So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish (1984) Review

So Long and Thanks for All the Fish

Right off the bat, you have the tagline:

The Fourth Book in the Hitch-Hiker Trilogy

which I’m happy to say has the desired effect. Although, I don’t think a fourth was necessary, it is welcomed.

One of the oddest things about the way this story starts is it appears as though it wasn’t intended to be a Hitchhiker’s sequel. In fact, the reveal at the end of the first chapter is very cinematic; it’s raining, people are driving, and there’s a lowly hitchhiker who can’t catch a break and he has the most inappropriate attire for inclement weather conditions and a book. But that book is the book, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

The story takes place on Earth, which (if you’ve been following my series of Adams’ reviews) you’ll notice how odd that sentence sounds since the Earth was destroyed in the first book. Then, of course, it is revisited in the past in the two subsequent novels, but make no mistake, the Earth is destroyed; has been destroyed; the Earth is gone!

However, Adams’ plants the seeds early on for how the “Earth” is back, but probably most surprising is that that’s really not the focus of the novel.

It was tough at first because I really wanted to know how the Earth came back into being. I speculated a great deal about how, in the previous book, the Krikkit world was enclosed in giant sphere that slowed down time for the inhabitants. By that logic, shouldn’t they be able to enclose a world in a sphere and speed up time?

But that was speculation… however, Adams goes so far as to purport that this is a real possibility in an unrelated chapter where he satirizes infomercial products (more or less). He says that they speed up the evolution of planets so that they need their products which are actually quite useless.

Plus, they semi-started reconstruction of Earth by the end of the first book, but alas, I think they just utilized time travel. It’s never entirely explained.

Regardless, if you spend too much time thinking about how/why the Earth is back, you’ll miss the story which is a playful romantic comedy.

Again, it’s not very Hitchhiker’s of Adams, but it’s very sweet and charming. It is an unconventional love story with the same Adams humor, but without the supernatural elements (minus the flying).

Arthur Dent meets a woman named Fenchurch and it’s about how that relationship develops and grows.

For those who have read the books, the main female character was Tricia McMillan [Trillian] and you would assume that there’d be a romance between her and Arthur, being that they were the last two humans alive — Adams of course did not see it that way, but was unapologetic in showing that Arthur did.

However, I never liked the idea of Arthur and Trillian since she left with Zaphod Beeblebrox because, at a party, he said, “I’m an alien from another planet,” and there’s something superficial about that kind of attraction, especially when he has no real interest in her.

So the Arthur and Fenchurch romance is all the more acceptable in my book (and this one as well).

Outside of that, it’s interesting to note that Adams — as the narrator and chronicler — is more involved in this book than any other (thus far). In fact, one of the most humorous bits is when Douglas Adams confronts the readers’ suspicions about Arthur Dent and, in paraphrased words says:

“[Some of you may still be wondering if any romance kicked off between Arthur and Trillian to which I say, it’s none of your business.]”

He does this often in this book and even references how you should not expect to see the rest of universe or Zaphod or those “ordinary” elements of a Hitchhiker’s book. Instead, he says,

“[If you’re interested in Ford, skip to the last chapter now, there’s a good bit with Marvin at the end, it’s a pretty good bit, you’ll enjoy it.]”

but otherwise he stays on course with Fenchurch and Arthur and it’s a beautiful blossoming relationship.

And although there aren’t supernatural elements aplenty, there’s still Adamsian philosophy, so much so that I’d like to share my favorite two quotes with you:

“I’m not trying to prove anything, by the way. I’m a scientist and I know what constitutes proof. But the reason I call myself by my childhood name is to remind myself that a scientist must also be absolutely like a child. If he sees a thing, he must say that he sees it, whether it was what he thought he was going to see or not. See first, think later, then test. But always see first. Otherwise you will only see what you were expecting.”

and

“If we find something we can’t understand we like to call it something you can’t understand, or indeed pronounce. I mean if we just let you go around calling him a Rain God, then that suggests that you know something we don’t, and I’m afraid we couldn’t have that.
No, first we have to call it something which says it’s ours, not yours, then we set about finding some way of proving it’s not what you said it is, but something we say it is.”

As some payoffs, because the Earth is back, Ford Prefect’s 15 years of Hitchhiker’s editorial service spent on Earth is finally rewarded.

We also learn what Arthur was meant to see at the end of Life, the Universe and Everything and even though I was happy not knowing, it is indeed rewarding.

One of the things in this novel that I find most endearing is the fact that Adams does cite the Hitchhiker’s Guide like a Bible of sorts; which I had mentioned in my first review, but here it is truly apparent.

What I love about his style is, rather than cite human sources like Sigmund Freud or Aristotle, he cites BorGinall from Xarcron Omega who was a master in transdimensional-psychology (not a literal example, but you get the point). He fabricates his own celebrities, icons and science-y figures (his bit about explaining time-travel-tense is as humorous as it is eloquent).

It may seem simple, but it’s part of the fun and a brilliant exercise in imagination. I appreciate a well-researched comedy (see the police system in Hot Fuzz), but adore Adams fabricated approach because he backs it up with sound logic.

Young Zaphod Plays it Safe
(A short story review)

As I said in the review above, Zaphod isn’t in So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish.

I don’t believe this short story is even included in the book, but I purchased the Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide and they aptly slid it in here — I can only imagine as a fitting way to satiate the Zaphod need.

It’s a story of Zaphod (young, presumably) working with some sort of government to ensure that these Weapons of Mass Destruction (which come in the form of indefatigably happy people) are not released.

I won’t give much more away in regards to plot since it is a short story, but it’s interesting to see Zaphod as the fish-out-of-water character and if you have an interest in the science and mythos, it builds heavily upon it.

As this review as a whole, has been more about sharing than reviewing, I’ll add that there’s a great bit about how, because the galaxy was running low on fuel, they started harvesting unused fuel from the past. Of course, people were wary of this because they feared it would hinder the economy of the present, but no one paid any mind. Incidentally, the present’s economy was affected, but only because the people of their future where doing the same thing to them.

And that’s what I love about Douglas Adams, everything is rational. It comes across as an improvised narrative, but even if it is, he justifies it with logical thought. He’s just so damn logical. He’s a thinker and masterfully narrates the process of “thinking of thinking.”

All I can say is I adore and aspire to it.

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish (1984)
By: Douglas Adams
Pan Books

For more book reviews, visit Derek Hobson’s Article Archive

9 comments

  1. Pierce Nahigyan Post authorReply

    I always liked the character of Trillian in the books. They made her both Zooey Deschanel and Arthur’s love interest in the movie, but I suppose that’s to be expected. However, it’s wrong to call her superficial. In the books, Adams does a good job of implying why Trillian chose Zaphod over Arthur and why she eventually leaves Zaphod. She was at a party, it wasn’t very interesting, Arthur is not very interesting, and here comes a wild and crazy guy that says he can take her to outer space. Later, the excitement of Zaphod wears off because he really just does what he want when he wants to regardless of circumstances – like a child. He’s the fun boyfriend, but there’s nothing else there. I remember reading somewhere that Adams stopped using Zaphod because he just didn’t know what else to do with him, and that makes sense. Ford, Arthur and Trillian are three-dimensional characters. Zaphod is a riot, but he’s not relatable.

    • Derek Hobson Post authorReply

      Zooey Deschanel… now that’s surprising. But you’re right and I kinda meant “superficial” in a sarcastic sense since, she’s at a party and someone says, “I’m from outer space, baby” so she goes with him. While I do think she had a good arc in Life, the Universe and Everything, I just didn’t want more of her.

      And I like that when Arthur talks to Fenchurch, he makes no mention of outer space – just to build on that dichotomy. One of my favorite scenes is when she asks Arthur to tell him a funny story and I immediately think, oh it’s going to be a time he was on another planet, but no, it’s about eating someone’s biscuits.

      I’m happy that Zaphod stayed out of it. Like, really, badly, desperately — and that’ll make more sense with the pseudo-sequel, And Another Thing… but I actually appreciated that it wasn’t within his character to return to these people he just happened to be flying around with. I mean, he really finished in the first book, if you count the first part of the second book.

      • Pierce Nahigyan Post authorReply

        The weird part about that biscuit story is that I’ve seen it in 3 very different places. One, this book; two, in a sermon at church; and three, in a television commercial. I have no idea who came up with it originally. Fun fact: Douglas Adams was a friend and writing partner of, I believe, Graham Chapman from Monty Python and you can actually see him as an extra in the Mr. Neutron episode.

        • Derek Hobson Post authorReply

          Hah! That’s awesome. I’m a little bummed that the biscuit story is like a myth, and a little excited. Haha!

  2. J.K. Post authorReply

    I know you’re incredibly busy and have no free time, but based on how much you’re liking these books I HIGHLY recommend Doctor Who. Meaning I recommend watching it while high. But I also think it is one of the smartest, most thought provoking, inspiring, and genuinely interesting television shows I’ve ever seen. It’s Hitchiker’s meets Hercules & Xena.

    • Derek Hobson Post authorReply

      Well, I telecommute from home on some days, so maybe I could start it up. And someone made me watch “The Library” episode with David Tenant. I was definitely engaged!

  3. Average Bill Post authorReply

    I read the first of these and couldn’t finish them all thanks to my friend A.D.D but maybe I should try n get through em

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