Douglas Adams,
Life, the Universe, & Everything
(Pan/Harmony, 1982)

Life, the Universe, & Everything is rather different from the preceding two books in the Hitchhiker's trilogy. It's quite funny, particularly in a few rather memorable sections, but it is not consistently funny from beginning to end. Parts of it were so unspectacular that I barely remembered what I had just read, and one aspect of the concluding scenario is still rather incomprehensible to me, a case of deus ex machina I just can't place in the context of the whole story.

All of our favorite characters are back: Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Trillian, Marvin the woefully depressed android and even Slartibartfast; unfortunately, they are rarely together, and I sometimes lost track of Zaphod in particular after reading a number of chapters that ignored him entirely. Much of the action is also rather contrived, such as the sudden appearance of a couch on prehistoric Earth upon which Arthur and Ford travel forward in time to the last two days of Earth's existence. On several occasions, characters seemed to zap to another place and time by no discernible means.

The game of cricket is particularly important here, to the point that I really wish I understood what the sport is all about, but I admit it was a clever plot device to tie the sport to a particularly nasty, universe-threatening planet 10 billion years in the past. The planet of Krikkit, you see, set out to destroy the rest of the universe because its people basically just wanted to be left alone. Throughout the novel, white Krikkit robots appear out of nowhere to seize special items needed to unlock their planet from the Slo-Time envelope established around it at the end of the Krikkit Wars. This is a bad thing because the people of Krikkit still want nothing more than to destroy the entire universe. In a rather murky way, Arthur Dent is called upon to save the universe, and that is also not a particularly good thing.

There are a few highlights to the story. The subplot involving Agrajag is particularly good. In the course of Arthur Dent's journeys through space and time, he has been responsible for the deaths of a great number of creatures -- insects, flies, at least one rabbit, etc. Quite coincidently, as Arthur tries to argue, every single one of these creatures was Agrajag in his multiple reincarnated forms. Naturally, a body develops a hatred for the brute who keeps killing it time and time again, but Agrajag has gone so far as to build a veritable shrine to the entity he hates most in the cosmos, complete with a gigantic statue of Arthur Dent simultaneously killing him in a great number of his past life forms. I also particularly enjoy Adams' take on learning to fly; it takes a special knack, one which consists basically of throwing yourself to the ground and missing -- the easily distracted Arthur Dent is a natural at it.

Overall, the plot just meanders too much to suit me. Transitions of characters from one time and place to another make very little sense, major characters are abandoned for too long at a time, and the plot is not laid out neatly enough for it all to make sense to me. On the whole, much less seems to happen in this book than often happened over the course of a few chapters in the first two books of the trilogy. This is still an entertaining read, but even the comedy lacks some of the satirical and witty zest that typified Adams' earlier successes.

by Daniel Jolley
7 October 2006

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