Mostly Harmless (1992) Review

Mostly_Harmless

Mostly Harmless is the conclusion of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s trilogy, and you can view my chronological reviews below:

  1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  2. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
  3. Life, the Universe and Everything
  4. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

What makes this review hard is that Mostly Harmless is by no means a bad book. It is, undoubtedly, the least funny of the five, but that’s not saying much since the first three are uproariously funny, the fourth provides copious outcries of comedy, and the fifth has hollers of hilarity.

The novel starts with Tricia McMillan (not Trillian, which is the same character, but in a parallel universe) and continues with her for a laboriously long time. Her purpose is to let us know that parallel universes exist and that the Earth is about to be destroyed (again).

Then, we transition to Ford Prefect, our comic relief. He’s gone to the Guide offices only to discover that there’s a new chairman in charge. His goal is to make a new, interdimensional Guide that can simply be produced once, but sold an infinite number of times. Ford doesn’t like it, so he’s on a mission to stop it.

Then, we get Arthur Dent, who has been working on a foreign planet as a sandwich maker ever since Fenchurch disappeared in a galactic hiccup and Trillian – the one we’re familiar with – appears at Arthur’s cave and tells him that he has a daughter, Random Frequent Flyer Dent.

*SPOILERS*

Everybody dies.

I don’t know if this is true, but if I was told that if you speed up in a car, you burn more gasoline than if you go slowly. I feel like Adams, very suddenly, floored the petal and ran out of gas on the freeway before reaching the destination.

It’s really strange because the novel picks up so much speed towards the end and then, poof… death.

It’s just disappointing because, whereas the ending to Milliways was bleak, this one won’t have a sequel and he had so much new material to work with. I mean the main theme of the novel is “finding where you belong.”

This is exemplified in Random who wants to know where/how she fits in the universe. It’s a solipsist view for certain, but fitting for a teenager with mommy and daddy issues. It was clear that this was the set up for her and Arthur to bond. Neither feeling home (since Arthur’s was destroyed and Fenchurch never knew one to begin with), but the comedy comes from neither sharing much in common. Their bonding would be inevitable with Fenchurch being displaced and Arthur being unable to find his purpose; he’s trying to fit in as much as Random is, but fulfilling the role of a father would be a noble purpose. But the estranged Dents have one scene together before she runs off and they all die.

The lack of catharsis comes from the fact that no one gets to “fit in.” Fitting in is part of the Grebulons’ story since they slipped out of a war and lose their memory — displaced; they don’t know what their purpose is or what they’re supposed to do. They just see that they have huge death rays ready to fire on a planet in front of them. That is funny. That’s Memento style funny. Wake up with a gun in your hand, pointing it at someone. Your instinct would probably be, Ah, I must be trying to shoot him.

In addition, Ford is afraid of losing his purpose as writer for the Guide; Trillian is still looking for her purpose since she didn’t find it in motherhood; Tricia feels like she missed her purpose since she didn’t hop aboard with Zaphod – ah, you get it.

Maybe I missed the resolution when Trillian says, “None of us fit,” and the destruction of their planet (across all dimensions) is the point. It is certainly bleak enough to make people upset, but that’s an awful lot of setup for such an anticlimax.

I’m told the audio book ends with all the babel fish saving our heroes and Marvin is back (for some reason), but it seems like a deus ex machina of wishful thinking.

While I don’t think I’m in a place to write the fan fiction for the conclusion of this series, I think from a story perspective you could have Random get to the Earth sooner, find her “mom” (Tricia instead of Trillian) and Arthur Dent and they live happily ever after on alternate universe Earth until the Grebulons come and blow it up.

You could have our canonical Arthur finally track her down and say, “The Vogons have planned this and the Grebulons are gonna blow this place up!” But Random says, “Yes, but between my parents — my family — is where I feel I belong.”

I don’t think death is bleak, but I’m a firm believer that all authors use literature as fantasy fulfillment – more or less fan fictions of our own lives. To end the series just after everyone was reunited (fitted together), is the bleak part; all of them destroyed on Earth with no more regard than the six trillion that died the first time it was destroyed.

Ford Prefect does laugh as he dies and that gives me a little solace, but it’s a shitty resolution for everyone else.

PS. Adams also doesn’t explore this whole parallel universe thing at all. The parallel universes — as far as they’re described — are basically points on a map you can go to. Whereas Adams fully explored time travel, this was a concept that was just kinda thrown in with no thought behind it except as a plot device. Really bummed.

PPS. (PSS.?) Also, one of the really noteworthy scenes is when Ford and Arthur meet Elvis Presley who is not on Earth. At the end of the novel though, the Vogon is happy with the demolished Earth because he got all the straggler humans… but Elvis isn’t there and maybe Fenchurch isn’t either. I don’t know. Very rushed, I’ll say that much.

Mostly Harmless (1992)
By: Douglas Adams

Harmony Books

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

4 comments

  1. J.K. Post authorReply

    Have you read any bios or autobiographies of Douglas Adams? I think killing everyone is truly the only way to end a story since that’s where it’s going anyway. Spoiler: Everybody dies. Regardless. And that’s the end of their story. Shakespear’s ended when he died. True, his work lives on today, the story of his children/wives whatever kept going, but everyone’s story ends the same way; their heart stops beating. Only way to end everyone’s story is for all of them to stop.

    • Derek Hobson Post authorReply

      Yeah, I wrote that in a script a while back, but the point I tried to make in the review is that, “everybody dying” is not the bleak part since I don’t think death is bleak.
      It just felt like a cop-out since he had so much set-up. And (I don’t remember if I included this but) one of the things that bothered me is that when he introduces things, he explores them. But inter-dimensional travel is introduced and he asks you to accept it as a thing, but with no jokes or anything like that. Just suddenly you can pop in and out of dimensions. It was just kinda lazy.
      In reading the series, even though Mostly Harmless isn’t terrible, the tone is just so… careless. It’s like he kinda wanted to do one more… but then halfway through thought to himself, “Eh, maybe not.”
      It’d be like if my next “From A to Zombie” chapter, I decide I don’t want to do it anymore, so everyone is bitten and that’s the end. You can argue that it gets points for realism and potentially a great punchline to the whole apocalypse thing, but I’d tell you the reason I did it was to just be done with it — and that’s how it feels.

      • J.K. Post authorReply

        Maybe not in the next chapter, but I’m really hoping that’s how you end the novel now.

        • Derek Hobson Post authorReply

          I mean that would be logical conclusion.
          And usually I only plan like… 2 chapters ahead BUT, where I currently have it going, that ending will work… but won’t end the novel.

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