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Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy    by Douglas Adams order for
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
by Douglas Adams
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2005 (2005)
* * *   Reviewed by Lance Victor Eaton

Arthur Dent has had a rough day; I mean a really horrid day. When his house was knocked over by bulldozers (building a bypass) that was rough. But then a Vogon fleet obliterated his entire planet to make an intergalactic bypass and yes, that too struck a nerve in Dent who didn't even get to change out of his pajamas. He escaped with the help of his friend Ford Prefect who just happened to be an alien, unbeknownst to Dent.

If one were keeping score, maybe this would be a plus, but their escape lands them on a Vogon ship where they are captured and made to listen to Vogon poetry, something akin to incessantly poking your ear canal with a rusty scapel. Dent then gets jettisoned into space, and left to die. He's saved by Zaphod Beeblebrox, the galactic president and the universe's largest walking ego; big enough that he has two heads. Dent ends up on Magrathea, a planet that makes planets, where he finds out that Earth was in fact manufactured by a pair of pan-dimensional sentients who strikingly resemble a pair of mice that also managed to escape Earth. And now, he's being hunted by galactic police, the mice, and others to find out if his brain holds the proper question to 'life, the universe and everything' - to which the answer is forty-two. Through all Arthur's adventures, the only thing that helps him keep his sanity is a book with large bold letters on the cover, telling him 'DON'T PANIC' - one of the handy tips provided by the best-selling book in the known universe, 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.'

If the story sounds absurd and whacky, it is. Douglas Adams is a master of wit. With humor both subtle and blatant, he weaves a fantastic tale that basically served as the cornerstore to the sub-genre of science-fiction humor. Some of the best pieces of this story are various asides and excerpts taken from the book within the book, the galactic hitchhiker's guide. Whether talking about Eccentrica Galumbits, the triple-breasted whore of Eroticon III, or how to make the galaxy's most notorious drink (the Pan-Galactic Gargleblaster), entries provide great material on the nature of the universe and life itself. Essentially, it's the same ole guide that fans have been enjoying for more than a quarter-century - the only difference is the narrator. This re-recording gets a top-grade reading by Stephen Fry, popular for his narrations of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels and for the British versions of the Harry Potter books (not to be confused with the United States audiobooks which are read by Jim Dale). Fry's a great narrator and does this book fair justice.

But unfortunately, as for any remake, comparisons will be made. When first released as an unabridged audiobook, Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy was read by the author himself, a man with extensive radio experience (the book having first been a radio series for the BBC). Adams' reading benefited from both a professional's understanding and the author's awareness of his own story. In so doing, he forged identities and personalities behind the voices that would influence a generation of audiobook listeners. The best example of this can be seen in Arthur's friend Ford Prefect. The original narration gives him a much better sense of eccentricity. Any listener could easily imagine him in the middle of a battlefield surrounded by people fighting and dying, picking up a flower he had never seen. Instead of smelling it, he would take a bite and complain that it was utterly horrible in taste although he would be willing to change his mind if he had some salt or paprika at hand. That is the depth to which Adams' narrative portrayed Prefect's idiosyncratic manner and in comparison, Fry does come up short in such nuances.

Neophytes to the writings of Douglas Adams will certainly enjoy this audiobook. The story and narrator are top-notch, to say the least. Deeply devoted fans of Douglas Adams (such as myself) may find some minor faults with the narration, but will also enjoy a slightly different take on this great piece of fiction. In the wonderful words of Sirius Cybernetics Corporation, 'Share and enjoy.'

Note: This review refers to an unabridged (6 hours) audiobook read by Stephen Fry, available in 5 CDs.

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