Not only Stephen King recommends to all aspiring and active authors that reading is, right after writing every day, the best course of action to become a master in their profession. But those who already have a passion for the written word won’t have to be persuaded to read. Many who start writing have always enjoyed reading and want to forward the special magic of stories by adding their own voice to the choir of storytellers.
In this little series, I will recommend some books and book series that I enjoyed reading — both for fiction and for textbooks.
But now, without further ado, the first recommendation in the fiction section. Please be aware that the order of articles doesn’t necessarily reflect my preference of a book over another one. The links point to Amazon.de* where you can order the books if you’re interested.
“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams
Order the English edition (“The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, all five volumes in a single book)
Order the German edition (This is the first volume; the other volumes are linked to further down in this text. There used to be a one-volume edition, illustrated by German comic book writers/artists Seyfried & Ziska, but it’s only available as a used book.)
The Hitchhiker’s Guide began its life in 1978 as a BBC radio series, was subsequently published in the form of novels, next up as a somewhat trashy but lovable BBC television series, and eventually — after Adams’s death — as a major Hollywood movie.
The best speculative fiction tells us things about our own world and our own lives in the disguise of something exotic. There was hardly anyone as convincing in this respect as Douglas Adams (1952-2001) in his five-volume book series, consisting of the novels “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe,” “Life, the Universe, and Everything,” “So Long and Thanks for all the Fish,” and “Mostly Harmless.” There is also a sixth volume, “And Another Thing” (German: “Und übrigens, noch was”) by Eoin Colfer, the author of the “Artemis Fowl” book series. The German editions of the five volumes are called “Per Anhalter durch die Galaxis,” “Das Restaurant am Ende des Universums,” “Das Leben, das Universum und der ganze Rest,” “Macht’s gut und danke für den Fisch,” and “Einmal Rupert und zurück.” The translations by Benjamin Schwarz are pretty good.
What is it all about?
Arthur Dent, an average Englishman, notices one day that his house is about to be knocked down to make way for a bypass. But before this becomes a real problem, his best friend, Ford Prefect (who isn’t from Bradford but from a small planet near Betelgeuse as he finally relays to Arthur) shows up and saves his pal from the destruction of planet Earth that is about to be knocked down to make way for an (alleged) Hyperspace Bypass. And so Arthur, only wearing a bathrobe, sets on to an eight-year journey to the Final Frontier of the Universe and experiences lots of curious things. He learns, among other things, why an intergalactic hitchhiker should always have a towel with him or her, that a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster also makes a Pan-Galactic Hangover, what’s so special about the number 42 (the answer to the Big Question about Life, the Universe, and Everything), how you can learn to fly, and what God’s Last Message To His Creation says.
All of this is spiced up with entries from an electronic book, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” a travel guide for interstellar hitchhikers whose advertising promises people to be able to “see the wonders of the Galaxy for less than 30 Atair Dollars a day.” More often than not, these entries aren’t terribly accurate and would probably be deleted by overzealous Wikipedia admins, but they’re incredibly entertaining and contain timeless truths about human nature, science, and philosophy.
The books are filled with quirky, original, and curious ideas. For example, we meet Hotblack Desiato, a rock star who simulates his own death for a year to avoid taxes, and his remotely controlled stunt starship that will be fired into a sun at the climax of a show of Desiato’s band, Disaster Area. Other lovably washed-up characters than Arthur and Ford include, for example, Zaphod Beeblebrox, the two-headed and incompetent President of the Galaxy, the paranoid android Marvin, the planet designer Slartibartfast, or the reporter Tricia McMillan (at first the only surviving human except for Arthur).
All in all it’s a barrel of fun for everyone who loves science fiction, pop culture, or general nerdiness: the books always keep the balance between slapstick and sophistication, the plot takes unexpected turns, it’s full of references to Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, and so on, and it is lamentable that the ingenious author of this immortal series had to bite the dust so early.
* They’re affiliate links I earn a small provision from while the prices won’t be different for you.