The Anthology At The End Of The Universe

The Anthology At The End Of The UniverseOrder this bookStory: A variety of authors relate their various disciplines to Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy novels, discussing everything from the books’ impact on them to the books’ impact on science fiction to follow, and perhaps even on such real-life things as computer user interface design.

Review: Another entry in Benbella Books’ “SmartPop” series, “The Anthology At The End Of The Universe” targets the breadth and depth of the “Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” saga, cannily timed to arrive at the same time as the Guide’s big screen edition. (That last bit’s actually a pity – one wonders what the various essayists thought of the movie.) The sundry contributors offer their views on the symbology of the towel, the underlying grimness at the heart of Adams’ SF-comedy epic, the place of eschatology in the series, Adams’ literary and SF influences (and his influence on the SF literature that followed him), and whether or not Americans are truly capable of “getting” Hitchhiker’s humor. As always, the spread of topics is admirable, the degree to which the essays explore their chosen premises varies, and you’ll probably learn at least a little something from the proceedings.

That the contributing writers can glean everything from a harsh, cruel and bleak universe to a life-affirming view of the universe from the same source material may say a little about each respective author, but in a way, it says that much more about the brilliance of Douglas Adams. Adams himself gets a word in as well, in an excellent interview conducted by John Shirley for Heavy Metal Magazine. Topics are covered in that conversation that I haven’t seen put to Adams elsewhere, so it’s quite interesting. That Adams acknowledges that he’s in the early stages of development on a “Hitchhiker’s Guide” movie in the halls of Hollywood adds a bittersweet tint to the interview in retrospect.

None of the writers describes Adams or his works as anything other than brilliant, so if you’re looking for a more critical view of the Guide, you’re looking in the wrong book. I was a little bit put off by some of the essayists’ apparent indifference toward the various performed incarnations of the Guide. A few do mention the technical strides made by the admittedly troubled TV series (for a capsule history, feel free to look here), but there are even fewer mentions of the original BBC Radio series, something with which I tend to take great issue. “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” was originally conceived and published as a performed work, not a book; the tendency among the contributors to the Anthology is to focus on the novels. I understand that to a certain degree, but to ignore the performed versions of the “Hitchhiker’s Guide” is to ignore perhaps not just the heart of the series, but its very origins.

But that’s a slight nitpick on my part (I’m a stickler for pointing out the multimedia origins of the series). Reading/watching/listening to the “Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” and its various sequels is still one of my favorite things, so it’s not much of a stretch to say that reading about the Guide via “The Anthology At The End Of The Universe” was something I enjoyed as well. Something about the nature of Arthur Dent’s adventures seemed to inspire some excellent musings not only on the fiction of the Guide, but on the philosophies, metaphysics and underlying science of it all as well, from a group of writers who appear to have a firm grasp of where their towels are. This book seemed to be a step above the other SmartPop books I’ve read thus far, and was more engrossing as a result.

Year: 2005
Editor: Glenn Yeffeth
Publisher: BenBella Books
Pages: 200