Well, this is annoying. Having just arrived back from Europe, and having travelled half way around a world you could say that I now have the holiday hangover – Jet Lag. Basically I have had about 10 hours sleep in total over the past four days, namely because I go to sleep and suddenly an hour later I am wide awake, laying in bed, wondering whether I should get up and do something, or simply lie there and attempt to get some more sleep, which generally doesn't occur until around 5:00 am (which means that I am not up until around 10:00, when I am able to sleep in that late). Also, having had my first full day of work (in an office) for seven weeks, you could say that I am a bit zonked. However I have just finished the second instalment of Adam's rather bizarre, and quite absurd, space adventure, and if I don't start writing the review now I probably never well (not that I can easily write at the moment, even on a laptop – maybe I should get up and go for a walk before hand, or even better go down to the pub and get a beer – yes, maybe I'll do just that).
Okay, I'm now down at the pub with a beer in front of me, but I will do my best to resist the temptation to talk about how Belgium has turned me into a beer and coffee snob, particularly due to the fact that in Belgium you get beer that has been brewed in Monasteries for hundreds of years, where as in Australia you simply get beer that is pretty substandard (though nowhere near as bad as English beer – which as I have said previously is little more than coloured water). Anyway, enough of that because I really want to get this review completed before I move onto my next book.
So, the book starts of where the previous one ends, and sort of follows the television series (though the television series ends at the end of this book). However I didn't feel that this part of the series was anywhere near as good as the first book (or even the series). I would sort of suggest that it was tying up a few loose ends, but in fact the first book didn't have any lose ends that needed tying up (but then again any lose ends that exist in absurdist literature generally are not ment to be tied up – otherwise it would cease to be absurd). Further, it seems that the story has been padded out a bit and as such it feels a little forced, especially since the original really didn't need a plot – they land up at the Restaurant that exists at the end of time, namely because they are looking for some place to have a meal and people go there for a humongous light show. Our heroes then steal a stunt ship belonging to a galactic rockstar, but it turns out that this ship is going to be flown into a star. Fortunately they find a teleport and escape, but Zaphod and Trillian disappear to who knows where, while Arthur and Ford land up back on Earth (or at least on a ship heading in that general direction).
While that is the basic plot of the second half of the television series, this book gives a bit more of a meaning behind plot – the Vogons realise that since Arthur and Trillian managed to escape Earth their job of destroying the Earth was left half finished so they decide to go after them to finish it off (and you will see more of that in future books). Also, Zaphod decides to go and find out who the actual ruler of the universe is, namely because even though he is president of the galaxy he really has no power (though he ends up getting board and heads of to have some dinner instead). In a way it felt a little forced and sort of detracted a lot from the original premise, which was understandably quite absurd. Even though Zaphod does eventually find the ruler of the universe, as it turns out the guy is pretty absent minded, and in a way one wonders whether he actually rules anything, and why it is that he is supposed to be the ruler of the universe.
Maybe it has something to with this idea that there really isn't any order, or sense, in the universe, and if there is any deity, the lack of sense, or purpose, suggests that the ruler really has no idea what is going on, or maybe has been around for so long that he (or she) has simply become senile. In a way it does seem to be like this, but I really don't want to get into anything too theological to attempt to disprove Adam's theory because in a way it is your typical Deist view of existence – sure there is a God who created the world, but he is either long gone, or simply set it in motion and let it go about on its own devices. I guess that is why the theory of Thermodynamics works – creation moves from order to disorder in the same way that a mechanical device slowly, but surely, winds down to a halt. However the way that the world seems to go about suggests that maybe he have been forgotten about it. However, it is quite interesting that whenever somebody comes along and suggests that maybe if people learnt to get along a bit better they either end up shot, forced to drink poison, or hung on a cross.
One group I do need to mention are the Gulgafrinchans – they are a rather amusing, and quite interesting, race of people. The deal with them is that there were three classes of people – the ruling class, the working class, and the middle class. The thing with the ruling class is that they were the rulers (and controlled the means of production), so they considered themselves particularly important. The working class actually had useful skills that the ruling class could use to produce stuff, while the middle class simply leached off the capital of the ruling class and the hard work of the working class. The middle class consisted of people such as advertising executives, sales managers, film directors, and telephone sanitisers – people that if they were removed from society then society would pretty much continue to function, but at a more efficient rate.
In a way I am inclined to agree – there is actually a whole class of people that simply exist to make things more complicated, and more expensive. Lawyers (and politicians) create reams and reams of laws to make life so complex that one cannot navigate the environment without spending lots of money to actually understand what these mystical words actually mean. As for advertisers, market analysts, and sales managers – they simply exist to make things more expensive. For instance they take what is effectively a t-shirt and with a wave of their hands transform it into a lifestyle – a brand if you will – which means that one can jack up the price to no end. In a way the middle class really only exists to take money from the working class, give it to the ruling class, and take a significant cut for themselves. The fact that they come across as a bunch of bumbling idiots who haven't managed to get anything done because everything has been referred to a discussion group is no accident. In away, as some suggest, totalitarian dictatorships are so much more effective because they do away with all these pesky politicians who exist only for the election cycle, and simply get things done. The problem is that it is actually very rare for there to be a totalitarian dictator that wants to make the country great as opposed to simply using his position as a chick magnet (otherwise Africa would be one of the most powerful continents on the planet).
I can't finish off this review without making mention of Marvin the Paranoid Android. No matter how disappointing the book ended up being for me, he still ends up stealing the show. Even though he is an incredibly intelligent robot (who has existed, by the end of the book, for millions of years) it is impossible to actually get anything out of him – namely because he acts like your typical self absorbed depressive – 'here I am, a brain the size of a planet and you want me to …'. Mind you, he really has his moments, especially when he is talking to a robot tank, and simply by being himself, ends up getting the tank to literally destroy itself (by shooting away the floor underneath it). In the end, it is the classic line that he gives when he is at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe (which is have quoted in the title, so I won't repeat it here) which is probably my favourite line of the entire series. Oh, and prophet that rocks up at the restaurant just before the universe ends, and doesn't get a chance to finish his apology for being late.
Maybe, just maybe, I'm being a little harsh on this book.