Perhaps I'm old and
tired, but I always think that the chances of finding out what really is
going on are so absurdly remote that the only thing to do is to say hang
the sense of it and just keep yourself occupied.
- Douglas Adams, "The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy"
The Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy
Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea...
It is an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem. For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much - the wheel, New York, wars and so on - whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man - for precisely the same reasons.
Pages one and two [of Zaphod's presidential speech] had been salvaged by a Damogran Frond Crested Eagle and had already become incorporated into an extraordinary new form of nest which the eagle had invented.
It was constructed largely of papier mache and it was virtually impossible for a newly hatched baby eagle to break out of it. The Damogran Frond Crested Eagle had heard of the notion of survival of the species but wanted no truck with it.
"How do you feel?'
he asked him.
"Like a military academy,"said Arthur, "bits of me keep passing out."
"We're safe,' he said.
"Oh good,' said Arthur.
"We're in a small galley cabin,' said Ford, "in one of the spaceships of the Vogon Constructor Fleet.'
"Ah,' said Arthur, "this is obviously some strange usage of the word "safe" that I wasn't previously aware of.'
"You'd better be prepared
for the jump into hyperspace. It's unpleasently like being drunk."
"What's so unpleasent about being drunk?"
"You ask a glass of water.'"
"It's at times like
this I wish I'd listened to my mother"
"Why, what did she say?"
"I don't know, I never listened."
"And wow! Hey! What's this thing coming towards me very fast? Very very fast. So big and flat and round, it needs a big wide sounding word like... ow... ound... round... ground! That's it! That's a good name - ground! I wonder if it will be friends with me?"
"Hey this is terrific!'
Zaphod said. `Someone down there is trying to kill us!"
"Terrific,' said Arthur."
"But don't you see what this means?"
"Yes. We are going to die."
"Yes, but apart from that."
"APART from that?"
"It means we must be on to something!"
"How soon can we get off it?"
"Er, hey Earthman..."
"Arthur,' said Arthur."
"Yeah, could you just sort of keep this robot with you and guard this end of the passageway. OK?"
"Guard?' said Arthur. `What from? You just said there's no one here."
"Yeah, well, just for safety, OK?' said Zaphod."
"Whose? Yours or mine?"
"With a rubber duck, one's never alone."
"Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the drug store, but that's just peanuts to space."
"Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job "
"Grown men, he told himself, in flat contradiction of centuries of accumulated evidence about the way grown men behave, do not behave like this."
"I'd like to say a big 'hello' to all you intelligent lifeforms out there, and for the rest of you, the trick is to bang those rocks together, guys!"
"Bad luck is when you win the lottery, and God decides it's a nice day to end the Universe."
"I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."
"Would it save you a lot of time if I just gave up and went mad now?"
"That young girl is one of the least benightedly unintelligent organic life forms it has been my profound lack of pleasure not to be able to avoid meeting"
"The difficulty with this conversation is that it's very different from most of the ones I've had of late. Which, as I explained, have mostly been with trees."
"Has the world always been like this, or have I been too wrapped up in myself to notice? "
"He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it "
BABEL FISH :
The Babel fish is small, yellow and leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy recieved not from its own carrier but from those around it, It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. the practical upshot of this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any language.
Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anhthing so mind-bogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God. The argument goes like this : "I refuse to prove that I exist", says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."
"But", says Man, "the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn't it? it could not have evolved by chance. it proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED."
"Oh dear", says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
"Oh that was easy" says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.
Meanwhile, the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.
TIME TRAVEL :
One of the major problems encountered in time travel is not that of accidentally becoming your own father ot mother. There is no problem involved in becoming your own father or mother that a broadminded and well adjusted family can't cope with. There is also no problem about changing the course of history - the course of history does not change because it all fits together like a jigsaw. All the important changes have happened before the things they were supposed to change and it all sorts itself out in the end. The major problem is quite simply one of grammar.
POPULATION OF UNIVERSE : None.
It is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them to be in it. However, not every one of them is inhabited. Therefore, there must be a finite number of inhabited worlds. Any finite number divided by infinity is as near to nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the Universe can be said to be zero. From this it follows that the population of the whole Universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are merely the products of a deranged imagination.
CARELESS TALK :
It is of course well known that careless talk costs lives, but the full scale of the problem is not always appreciated.
For instance, at the very moment that Arthur said "I seem to be having tremendous difficulty with my lifestyle," a freak wormhole opened up in the fabric of the space-time continuum and carried his words far far back in time across almost infinite reaches of space to a distant Galaxy where strange and warlike beings were poised on the brink of frightful interstellar battle.
The two opposing leaders were meeting for the last time.
A dreadful silence fell across the conference table as the commander of the Vl'hurgs, resplendent in his black jewelled battle shorts, gazed levelly at the G'Gugvuntt leader squatting opposite him in a cloud of green sweet-smelling steam, and, with a million sleek and horribly beweaponed star cruisers poised to unleash electric death at his single word of command, challenged the vile creature to take back what it had said about his mother.
The creature stirred in his sickly broiling vapour, and at that very moment the words I seem to be having tremendous difficulty with my lifestyle drifted across the conference table.
Unfortunately, in the Vl'hurg tongue this was the most dreadful insult imaginable, and there was nothing for it but to wage terrible war for centuries.
Eventually of course, after their Galaxy had been decimated over a few thousand years, it was realized that the whole thing had been a ghastly mistake, and so the two opposing battle fleets settled their few remaining differences in order to launch a joint attack on our own Galaxy - now positively identified as the source of the offending remark.
For thousands more years the mighty ships tore across the empty wastes of space and finally dived screaming on to the first planet they came across - which happened to be the Earth - where due to a terrible miscalculation of scale the entire battle fleet was accidentally swallowed by a small dog.
Those who study the complex interplay of cause and effect in the history of the Universe say that this sort of thing is going on all the time, but that we are powerless to prevent it.
"It's just life," they say.
Far back in the mists of ancient time, in the great and glorious days of the former Galactic Empire, life was wild, rich and largely tax-free. Mighty starships plied their way between exotic suns, seeking adventure and reward among the farthest reaches of Galactic space. In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women and small furry creatures from Alpha Centuari were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. And all dared to brave unknown terrors, to do mighty deeds, to boldly split infinitives that no man had split before -- and thus was the Empire forged.
Many men of course became extremely rich, but this was perfectly natural and nothing to be ashamed of because no one was really poor -- at least no one worth speaking of. And for all the richest and most successful merchants life inevitably became rather dull and niggly, and they began to imagine that this was therefore the fault of the worlds they'd settled on. None of them was entirely satisfactory: either the climate wasn't quite right in the later part of the afternoon, or the day was half an hour too long, or the sea was exactly the wrong shade of pink.
And thus were created the conditions for a staggering new form of industry: custom-made luxury planet building. The home of this industry was the planet Magrathea, where hyperspatial engineers sucked matter through white holes in space to form it into dream planets -- gold planets, platinum planets, soft rubber planets with lots of earthquakes -- all lovingly made to meet the exacting standards that the Galaxy's richest men naturally came to expect.
But so successful was this venture that Magrathea itself soon became the richest planet of all time and the rest of the Galaxy was reduced to abject poverty. And so the system broke down, the Empire collapsed, and a long sullen silence settled over a billion hungry worlds disturbed only by the pen scratchings of scholars as they labored into the night over smug little treatises on the value of a planned political economy.
Magrathea itself disappeared and its memory soon passed into the obscurity of legend.
In these enlightened days, of course, no one believes a word of it.
The Encyclopaedia Galactica defines a robot as a mechanical apparatus designed to do the work of a man. The marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation defines a robot as "Your Plastic Pal Who's Fun To Be With."
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy defines the marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation as "a bunch of mindless jerks who'll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes," with a footnote to the effect that the editors would welcome applications from anyone interested in taking over the post of robotics correspondent.
Curiously enough, an edition of the Encyclopaedia Galactica that had the good fortune to fall through a time warp from a thousand years in the future defined the marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation as "a bunch of mindless jerks who were the first against the wall when the revolution came."
THE RESTAURANT AT THE END OF THE UNIVERSE
There is a theory which
states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and
why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something
even more bizarre and inexplicable.
There is another theory which states that this has already happened.
The story so far: In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.
Many races believe that it was created by some sort of God, though the Jatravartid people of Viltvodle VI believe that the entire Universe was in fact sneezed out of the nose of a being called the Great Green Arkleseizure.
The Jatravartids, who live in perpetual fear of the time they call The Coming of The Great White Handkerchief, are small blue creatures with more than fifty arms each, who are therefore unique in being the only race in history to have invented the aerosol deodorant before the wheel.
However, the Great Green Arkleseizure Theory is not widely accepted outside Viltvodle VI and so, the Universe being the puzzling place it is, other explanations are constantly being sought.
For instance, a race of hyperintelligent pan-dimensional beings once built themselves a gigantic supercomputer called Deep Thought to calculate once and for all the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.
For seven and a half million years, Deep Thought computed and calculated, and in the end announced that the answer was in fact Forty-two - and so another, even bigger, computer had to be built to find out what the actual question was.
And this computer, which was called the Earth, was so large that it was frequently mistaken for a planet - especially by the strange ape-like beings who roamed its surface, totally unaware that they were simply part of a gigantic computer program.
And this is very odd, because without that fairly simple and obvious piece of knowledge, nothing that ever happened on the Earth could possibly make the slightest bit of sense.
Sadly however, just before the critical moment of readout, the Earth was unexpectedly demolished by the Vogons to make way - so they claimed - for a new hyperspace bypass, and so all hope of discovering a meaning for life was lost for ever.
Or so it would seem.
Two of their strange, ape-like creatures survived.
Arthur Dent escaped at the very last moment because an old friend of his, Ford Prefect, suddenly turned out to be from a small planet in the vicinity of Betelgeuse and not from Guildford as he had hitherto claimed; and, more to the point, he knew how to hitch rides on flying saucers.
Tricia McMillian - or Trillian - had skipped the planet six months earlier with Zaphod Beeblebrox, the then President of the Galaxy.
They are all that remains of the greatest experiment ever conducted - to find the Ultimate Question and the Ultimate Answer of Life, the Universe, and Everything.
And, less than half a million miles from where their starship is drifting lazily through the inky blackness of space, a Vogon ship is moving slowly towards them.
"There are of course many problems connected with life, of which some of the most popular are `Why are people born?' `Why do they die?' `Why do they spend so much of the intervening time wearing digital watches?"
"`Right,' said Ford, `I'm going to have a look.' He glanced round at the others."Is no one going to say, "No you can't possibly, let me go instead"? They all shook their heads. "Oh well."
"You know they've reintroduced
the death penalty for insurance company directors?"
"Really?" said Arthur. "No I didn't. For what offence?"
Trillian frowned. "What do you mean, offence?"
The Universe : Some information to help you live in it.
- Douglas Adams, "Last Chance to See"
The word "impossible" is not in my dictionary. In fact, everything between "herring" and "marmalade" appears to be missing.
Related Sites :
Plorph!'s Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Page
Return to Quotes index, or Site homepage.