - to find the correct question to the
cryptic answer.
It is interesting to note here that Deep Thought is addressed with “O
computer” (112) by Fook, one of the two engineers turning on the machine.
Furthermore, the day on which it is switched on and is thus called into existence is
called “the day of the Great On-Turning” (111). Through this special form of address
and the extraordinary naming of the date, a relation between the machine and the
rest of the universe is established resembling that of a superior, even divine being
towards its creation. However, Deep Thought describes itself only as the “second
greatest computer in the Universe of Time and Space” (112), foreseeing that in the
future, it will be substituted by his successor. As Deep Thought is thinking in “future
time [of which the mice] know nothing of” (113), it is able to calculate the implication
of his existence. Adams’s supercomputer is thus able to predict the future, but this
ability is not rendered in a mythological, supernatural way but by mere advanced
technology.
After having calculated for seven and a half million years, the answer to Life, the
Universe and Everything is delivered (i.e. the number 42), and the next step is
explained by Deep Thought as follows:

I speak of none but the computer that is to come after me […].


A computer whose merest operational parameters I am not
worthy to calculate – and yet I will design it for you. A computer
that can calculate the Question to the Ultimate Answer, a
computer of such infinite and subtle complexity that organic life
shall form part of its operational matrix. And you yourselves
shall take on new forms and go down into the computer to
navigate its ten-million year program! (122)

Thus, the novel’s second supercomputer is introduced. In this case, however, the
calculation program is not completed as the Earth is exterminated by the Vogons at
the beginning of the story. As a result, the whole experiment is rendered useless.
From the quotation above it also becomes clear that the occurrence of mice on
planet Earth was due to the fact that they were supervisors of the running program.
Furthermore, the situation explains why Trillian took two mice on board the Heart of
Gold when she left the Earth with Zaphod.
57
The third super computer in Hitchhiker’s is the Heart of Gold’s main computer,
Eddie. It was produced by the Sirius Cybernetics Company – just like the Nutri-Matic
– and is therefore equipped with strange behavioral patterns. It is responsible for
controlling all the ship’s functions and is thus a fundamental feature of the Heart of
Gold. It is also equipped with a communication mode, which was programmed to be
extremely nice to its commanders. This in turn annoys the crew rapidly; When the
crew is trying to figure out where in the universe they are after the Infinite
Improbability Drive was turned on, Eddie tries to be helpful and states “[…] whatever
your problem [is], I am here to help you solve it” but is affronted by Zaphod with the
words “Yeah, yeah, [..] I think I’ll just use a piece of paper” (69).
Not only is the computer outfitted with an annoying mode to communicate but
it also bears other features which seem to be inappropriate on a high-tech space
ship. Every utterance of the computer is - “just for the record” (69) - simultaneously
printed on a piece of ticker tape which is immediately dropped into a waste bin.
With Eddie, Douglas Adams invents an artificial intelligence which
paradoxically relies on paper printouts. In this case, “real” artificial intelligence, which
has until today - more than 30 years after Hicthhiker’s was firs published - not
become reality is mingled with mid-20th century standard technology. This
juxtaposition might have been embedded in order to reveal the infeasibility of AI, but
it can also be seen as a mocking of this widespread Science Fiction trope. Unlike
most other SF writers, Adams does neither fear nor hail AI but makes fun of it.
Moreover, his hint towards infeasibility of artificial intelligence is supported by Michael
Hanlon, who states that

[scientists] know a lot about neurons and synapses, and people


have mapped how various bits of our brain link up and which
bits are responsible for what. But when it comes to
understanding the human mind we are as well equipped as a
group of primitive Pacific Islanders contemplating a crashed
aircraft. They could weigh it, describe it, measure it – take it
apart even. They would have seen it fall from the sky and
hence infer something of its function. As to grasping the
mechanics and physics of flight? No way. (44)

Despite being highly advanced, Eddie suffers – as almost all of Adams’s creations –
from flaws which seem out of place in a SF novel. This becomes most obvious when
the two rockets from Magrathea are flying towards the Heart of Gold and Eddie starts
58
to sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” instead of finding a solution to the problem. Having
given up on the situation, he chooses the common human characteristic of escapism
and sings instead of caring about the other members on board.

3.6.2 Marvin – Artificial Intelligence With a Little Problem

Robots and androids have been a part of SF since the Czech playwright Karel
Capek introduced the term59 in his 1921 play R.U.R. Even though the terms “robot”
and “android” are commonly used simultaneously, a differentiation shall be noted
here. Androids are, based on their outer appearance, indistinguishable from real
human beings, whereas robots carry outer features of machines. Representatively for
androids in SF, “Data” in Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-94) and Philip K.
Dick’s “Andys” in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) shall be mentioned
here. On the other hand, “R2D2” of Star Wars (1977) might be one of the most
popular robots in the history of SF.
Robots and androids were originally pictured as unintelligent machines serving
the purpose of relieving human beings from uncomfortable work and are therefore
depicted as “humanoid slaves” (45) by Michael Hanlon. The first novel attacking what
Pringle calls this “technophobic ‘Frankenstein syndrome’” (48) was Eando Binder’s I,
Robot (1939). This work inspired Isaac Asimov to publish his classic collection of
robot stories synonymously entitled I, Robot in 1950. The importance of Asimov’s
work for SF derives from the fact that it contains the “Three Laws of Robotics”, which
delivered material for stories, as well as for discussion until today60.
Eventually, robots and androids were released from their roles of dumb
working machines and were increasingly granted more intelligence. Nowadays, these
machines are – in part due to the ongoing advancements in real computer
technology – often equipped with features making them in some way or other
superior to human beings. However, the question whether “real” intelligence can ever
be installed into non-human surroundings is still today an apparently inexhaustible
source for extrapolations and was superbly addressed in Richard Powers’s Galatea
2.2 (1995).

59
The word is derived from the Czech noun ‘robota’, which means ‘forced labor’ or ‘drudgery’
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robot).
60
See appendix for the original Three Laws of Robotics established by Isaac Asimov.
59
The issue of emotionally affected artificial intelligence is also addressed in
Hitchhiker’s. However, with the android Marvin, Douglas Adams again approached
the matter in an atypical manner for Science Fiction61. Marvin was equipped with a
so-called “genuine people personality” (64) by his producers, the Sirius Cybernetics
Corporation. This company is keen on supporting all of its products, ranging from the
Heart of Gold’s main computer, Eddie, to all of the ship’s doors with a (fake)
personality. The doors on the ship and the computer are designed to make their
commanders feel comfortable and relaxed, but, as was shown in Eddie’s case (cf.
preceding chapter), the exact opposite is often the case. Marvin, however, does not
annoy his human counterparts with exaggerated friendliness but with his permanent
negative, depressive remarks. Marvin’s quotes are spread throughout the book and
have become idioms known not only by fans and followers of Hitchhiker’s, but have
in some cases become immanent throughout popular culture.
The first remark from Marvin in the novel stands representative for all of his
behavior; When the android is commanded to bring Arthur and Ford, who have just
arrived on board the Heart of Gold, to the bridge he replies “I think you ought to know
I’m feeling very depressed”. Later on, he insists: “Life, […] don’t talk to me about life”
(63). His permanent depression can be traced back to the fact that he is outfitted with
huge intellectual capabilities, yet no one ever makes use of them. All he is asked to
do on board the space ship is to take the two new passengers to the bridge. Thus,
his most famous quote “here I am, brain the size of a planet and they ask me to take
you down to the bridge” (65) sounds quite sympathy-evoking.
Additionally, Adams’s inclusion of a highly-skilled robot whose capacities are
never fully used by his fellows reflects a deeper angst prevailing in early 1980s
students’ minds:

This gloomy representation of an intelligent mind wasted on the


banal tasks asked of him addressed the fears and fantasies of
a generation of 1980s British graduates, many of whom were
facing unemployment and a great number of whom were
among Adams’s readership. (Harris-Fain 5)

It can be stated that Douglas Adams was fully aware of the traditional use of robots,
both in reality and in the literary field of Science Fiction. He defines the term via the

61
The name Marvin is often referred to is the “Paranoid Android” (93), a term introduced by Zaphod
Beeblebrox.
60
Encyclopedia Galactica “as a mechanical apparatus designed to do the work of a
man”. However, the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation’s marketing division sloppily calls
them “your plastic pal who’s fun to be with” (64). By contrasting those two different
approaches Adams shows awareness of the most commonly accepted meanings but
at the same time makes fun of them.

3.7 The Towel

Besides all technical gimmicks occurring in the Hitchhiker’s Guide there is one
item which is described as being of greatest importance. As most of the technical
devices discussed before are either not working properly (e.g. the Nutri-Matic), or are
of strange design (e.g. Marvin), a counterpart is created by Adams in introducing an
ordinary towel as an invaluable means for the space traveler.
The idea of the towel found its way into the book through “Douglas Adams’s
repeated inability to find his towel during a stay with friends” (Tiedemann 98). The
importance of everyday articles, which are only noticed when absent, led to Adams
constructing an entry in Ford Prefect’s Hitchhiker’s Guide which explains that “a towel
[…] is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker can have.” This
is due to its “great practical value [and] its immense psychological value” (20). The
intergalactic hitchhiker can

wrap it around [himself] for warmth, […] lie on it, […] sleep
under it, […] use it to sail […], wet it for use in hand-to-hand
combat; wrap it round [his] head to ward off noxious fumes; […]
he can wave [his] towel in emergencies as a distress signal,
and of course dry [himself] off with it if it still seems to be clean
enough. (20)

The entry in the Guide ensures that “any man who can hitch the length and breadth
of the galaxy [and] still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with”
(20).
The importance of possessing a towel is also stressed by Mark W.
Tiedemann, who affirms that “the towel has, in some contexts, become linked to
surrender, vis a vis ‘throwing in the towel’ – but that only applies when the towel is

61
released” (100). It is typical for Douglas Adams to raise an everyday item above all
technical devices and thus mock SF’s expected fascination with technology.
Tiedemann traces the incorporation of the towel into Hitchhiker’s back to that
fact that the possible loop structure of a towel mimics the fundamental substructure
of the universe, according to the wormhole theory. Furthermore, a towel is “a
stabilizing structure on its own, by its function to absorbing destabilizing moisture and
foam” (103).
Besides Tiedemann’s ironic comment on the actual importance of a towel in
reality and in Hitchhiker’s, it has to be stated that whole idea was presumably
inserted by Adams as a personal joke. Interestingly, it is one of the details of The
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that inspired many fans the most62.

3.8 Plurality of Worlds/Parallel Worlds

Before the topic of parallel worlds can be discussed, some basic terms have to
be clarified. According to Hanlon, “the word ‘universe’ means ‘everything there is’
(154). However, the term ‘Universe’ must not be mistaken as ‘Galaxy’. As far as is
observable from Earth today, there are a huge number of galaxies within our
universe, with the so-called Milky Way as our home galaxy. Accordingly, ‘Universe’
would be the super ordinate term for ‘Galaxy’.
On top of that, a twofold differentiation has to be introduced concerning the
term ‘Plurality of Worlds’. One way of reading the term allows for a number of actual
planets spread throughout the universe. Another possibility is concerned with other
realities, i.e. parallel worlds beyond our own, which are probably unreachable despite
their existence. In order to be able to deal with such realities, the term ‘dimension’
was coined. In the world of SF, these two options of plurality are equally possible and
are both commonly used63.
David Pringle describes a parallel world as “another universe situated
‘alongside’ our own, displaced in a fourth dimension of space and normally separated

62
Fourteen days after Douglas Adams’s death, the Towel Day was first celebrated to commemorate the author.
Since then, the Towel Day is celebrated annually on the 25th of May throughout the world.
63
Concerning the plurality of worlds, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy focuses on the existence of actual
planets and is not concerned with many realities situated in other dimensions. However, this idea is heavily
exploited in Douglas Adams’s fifth part of the Hitchhiker’s series entitled Mostly Harmless (1992). Except for
the mice, no other beings are originated from another dimension.
62
from it. Most stories involve parallel Earths, which are often used as reservoirs of
alternative histories” (47)64.

Michael Hanlon observes that parallel universes are a widely-used tool for
writers of SF: “Fiction writers love parallel universes; they can work as tremendous
plot devices. What [is] better than an entire new world, with its own morality, physics,
love and everything else […]” (155). This view is shared by Pringle, as he confirms
that “writers […] of the sf genre have occasionally employed worlds whose physical
make-up is different from those applicable to our own continuum” (47). Outstanding
examples utilizing this plot device are The Gods Themselves (1972) by Isaac Asimov
and A Wreath of Stars (1976) by Bob Shaw.

Hanlon notes that parallel worlds may actually be part of our cosmic reality -
e.g. as pointed out in the “‘many worlds’ interpretation of quantum mechanical
uncertainties” (Pringle 47) - and not solely “some silly sci-fi plot device” (153). Given
the undeterminable size of the universe with all its physical characteristics, a
scenario featuring more than one possible reality might indeed seem plausible. As
discussed in the chapter concerning the use of technology in Science Fiction, it is the
incomprehensible size of the universe, which led to the invention of hyperspace
travel enabling characters of Science Fiction stories to reach remote areas in space.

In Hitchhiker’s, the notion of parallel worlds is applied via the incorporation of


the planet-building world of Magrathea, which is home to “a new form of specialist
industry: custom-made luxury planet building” (78). The Magrathean engineers
construct any type of planets with characteristics modulated according to the
customer’s desire. The fact that there may be many absurd wishes by a number of
these customers is made clear when Trillian, Zaphod and Ford look through the
catalog of sample planets. Interestingly, this catalog is not one to browse through
while holding it in your hands, but it directly thrusts the clients on top the surface of
the respective planet. This is achieved by a technical means called Sens-O-Tape. It
is a device resembling two wires one has to hold in his hands which then installs
visions in the holder’s hands which make the person feel as if he was actually

64
The subject of alternative histories has been introduced in chapter 2.3.4 .
63
participating in the event 65. Thus, the three characters experience a planet “made of
solid gold”, […] a world with a purple sea and a beach “composed of tiny yellow and
green pebbles [above which] five hundred entirely naked women dropped out of the
sky on parachutes” (123). The example above illustrates that in the Hitchhiker
universe, any type of world is possible. Accordingly, planets which seem odd may
therefore be made according to some client’s strange personal taste.
The secret of the planet building industry is revealed to Arthur Dent by
Slartibartfast, who takes him through the “assembling hall” via “a gateway into a vast
tract of hyperspace” (107). In there he witnesses the construction of a planet which
he is quite familiar with, i.e. the Earth. He is assured that the construct he is looking
at is “the Earth Mark Two in fact” (108), a copy made from the original blueprints. The
destruction of the first Earth left the planet’s purpose unfinished (i.e. computing the
actual question to the ultimate answer forty-two), and therefore another world is
constructed.

As a result of the elaborations above it can be concluded that Douglas Adams


again took one of Science Fiction’s established motifs and “gave [it] back to us, but
with a comic twist” (Yeffeth 125). The expectations readers presumably bring along
to a story dealing with parallel worlds are purposefully perverted. Adams neither uses
parallel worlds as a plot device enabling him to set up whole new storylines without
reference to the real world, nor does he try to force philosophical reflections upon the
recipients. The world which creates other worlds, i.e. Magrathea, is clearly situated in
the usual weirdness of the Hitchhiker universe, and is therefore treated as having no
highlighting effect. However, the conceiving of Magrathea mocks the idea of Earth
being the only planet in the universe inhabited by intelligent life forms and is thus
depriving Earth of its uniqueness.
Furthermore, the basic assumption this setting in the book rests on leads to
the conclusion that given enough money, the actual features of a world become a
matter of choice, and not one of “chaotic” evolution. Adams thus takes away creative
responsibility from any divine or super natural being such as God. This approach
reflects Adams’s atheistic world view. Moreover, the fact that Earth with all its various
life forms was mistaken for a planet renders all ontologisms thought up by mankind,

65
This device is also used by Slartibartfast to show Arthur how the super computer Deep Thought was built and
how the answer of forty-two led to the construction of the Earth.
64
ranging from religious to philosophical solutions, as wrong; No god or superhuman
being created Earth, but unsuspicious mice. In this case Adams plays with the
human character trait to mystify unexplainable events and conditions, whereas the
answer to many questions, in his opinion, is not as difficult and concealed as it may
seem at first glance.

3.9 Answers to “Big Questions” in Hitchhiker’s?

It may seem that religion and philosophical motifs are a negligible field of SF
writing, as those topics are usually outweighed by the genre’s affiliation to technology
and alien life. Interestingly, Science Fiction nevertheless tends to evoke the attention
of spiritually inspired people, who seem to feel comfortable on the playground the
various facets of SF offer. Dieter Wuckel in his book Science Fiction: Eine Illustrierte
Literaturgeschichte points out that L. Ron Hubbard, who was to become the founder
of Scientology, began his career as a writer for the Science Fiction pulp magazine
Astounding in 1938. In 1950, elements of his self-developed soteriology Dianetics
found their way into some of his writings, which was heavily criticized by fans and
critics alike and eventually contributed to the decline of Astounding (cf. Wuckel 128-
33).
This example shows that SF does not only offer room for extrapolations on
scientific matters, but also allows for the freedom of philosophical and religious
reasoning. Douglas Adams also approaches various topics of that kind in
Hitchhiker’s, but not in order to convince anybody of his own opinion but rather to
poke fun at general human preconditions which allow such reasoning.
There are, in fact, many unanswered questions concerning fundamental
issues of mankind which still could not been answered satisfyingly. Michael Hanlon
names the most unnerving ones as being “the nature of matter, space and time. The
origin and fate of the Universe. The laws of physics. The fundamental forces and
particles. What it means to feel alive, and whether we are alone” (184). He
furthermore proposes “a good candidate for the Ultimate Question [being] ‘why is
there anything here at all?’” (185). He argues that once all these foregoing questions,
which might be solved by advanced physics one day, have been answered, the last
one remaining will be that of existence itself.

65
The philosophic questions both indirectly and directly posed in Hitchhiker’s are
as varied as those proposed by Hanlon. Early in the story, when Arthur and Ford
gather at a pub in order to have three pints of beer before being teleported into
space, Arthur is taken aback by the time of the day at which he is supposed to drink
such an amount. His rhetoric question “three pints? […] At lunchtime?” is indifferently
responded to by Ford's explanation that “time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so”
(19).
Another hint at a philosophic and to some extent mathematical issue is that of
infinity. When Arthur is taken into the vast construction space inside of Magrathea by
Slartibartfast, he notices the incomprehensibly huge wall surrounding the
construction area:

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. The chamber
into which the aircar emerged was anything but infinite, it was
just very very very big, so big that it gave the impression of
infinity far better than infinity itself. (105)

For a common person like the protagonist Arthur Dent, who does not happen to be a
mathematician or physicist, the boundaries between “incomprehensibly big” and
“infinite” are not clear-cut, and therefore the two terms are often mixed up.
Contemplation about this subject might presumably lead to abandonment of the
topic. This hypothesis can be supported by the fact that dealing with infinity is
restricted to mathematics and physics and is thus not a common feature of everyday
life.

Furthermore, the question about the actual purpose in life is also addressed –
and mocked by Adams. This is achieved by introducing the theme of the “Ultimate
Answer”. The hyperintelligent pandimensional beings, who materialize in our
dimension as mice, tried to find the purpose of life by trying to answer the question of
“Life, the Universe and Everything” (113). As discussed before, Deep Thought’s
unsatisfying answer of “forty-two” (120) led to the construction of the Earth in order to
find the correct question. This task, in turn, was also left unfinished due to the
Vogons’ carelessness resulting in the destruction of Earth. The mice therefore
consider inventing a fake question in order to satisfy the need of clarity, but also to be

66
able to fill a TV show they have been offered to host in which the question will finally
be revealed. For this reason they discuss solutions such as “what is yellow and
dangerous?” and “What do you get if you multiply six by seven?”, only to find
consensus in the question “How many roads must a man walk down?” (135). The
mice thus come up with a "solution" known to a vast majority of real Earthlings from
one of the most well-known folk songs of all time, Bob Dylan’s identically titled song
from the early 1960s.
With this anecdote, Adams makes fun of the art of Philosophy itself by
assuming that a nonsensical reply may be good enough to answer an otherwise
difficult question. This can be seen due to the fact that no one knows the right answer
and may thus be satisfied with any solution, no matter how insufficient it may actually
be.
Adams furthermore hints at the assumption that most philosophic discussions
might be resolved easily but are nevertheless often endlessly pondered. Adams,
having been a scholar of English and thus being acquainted with the stereotypes of
the Humanities, additionally stresses this assumption by inserting a passage in the
novel in which two philosophers try to prevent Deep Thought from calculating the
answer to Life, the Universe and Everything. As representatives of the “Amalgamated
Union of Philosophers, Sages, Luminaries and Other Thinking Persons”, Majikthise
and Vroomfondel demand that the machine be turned off because once the Ultimate
Question is answered with certainty, they “would be straight out of a job” (114). The
two can only be convinced after Deep Thought ensures them that he needs “seven
and a half million years” to come forth with an answer and that during this time span
they “can keep disagreeing with each other violently […] and slagging each other off
in the popular press [so they can keep themselves] on the gravy train for life” (115).
In this case, a parallel between the characters within the story and the
recipients can be realized. Adams builds up suspense both among the characters
and among the readers by announcing a possible answer to fundamental questions.
This outlook fires anticipation and thus makes the story interesting to read. However,
by finally offering “forty-two” as the answer, Adams once again disappoints the
readers’ expectations in a comic way. As Hanlon puts it, “boiling down Life, the
Universe and Everything to a single number is a good joke” (177).

67
However, there is no feature in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which
delivered fuel for so much discussion than “42”. There have been various
explanations for the number, from mathematical solutions to mystical explanations.
The author himself once demystified the whole situation by stating

It had to be a number, an ordinary, smallish number, and I


chose that one. Binary representations, base thirteen, Tibetan
monks are all complete nonsense. I sat at my desk, stared into
the garden and thought ’42 will do’. I typed it out. End of story.
(quoted in Hanlon 177)

As stated in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, the meaninglessness of 42 is typical


for Adams’s universe: “Arthur Dent’s travels through it demonstrate that surface is
everything and that nothing has any meaningful substance. All the so-called absolute
answers that appear turn out to be shams or irritatingly banal” (Harris-Fain 5).

Having discussed the philosophical issues embedded in the Hitchhiker’s


Guide, the religious references have to be considered next. As pointed out before,
Douglas Adams held agnostic, and even more intensely, atheist views. This state of
mind found its way into the novel in various ways, but is most obvious when the non-
existence of God is proven via the existence of the Babel Fish:

Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything


so mindboggingly useful [like the Babel Fish] could have
evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to
see it as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of
God. […]
‘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. (42)

Furthermore, the underlying supposition that there has to be a God responsible for
the creation of life as we know it, as it would be too much of a coincidence that it
evolved the way it did, is an argument of the Theory of Evolution-defying
“neocreationists”. As Michael Hanlon states, “these people […] believe that the Earth

68
was created 6,000 years ago with Adam and Eve. They maintain that the Universe is
so obviously set up to allow for the development of human life that the hand of a
creator must be responsible” (54). Those creationists also believe that the bones of
dinosaurs which can be found within the ground are faked by scientists in order to
have an argument against the existence of God. Adams mocks this state of mind
when Slartibartfast tells Arthur about the ongoing construction of the new
replacement Earth, Earth Mark Two: “’It’s only half completed I’m afraid – we haven’t
even finished burying the artificial dinosaur skeletons in the crust yet […]’” (116).
With these two incidents (i.e. the Babel Fish and Earth Mark Two’s dinosaur
skeletons), Adams delivers a strong account of his personal aversion against the
belief in a superhuman creator of Earth, as taken for granted by religions. He uses
the common ground of Science Fiction in order to convey his “messages” and offers
absurd explanations for long-existing (philosophical) problems.
The issues of philosophy are trivialized, and those of religion are attacked.
Both may seem quite out of place in a SF story and are therefore typical traits of
Adams’s writing. It would be fitting for a conventional SF story to have the “hero” find
out the solution to a major problem but instead, the everyman Arthur Dent is simply
confronted with these issues and is not able to reach any conclusion.

The real discussion about why Adams chose 42 as the answer can be seen as
a parallel to the whole discussion of Life, the Universe and Everything within the
story. Even though the selection of “42” was explained by Adams as being fairly
simple, fans still try to find its real meaning. Thus, both issues seem to be insolvable
to the same extent.
Another insolvable question is that of the (non-) existence of God. Michael
Hanlon seems to agree with the two philosophers Majikthise and Vroomfondel when
he states that

It doesn’t look like the existence of God is set to be


resolved anytime soon. Just as well, perhaps, because it’s a
question that has probably given us humans more excuse for
arguing than anything else in our history.
And there is nothing that we carbon-based bipeds like
more than a good argument. (59)

69
The debate about philosophic arguments in and about Hitchhiker’s shall be summed
up by Douglas Adams himself, who once declared in an interview in 1983

I once sat in a café in San Francisco and heard a new religion


started at the next table round some poetry this guy had
written. On the one hand, yes, I think it would be absurd and
ridiculous; on the other hand, I’m no longer surprised at the
absurd and ridiculous things people do66. (Shirley 173)

It is exactly the expectation of this absurdity to occur commonly, which is evident


throughout The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, that mirrors existing real-life issues.
Those elements of the story will be discussed in the following chapter dedicated to
social criticism.

4. Elements of Social Criticism

4.1 Science Fiction as Social Criticism?

There are two fundamentally different views concerning social criticism in


Science Fiction. One is depriving SF of the power to apply social criticism, the other
highlights the genre’s manifold possibilities of doing so. In the book The Science
Fiction Novel: Imagination and Social Critizism these two opinions are extensively
discussed via essays of both literary scholars and writers of SF alike. For the
following juxtaposition, C.M. Kornbluth’s essay “The Failure of the Science Fiction
Novel as Social Critizism” and Robert Bloch’s “Imagination and Modern Social
Critizism” shall be used to represent the opposing views correspondingly.

Kornbluth states that “the SF novel is not an important medium of social


critizism” (50). He supports his testimonial by arguing that novels like Uncle Tom’s
Cabin (1852) by Harriet Beecher Stowe are more powerful than any SF due to the
fact that those writings were essential in evoking awareness of contemporary issues
among the readers, and thus paved the way for real social change. In Uncle Tom’s
Cabin’s case, these are mainly racial inequalities and human rights.

66
This quote could be read at an indirect hint at L. Ron Hubbard, who installed his (religious) ideas in some of
his SF texts, but there is no further quote proving the actual reference.
70
Kornbluth further argues that Science Fiction is typically concerned with out-
of-this-world topics (such as spaceflight or alien life) so that “[its] symbolism is too
deep for action to result”. Consequently, “the reader is turned inward to
contemplation but not outward for action” (55). It is affirmed by Kornbluth that change
only takes place on a subconscious level among the readers and is therefore too
deep for action to follow. In other words, “social critizism is outweighed by
unconscious symbolic material” (57).
However, it can be argued that even though SF is heavily loaded with
symbolism, it nevertheless serves a purpose in turning its readers inward to
contemplation. Throughout the genre’s history, story elements were used to establish
parallels to contemporary topics or possible future developments67. Consequently,
the early 20th century style of SF displays a certain change in attitude towards
machines and technology. This becomes clear when the early robot stories are taken
into account which, on the one hand show how such machines can improve the
standard of living by carrying out uncomfortable work, but on the other hand highlight
the danger that is implied with endorsing machines with great power68.
Contemplation about topics such as artificial intelligence is even more important
today, as computers are being endowed with increasing computation power and thus
do not only represent helpful means but also bear the power to slightly gain control
over parts of human life. In order to follow this argument one simply has to imagine a
large-scale computer crash at a big airport, and the resulting chaos such an incident
would bring along.

SF was not exclusively employed to criticize careless handling of technology,


but also served as a mirror for contemporary social affairs. In early works containing
elements of SF – such as Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels – unusual settings within the
stories were juxtaposed with ordinary existing surroundings and were thus used to
criticize prevailing situations69. In addition, SF was increasingly utilized in modern
days to hint at the danger of e.g. nuclear war, genetic engineering or environmental
pollution. Especially the “precariousness of the human ecological situation has
inevitably become a major theme of modern Sf” (Pringle 44).

67
For extensive discussion of the topic see Bloch pp. 97-121.
68
The best account of early SF concerned with this topic can be found in Asimov’s collection I, Robot (1950).
69
Cf. Antor 196.
71
In conclusion, despite Kornbluth deprives SF of its power to evoke social
change Robert Bloch insists that, in part due to its ever increasing popularity today,
“SF became the vehicle for social critizism” (102). As such it shall be treated in the
following chapters.

4.1.1 Terminology

4.1.1.1 Social Criticism

Before the elements of social criticism embedded in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to


the Galaxy can be discussed properly, some introductory remarks shall be made
concerning the used terminology.
As the fields of literary, philosophical and social criticism overlap and
complement each other, it is difficult to give a satisfying definition which is both
precise enough to describe the term properly and also broad enough to give credit to
its variability. Therefore, a – rather broadly composed – definition given on the World
Wide Web shall serve as the underlying definition here: “Social criticism analyzes
(problematic) social structures and aims at practical solutions by specific measures,
radical reform or even revolutionary change”70. The debatable question then seems
to be “in how far does Adams’s novel offer any ‘practical solutions’ for the revealed
points of criticism”?
Furthermore, it has to be pointed out that social criticism can be divided into
two complementing parts, i.e. ‘strong’, ‘direct’ or ‘obvious’ criticism on the one hand,
and ‘weak’, ‘implied’ criticism on the other. The first type is prevalent when issues are
addressed directly by exposing flaws and pointing out the cause, the latter has to be
derived from the context of the writing. It is important to note that no definitive
evaluation can be made to the effectiveness of either type.

4.1.1.2 Satire vs. Parody

Satire can be defined as

70
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_criticism
72
Literature which mocks human weaknesses, social
circumstances, and so on by using irony and sarcasm. Its basic
means is exaggeration. It always takes on humorous form, but
is usually intended to criticise and hurt people. It means
"diminishing" a subject by making it ridiculous and evoking
toward it attitudes of amusement or contempt.71

It is often the case that the term ‘satire’ is mistaken as ‘parody’, due to the two terms’
complementary functions. Thus, ‘parody’ can be differentiated from ‘satire’ in a way
as it is ’a composition that imitates somebody's style in a humorous way’, or as a type
of “humorous or satirical mimicry” (cf. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/parody).
Accordingly, the Hitchhiker’s Guide can be depicted as a parody of typical Science
Fiction motifs, templates and style, and at the same time, as a satire on social
misconducts of the recipient’s world. This claim will be argued for in the following
discussion.

4.2 Criticism of Governmental and Bureaucratic Structures

Early in the book the alien race of the Vogons is brought into the focus of
attention as they are responsible for exterminating the Earth, thus initiating the story.
As already pointed out in chapter 3.2.3.1, they do not suffer from a bad conscience
after killing all the inhabitants of the planet, as it is a long-term scheduled job which
has to be completed as efficiently as possible. When the Vogons realize the panic
which immediately breaks out all over the world, they laxly comment on it with a short
explanation:

‘There is no point in acting all surprised about it. All the


planning charts and demolition orders have been on display in
your local planning department in Alpha Centauri for fifty of
your Earth years, so you’ve had plenty of time to lodge any
formal complaint and it’s far too late to start making a fuss
about it now.’ (26)

The only answer to the unreported pleads for mercy of mankind is:

‘What do you mean you’ve never been to Alpha Centauri? For


heaven’s sake mankind, it’s only four light years away you

71
www.menrath-online.de/glossaryengl.html
73
know. I’m sorry, but if you can’t be bothered to take an interest
in local affairs that’s your own lookout.’ (26)

The Vogons are correspondingly described as “one of the most unpleasant races in
the Galaxy – not actually evil, but bad tempered, bureaucratic, officious and callous”
(36). These character traits are confirmed when the race’s ignorance is taken into
consideration; They completely overlook the fact that mankind has not yet reached
Alpha Centauri. And even if the technology had been available for humans to travel
the distance, it would still take more than the fifty years the Vogons allowed for the
plans to be considered.
Here Douglas Adams draws a parallel concerning Arthur Dent’s fate and the
fate of the planet Earth altogether, as Dent’s house is also knocked down in order for
a bypass to be built. Similar to humankind, he had neither known that his home was
scheduled for demolition, nor was he given a realistic chance to review the plans and
raise an objection to them. Arthur discusses the issue with Mr. Prosser, the head of
the construction team, who are about to tear down Arthur’s house:

Mr Prosser said: ‘You were quite entitled to make any


suggestions or protest at the appropriate time you know.’
‘Appropriate time? […] The first I knew about it was
when a workman arrived at my home yesterday [and said] he’d
come to demolish the house […]’
‘But Mr. Dent, the plans have been available in the local
planning office for the last nine months.’
‘Oh yes, well as soon as I heard I went straight round to
see them, yesterday afternoon. You hadn’t exactly gone out of
your way to call attention to them had you? I mean like actually
telling anybody or anything.’
‘But the plans were on display…’
‘On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to
find them.’
‘That’s the display department.’
‘With a torch.’
‘The lights had probably gone.’
‘So had the stairs.’
‘But look, you found the notice didn’t you?’
‘Yes, […] it was on display in the bottom of a locked
filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door
saying Beware of the Leopard.’ (10)

74
Via these two incidents, Douglas Adams hints at the inaccessibility of official
documents and points out that any decision which has been reached by bureaucratic
means, is only reluctantly apt to change.

Apart from this attack on bureaucratic structures, Adams inserted denigration


of political power in The Hitchhiker’s Guide. This is evident in the character Zaphod
Beeblebrox, who, after having been elected President of the Galaxy, steals the
spaceship Heart of Gold. At the inaugural ceremony, where he is supposed to give a
speech, he distracts the crowd of spectators with the detonation of a small “Paralyso-
Matic Bomb” (33) and enters the ship to fly away with it. This act is clearly identifiable
as an act of misuse of power.
Zaphod shows character traits which are highly unsuitable for anybody who is
in power. As discussed before, he is depicted as an “adventurer, ex-hippie, good-
timer (crook? quite possibly), manic self-publicist” (28). However, in the universe of
Hitchhiker’s, this does not disqualify him from becoming the President of the Galaxy,
as “the President in particular is very much a figurehead […]. He is apparently
chosen by the government, but the qualities he is required to display are not those of
leadership but those of finely judged outrage. […] On those criteria Zaphod
Beeblebrox is one of the most successful Presidents the Galaxy has ever had” (29).
The reader is ensured that “[the President’s] job is not to wield power but to draw
attention away from it” (29) and that “only six people in the entire galaxy understood
the principle on which the Galaxy was governed” (28).

Accordingly, if the role of the President is merely to distract those who he is


supposed to govern, his function may become more that of a marionette of those
who are actually in charge. This assumption also allows the conclusion that those in
power fear disturbance of their own schemes. Adams thus allows for any thinkable
conspiracy theory due to the fact that he never clarifies the real intention of the
Government of the Galaxy. Of course, here he plays with a widespread stereotypical
emotion towards governments, which often seem to be acting suspiciously due to
their complexity. He uses the negative stereotype of the corrupt politician to make fun
of politics in general and to criticize those who are outfit with the greatest power in
particular.

75
It has to be mentioned that Douglas Adams’s criticism on politics did not
emerge out of a flighty mood of the writer but is, according to Vox Day, rooted in
actual contemporary political events:

[…] it appears to be more than a coincidence that that the first


airing of the Hitchhiker’s radio program should have been
March 8, 1978, five weeks after a massive nationwide strike by
the four major public service unions and a scant eight weeks
before the British people threw the Labour Party out of office
following seventeen ruinous years of post-war dominance.
(122)

The fact that the British Broadcasting Corporation was responsible for the first
surfacing of Adams’s work is commented by Vox Day as follows:

The savage irony of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, what


is surely Douglas Adams ‘ greatest and most subtle joke, is that
this overtly anti-government collection of subversion was not
only funded by the British government, but distributed by it to
the masses in a variety of formats through the BBC. (122)

4.3 Criticism of Human Behavior and Character Traits: An Attack on Human Hubris

Douglas Adams was a convinced atheist, an advocate of the Theory of


Evolution and a supporter of animal rights. Accordingly, his world view was affected
by science and the drive to explain the world around him in a rational manner. This is
the reason why any religious thinking was rejected in favor of common sense
reasoning based on scientific fact.
Throughout the Hitchhiker’s Guide, he makes fun of religion and those who
are devout towards any superhuman creature. The best example for this attitude is
delivered with the introduction of the Babel Fish and how its existence proves the
non-existence of God (cf. chapter 3.9). However, this incident does not only make fun
of humans who seek the subordination under a supreme being but it also shows the
human trait of not being able to be satisfied with an achieved feat. After God had
vanished “in a puff of logic, [Man says] ‘Oh, that was easy’ […] and for an encore
goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra
crossing” (42).

76
Another element of the story does also ridicule and criticize human discontent.
The existence of the planet building world of Magrathea is made possible only by the
demand for alternative worlds:

And for all the richest and most successful merchants


life became rather dull and niggly, and they began to imagine
that this was therefore the fault of the worlds they’d settled on –
none of them was entirely satisfactory: either the climate wasn’t
quite right in the later part of the afternoon, or the day was half
an hour too long, or the sea was exactly the wrong shade of
pink.
And thus were created the conditions for a staggering
new form of specialist industry: custom-made luxury planet
building. (78)

The two foregoing examples of how Douglas Adams criticizes human flaws must be
considered to be of strong or direct criticism. This is due to the fact that the criticized
matter is directly applied; Disdainfulness that leads to death in the Babel Fish’s case,
and dissatisfaction with one’s direct surroundings which lead to the creation of an
absurd, decadent, and most of all, superfluous industry in Magrathea’s case.

Magrathea can also be interpreted as an incident which involves economic


criticism. Due to Magrathea having become the richest planet in the whole universe,
other star systems became increasingly poorer. This, in turn, led to a situation in
which no one was able to afford the deeds of Magrathea any longer. But instead of
dealing with the problem and trying an attempt at solving the situation, the
Magratheans decide to switch to cryonic suspension and sleep through the
recession:

‘The recession came and we decided it would save a lot of


bother if we just slept through it. So we programmed the
computers to revive us when it all was over.’ […] ‘The
computers were index linked to the Galactic stock market
prices you see, so that we’d all be revived when everybody
else had rebuilt the economy enough to afford our rather
expensive services.’ (102)

77
It can be stated that this incident serves as a point of implied criticism of human
greed, as similar ignorant behavior can be expected – however, on a smaller scale –
from a human-run corporation which is solely focused on its own well-being.

Besides criticism on economic misbehavior, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the


Galaxy also contains passages which criticize other human traits. One of the most
pronounced ones is human overestimation of one’s own capabilities. Throughout the
novel, Earth is treated like an underdeveloped and unimportant place. When Arthur
and Ford are picked up by the Heart of Gold, Trillian tells Zaphod they have been
picked up in “Section ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha” (61). If this description is taken into
account, it can be assumed that the place where the Earth once had been is one of
the most remote places in the universe, hence the many ‘Zs’ in the description. To
make his point clear, Adams tells his readers at the beginning of the story that

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. (5)

Thus, already in the introduction to the book, Earth is deprived of its importance
attributed to it by its population. This is confirmed by Ford Prefect’s entry in the
Hitchhiker’s Guide, which he adjusted from “harmless” to “mostly harmless” (44).
Moreover, the Earth is not an important or “fashionable” world within the galaxy, and
its inhabitants are not even on their home planet the pinnacle of creation; the reader
is told that humans were unaware of the fact that they were only the third most
intelligent life form on Earth, after Mice and Dolphins:

In fact there was only one species on the planet more


intelligent than dolphins, and they spent a lot of time in
behavioral research laboratories running round inside wheels
and conducting frighteningly elegant and subtle experiments on
man. The fact that once again man completely misinterpreted
this relationship was entirely according to these creatures’
plans. (105)

78
By putting it like that, Adams ridicules the planet with all its population, who had been
the subject of research rather than the ones conducting it.

This constellation is both a “violation” of well-established conventions of


Science Fiction and a criticism on many Earthlings’ over-confidence. In SF, many
Earthly protagonists have to fight for the Earth to maintain its important position
among the galactic ensemble and often it is the case that humans are portrayed as
superior to alien races they encounter. Especially, but not exclusively, throughout the
Pulp Magazine Era, this tendency was evident. Incorporating such ridicule as
pronounced within the Hitchhiker’s Guide in a work appendant to SF twists the whole
purpose of the writing from praise of human abilities to criticism of it.
Even more, the fact that in the story Earth was not, as commonly
acknowledged among most humans, a planet developed after the Big Bang but an
organic supercomputer designed to answer some supreme beings’ question, puts its
inhabitants even further aback. John Shirley in his essay “Douglas Adams and the
Wisdom of Madness” draws attention to the fact that humans are in fact not the
pinnacle of creation:

We’re given egos that make us feel important, the center of


reality, and then we learn – as Adams reminds us again and
again and yet once more – that the universe is unspeakably
vast, and we’re minute, excruciatingly infinitesimal relative to its
vastness. We have universe-sized egos and speck-sized actual
importance. (167)

Adams’s attacking of the human hubris must be interpreted as a call to ecological


awareness. By putting mice and dolphins before humans when intelligence is taken
into account, he raises the animals’ importance. Darren Harris-Fain agrees on this by
stating:

There is a consistent ecological awareness in Adams’s novels,


a recurrent recognition of the vulnerability of planet Earth.
Adams was a vocal supporter of the ecological group
Greenpeace and collaborated with Mark Carwardine on Last
Chance to See (1990), a book about endangered species. (7)

79
4.4 Does Social Criticism in a Comic SF Novel Work?

In Conclusion, it can be stated that it is indeed possible to include social


criticism into a comic book. However, the effect it has on the reader depends on
subjective features. If the reader is willing to accept proposed different ways of
seeing himself and the world surrounding him, humoristically conveyed social
criticism can be effective. This also entails that the novel is not read as an ordinary
SF novel but the implied hidden hints and allusions have to be taken into account.
One has to “read between the lines” in order to understand Adams’s intentions. What
the writer utilizes can be called “satiric technique of alienation of the known by
(geographical) distance"72. By realizing a similarity between macro- and
microcosmical events, the reader can draw parallels between the actions and
behavioural patterns described in the novel and contemporary, ongoing activities in
his own reality.
An ordinary trait of critical writing is proposing ways to improve a given
situation. However, Adams’s “interests ran more toward pointing out problems and
contradictions than proposing policies to address them” (Day 122). He can therefore
be attacked for not offering solutions to the issues he brings up. He “rejected a
topical political critique in favour of a knowing postmodern wit” (Harris-Fain 4). Thus,
many questions remain unanswered and leave the reader contemplating what he had
just read, which is exactly the way Douglas Adams would have wanted it.

5. Summary and Concluding Remarks on The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

This book aimed at analysing Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the


Galaxy with special regard to its elements criticising social misbehaviour. In order to
achieve this, the history of Science Fiction literature had to be surveyed. As was
shown, it is very hard, if not impossible, to identify the first work of SF, as different
approaches would allow many solutions to this task. It is nevertheless necessary to
try mentioning the most important works of SF as they contain certain motifs and
conventions which Douglas Adams purposefully perverted in his own work.

72
Translated from German: " satirische Technik der Verfremdung des Bekannten durch geographische Distanz "
(Antor 196)
80
It was shown that template-wise, The Hitchhiker’s Guide can clearly be
identified as a Space Opera disguised as a comic novel. Accordingly, terms like
“mock-SF” (cf. Kropf) or “comic infernos” (cf. Pringle) were introduced. In the analysis
of the motifs of SF, extra attention had to be paid towards motifs such as “Alien Life”
and “Technology”, as those constitute the most widespread and therefore most
important elements of classic SF.
Finally, it was shown in what way Douglas Adams altered the conventions of
SF in order to evoke certain processes of thinking in the reader. It became clear that
perverting the motifs and conventions not solely aimed at amusing the reader but
was installed to criticised wrongs in real-life.
The scope of The Hitchhiker’s Guide can be extended even further than mere
criticism of human behaviour as pointed out by Gary Westfahl in The Greenwood
Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy:

The story of Hitchhiker’s Guide does not parody specific works


of science fiction but instead lampoons general science fiction
tropes. […] It is an epic, comic space opera that uses the
freedom of science fiction to highlight by exaggeration the
absurdity of human existence (Westfahl 2005, 1081).

Another interpretation can be directed towards the comic elements, which are clearly
prevalent throughout the story: “This might by the core message of The Hitchhiker’s
Guide: “If the universe itself is a joke, there’s no point in trying to deal reasonably
with it” (Krause 155). Adams intended message could be read as “take the
unalterable things in life easy because worrying too much might drive you mad”.

Still the allusions the novel contains are inseparably connected to real life, so
that the reader realizes parallels to his own world and can thus draw conclusions
from this setting:

The reader does not have to leave his own world in order to
follow Arthur Dent's space adventures. Adams uses the space
story in order to present very human and Earthly problems in
alienated form, which allows for explicit satirical criticism to be
applied on the status quo of human coexistence.73

73
Translated from German: "Der Leser muß also nicht seine eigene Welt verlassen, um den Raumabenteuern des
Arthur Dent und seiner Freunde folgen zu können. Vielmehr nutzt Adams die Weltraumgeschichte, um sehr
81
In acknowledging this final interpretation and all other thinkable ones, one has to be
grateful to Douglas Noel Adams for enriching the world which we live in with such a
refined, multilayered novel as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

irdische und menschliche Probleme in verfremdeter Form zu präsentieren, wodurch umso deutlicher satirische
Kritik am Status quo menschlichen Zusammenlebens geübt werden kann". (Antor 196)

82
6. Appendix

6.1 Plot Outline of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The main protagonist of the story, the unassuming everyman Arthur Dent,
wakes up from the sound of bulldozers trying to demolish his house to make way for
a new bypass. His best friend, Ford Prefect, hurriedly picks him up and takes him to
a local bar. Once in there, Dent gets to know that Ford is actually from a planet
somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse and that the Earth will shortly be destroyed
to make way for a new hyperspace bypass.
Seconds before the Earth is blown up, Ford and Arthur escape onto an alien
space craft via intergalactic "hitchhiking". As the Vogons, who are commanding the
ship, detest hitchhikers, the two travellers are sent into space where, shortly before
asphyxiation, they are accidentally picked up by another ship called the Heart of
Gold.
On board the ship they meet Zaphod Beeblebrox (president of the galaxy with no
power at all), Trillian (a woman from Earth originally called Patricia McMillan) and
Marvin (a perpetually depressed android).
Zaphod stole the Heart of Gold at a ceremony at which he was supposed to
launch the ship and plans to visit the legendary planet Magrathea, a huge
construction device which designs custom-made planets. On Magrathea, Arthur
meets Slartibartfast, a planetary coastline designer once in charge of creating the
award-wining fjords of Norway, who tells him some rich clients have reawoken the
Magratheans for one more job, i.e. to build Earth Mark II to replace the now
destroyed Earth Mark I.

The clients are a race of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings – known to


humans as “mice” - who once had built a computer called Deep Thought in order to
find the answer to the “Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything”. As
the unsatisfying and confusing answer was simply “42”, another even bigger
computer was built in order to calculate the “Ultimate Question” to the answer.
However, after over 10 million years of calculation, the project failed five minutes
before completion as the computer, known to humans as “Earth”, was destroyed by
the Vogons to make way for a new hyperspace bypass.

83
The mice want to get hold of Arthur’s brain as it constitutes the last remaining
part of the computer program designed to find The Question. This venture is
interrupted by the Galactic Police who try to arrest Zaphod for stealing the Heart of
Gold. Before the main protagonists can get killed during the chase, the policemen’s
life support systems are cut off and they die. The depressive android Marvin had
plugged himself into the police aircraft and accidentally convicted the system to
commit suicide.

The Hichhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is concluded by Arthur, Ford, Zaphod,


Trillian and Marvin heading to Milliways, the restaurant at the end of the universe.

6.2 The Three Laws of Robotics

First Law: “A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human
being to come to harm.”

Second Law: “A robot must obey orders given it by human beings, except where
such orders would conflict with the First Law.”

Third Law: “A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does
not conflict with the First or Second Law.”

(Source: http://www.anu.edu.au/people/Roger.Clarke/SOS/Asimov.html#Laws1940)

7. List of Works Cited

Main reference work

Adams, Douglas Noel. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. 1979. The Ultimate
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Five Novels in one Outrageous Volume.
New York: Del Rey Books, 2002.

84
Secondary reference works

Aldiss, Brian W. and Wingrove, David. Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science
Fiction. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1986.

Antor, Heinz. “Satire und Science Fiction in den Unterhaltungsromanen von Douglas
Adams.” Unterhaltungsliteratur der achtziger und neunziger Jahre.
Universitätsbibliothek Erlangen-Nürnberg, 1998.173-199.

Attebery, Brian. “The Magazine Era: 1926-1960.” The Cambridge Companion to


Science Fiction. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003. 32-47.

Bloch, Robert. “Imagination and Modern Social Critizism”. The Science Fiction
Novel: Imagination and Social Critizism. Chicago: Advent Publishers, 1969.
97-121.

Davenport, Basil. The Science Fiction Novel: Imagination and Social Critizism.
Chicago: Advent Publishers, 1969.

Day, Vox. “The Subversive Dismal Scientist: Douglas Adams and the Rule of
Unreason.” The Anthology at the End of the Universe. Dallas: BenBella Books,
2005. 117-123.

Feige. Marcel. Science Fiction. Hamburg: Rotbuch 3000, 2001.

Gaiman, Neil. Don’t Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
London: Titan Books, 2003.

Hanlon, Michael. The Science of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Houndmills,
Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan, 2005.

Harris-Fain, Darren, ed. British Fantasy and Science Fiction Writers Since 1960.
Detroit: Thomson Gale, 2002.

85
James, Edwards & Farah Mendlesohn, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Science
Fiction. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003.

Kornbluth, C.M. “The Failure of the Science Fiction Novel as Social Critizism.” The
Science Fiction Novel: Imagination and Social Critizism. Chicago: Advent
Publishers, 1969. 49-76.

Krause, Marguerite. “The Only Sane Man in the Universe.” The Anthology at the End
of the Universe. Dallas: BenBella Books, 2005. 145-156.

Kropf, Carl R. “Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker Novels as Mock Science fiction.” Science
Fiction Studies, 15 (March,1988), 61-70.

Petzold, Dieter, ed. Unterhaltungsliteratur der achtziger und neunziger Jahre.


Universitätsbibliothek Erlangen-Nürnberg, 1998.

Pringle, David. The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. London: Carlton


Books, 1996.

Sauerbaum , Ulrich, Ulrich Broich, and Raimund Borgmeier. Science Fiction: Theorie
und Geschichte, Themen und Typen, Form und Weltbild. Stuttgart: Philipp
Reclam, jun., 1981.

Shirley, John. “A Talk With Douglas Adams.” The Anthology at the End of the
Universe. Dallas: BenBella Books, 2005. 169-178.
---, “Douglas Adams and the Wisdom of Madness.” The Anthology at the End of
the Universe. Dallas: BenBella Books, 2005. 157-168.

Stableford, Brian. “Science Fiction Before the Genre.” The Cambridge Companion to
Science Fiction. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003. 15-31.

Tiedemann, Mark W. “Loop-Surface Security: The Image of the Towel in a Vagabond


Universe – A Semiotic (Semi-Odd) Excursion.” The Anthology at the End of
the Universe. Dallas: BenBella Books, 2005. 97-104.

86
Westfahl, Gary. “Space Opera.” The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction.
Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003. 197-208.
---, ed. The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Themes,
Works and Wonders. London: Greenwood Press, 2005.

Wuckel, Dieter. Science Fiction: Eine Illustrierte Literaturgeschichte. Hildesheim:


Olms Presse, 1986.

Yeffeth, Glenn. The Anthology at the End of the Universe. Dallas: BenBella Books,
2005.

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“Glossar englischer Fachbegriffe.” Menrath-online.de. 9.9.2007.


<www.menrath-online.de/glossaryengl.html>.

“Parsec.” Wikipedia.org. 9.9.2007.


<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parsec>.

“Robot” Wikipedia.org. 9.9.2007.


<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robot>.

“Science Fiction.” Britannica Online Encyclopaedia. 9.9.2007.


<http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9066289/science-fiction>.

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<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_criticism>.

"Parody" thefreedictionary.edu 21.3.2011.


<http://www.thefreedictionary.com/parody>.

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Lesch, Harald & Harald Zaun. “Der Alien-Faktor im SF.” 13.9.2005. Heise Online.
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