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The Complete Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Douglas Adams
BBC Audiobooks

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:  The Tertiary Phase
Douglas Adams
Douglas Adams was born in Cambridge in 1952 and educated in Essex before returning to Cambridge to study at St John's College. He worked as a radio and television writer and producer before the publication of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in 1979. The novel went on to sell more than 14 million copies and was followed by the sequels The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Life, the Universe and Everything and So Long and Thanks For All the Fish. He married Jane Belson in 1991 and they had a daughter in 1994. He died in May 2001 in Santa Barbara, California, following a heart attack.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Tertiary Phase
SF Site Review: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy
SF Site Review: The Salmon of Doubt
SF Site Review: The Salmon of Doubt

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Tom Marcinko

Most SF Site readers probably know what's funny about depressed robots, Vogon poetry, telephone sanitizers, and the number 42. If not, please don't read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy -- yet. Even if you love the novels, please listen up: The Guide sounds even funnier than it reads.

So start instead with the two original BBC Radio 4 series, and the three 2004-2005 adaptations of Douglas Adams' other novels, lovingly adapted by Dirk Maggs and all now available on CD from Amazon.co.uk.

It's not just that these are even better than the novels, or that they compensate for the well-meaning dud of a movie. The Guide, originally conceived as a radio show, still works best in its original medium. (Please note that these are not audiobooks, but full-cast dramatizations, complete with actors, music, sound effects, and things blowing up.)

Adams obviously wrote for the ear. He created Arthur Dent for actor Simon Jones, whose put-upon delivery remains the heart of the first two series. First broadcast in the pop-culture landmark year of 1977, they are now beautifully repackaged as the Primary and Secondary Phases and available together as The Collector's Edition, which features two bonus CDs on the making and impact of The Guide, one narrated by the original Voice of the Book himself, the late Peter Jones.

The sound mastering is a bit flatter than I recall from the National Public Radio broadcasts, but classic radio's "theater of the mind" was never like this: hyperkinetic, Pythonesque, and sonically rich. These two sequences cover most of the original Hitchhiker novel and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Even so, the Secondary Phase includes a long and very funny storyline that never made it into print, involving a horrible accident with a cloning machine, a world ruined by its shoe industry, and a fatefully bad cup of tea.

The Tertiary Phase is even better, adapted from Adams' third novel, Life, the Universe, and Everything and reuniting most of the original cast. The story is both sillier and darker, with the absurd threat of universal destruction by cricket-playing robots juxtaposed with a creature killed in every reincarnation by Arthur Dent and now bent on hideous revenge. (Adams himself plays the hateful Agrajag, in a posthumous tour de force taken from an audiobook reading.)

Sequences that felt flat in the novel, at least to me, work beautifully when performed by brilliant actors backed up by the mad geniuses behind the mixing boards. Marvin the Paranoid Android's (Stephen Moore) conversation with a sentient swamp-dwelling mattress is a case in point. So it is with scenes set aboard a starship where the engine room is an Italian bistro (the better to take advantage of the irrational math used to calculate the bill).

Probably not even Adams' most loyal fans think the fourth or fifth books are the best in the series, but he deserves credit for pushing concepts even beyond where it might have been wise to go. And there are great pleasures to be had in the Quandary and Quintessential Phases.

In the former, based on So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, Arthur finally meets his romantic match Fenchurch, played with wonderful comedic charm by Jane Horrocks. In an unexpected turn as the self-styled last sane human, Christian Slater gives some weight to Adams' stature as a Swiftian satirist. Another notable guest star is Jackie Mason, as a thing that crawled out of the Hudson River and into the dreams of Ford Prefect (Geoffrey McGivern).

The Quintessential Phase is based on Adams' last novel, Mostly Harmless. Parallel universes being what they are, Arthur finds himself on another interstellar quest, ending up as a backward planet's most revered citizen, the Sandwich Maker. How he begets a daughter (Sam Burke), why there is more than one Trillian (Susan Sheridan and Sandra Dickinson) running around the cosmos, and why the newly discovered tenth planet is named Rupert (let's petition the astronomical community to adopt that name), are just a few of the questions answered, more or less. Once more, much of the story improves in translation from page to audio, especially a truly weird sequence where the Guide acquires a mind of its own, beautifully voiced by actress Rula Lenska.

If like me you feel about Adams the way Rolling Stone did about a Springsteen box-set ("It's not enough"), the three-CD Douglas Adams at the BBC is also worth checking out. Compiled and narrated by Simon Jones, it's an A-Z celebration of Adams' life and work, comprised of skits, interviews, and excerpts from other radio shows, including the documentary version of Last Chance To See, in which Adams and company journeyed about the globe in search of endangered species. Adams' talents as a commentator on science and technology are well showcased.

All these discs are worth listening to, especially if you have a long commute. Adams' life was too short, but he left us with enough funny, startling, and original ideas for several lifetimes.

Download the trailers at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/hitchhikers/

Copyright © 2005 Tom Marcinko

Tom Marcinko's fiction has appeared in Interzone, SF Age, The Edge, and on Ellen Datlow's late lamented EventHorizon.com site. He lives in Arizona.


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