Edited by Glenn Yeffeth

BenBella Press


200pp/$14.95/April 2005

The Anthology at the End of the Universe
Cover by Melody Cadungog

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

One of the problems with a book of essays about The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (or, in fact, any work of comedy) is that many of the essays will fall into two camps:  those which attempt to explain the humor, and those which attempt to match the original work in their use of humor.  Both of these types of essays, unfortunately, have their own inherent problems and will, unfortunately, fail.  This is quite evident in Glenn Yeffeth's anthology The Anthology at the End of the Universe, part of BenBella Press's Smart Pop series.

I've been a fan of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy since 1978 when I first heard tapes of the radio series.  As the books, records, and television series came out, I eagerly scooped them up to read.  Had you told me in 1980 that a feature film would be made, I would have been excited.  Had you told me that I still wouldn't have seen it a month after it opened, I would have been incredulous.  On the other hand, I have been enjoying the new radio series being broadcast on the BBC (with much of the original cast).

It is with sadness, therefore, that I note that the essay in The Anthology at the End of the Universe which I felt worked best was Susan Sizemore's examination of why she no longer enjoys The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  While Sizemore feels that the humor is dated, in my own case, I think it is more a matter of familiarity.  For humor to work, there must be a certain aspect of surprise, and when you can completely quote passages of the work (book, radio, etc.), that surprise is, of necessity, lacking.

Other essays attempt to continue Adams's own sense of humor.  Unfortunately, for all the authors' own abilities to write humor (see, for instance, Adam Roberts's The Soddit), they fall far short of Douglas Adams when writing about that author's milieu.  Other essays which rely on the use of humor also tend to point out more how well Adams wrote and used humor and how the authors of these essays just aren't up to his level.

The essays which treat Adams's material seriously often do so in a more dry manner which serves to dilute the humorous intent of that material, as Roberts points out in his own essay.  Nevertheless, there are numerous legitimately serious themes in Adams's work, from theology to relationships.  Similarly, many authors have tackled the series' influence on our own world, from Cory Doctorow's examination of the Wikipedia to Bruce Bethke's comments on the predictive nature of Adams's work.

There are some essays which are missing from the book.  Given that one of the first books about The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was Neil Gaiman's Don't Panic!, it is noticeable that he doesn't have an essay in The Anthology at the End of the Universe.  Similarly, none of the essays explore the alterations in the story/jokes between the different media versions of Adams's work.  Aspects of the radio show which never made it further than the original twelve fit series, such as the Lintillas or the Shoe Event Horizon, aren't even discussed, although many of the authors demonstrate their familiarity with the radio show as well as the books.

The Anthology at the End of the Universe doesn't work as well as some of the other entries in the Smart Pop series, such as the recent Finding Serenity.  This may be because while both books contain serious essays (as well as more light-hearted ones), writing about a work which is essentially a drama (albeit fantasy) may be easier than writing about a book which is fantasy (albeit with philosophical and satirical foundation).

Mike Byrne Beware of the Leopard
Don DeBrandt That About Wraps It Up for Oolon Colluphid
Cory Doctorow Wikipedia:  A Genuine H2G2--Minues the Editors
Bruce Bethke The Secret Symbiosis:  The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Its Impact on Real Computer Science
Adam Roberts 42
Lawrence Watt-Evans A Consideration of Certain Aspects of Vogon Poetry
Selina Rosen The Holy Trilogy
Marie-Catherine Caillava The Zen of 42
Mark W. Tiedemann Loop-Surface Security:  The Image of the Towil in a Vagabond Universe--A Semiotic (Semi-Odd) Excursion
Jacqueline Carey Yes, I Got It
Susan Sizemore You Can't Go Home Again, Damn It! Even If Your Planet Hasn't Been Blown Up by Vogons
Vox Day The Subversive Dismal Scientist: Douglas Adams and the Rule of Unreason
Stephen Baxter Lunching at the Eschaton:  Douglas Adams and the End of the Universe in Science Fiction
A.M. Dellamonica Digital Watches May Be a Pretty Neat Idea, But Peanuts and Beer Are What Get You Through the Apocalypse
Marguerite Krause The Only Sane Man in the Universe
John Shirley Douglas Adams and the Wisdom of Madness
John Shirley A Talk With Douglas Adams
Adam-Troy Castro Another Fine Mess
Amy Berner Words to Live By
Maria Alexander "Goodnight, Marvin"

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