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review 2017-02-25 05:30
Is That It?
Mostly Harmless (Hitchhiker's Guide, #5) - Douglas Adams

I’m not really sure about this book. At first I was going to suggest that it didn’t have any point but then again this is a part of the Hitchhiker’s Guide series, which basically means that the books aren’t going to have a plot, or a point. Well, I guess the lack of a plot, and a point, is a point in and of itself because it simply goes to demonstrate the absurdity of existance, and that is that there really seems to be no point to this whole thing we call reality and in the end we should probably all just go and jump in the sea and go for a swim.


The thing is that this particular book didn’t seem to even explore the absurdity of reality, which, in a way, was the whole purpose of the series anyway – it seemed as if Adams had simply reached a point where he was writing a Hitchhiker’s Guide novel simply for the sake of such a novel, and when he finished it sent it to his publisher and then went around the corner and had a pint at the local pub (most likely English Ale, but then he could have had a Stella, but from my visits to England my impression was that respectable people don’t drink Stella).


So, what can I say about the book – well, it is about Arthur, and Ford, and Trillian, but that is about it. Arthur has lost his one true love due to a freak hyperspace accident, and the one thing that gave him meaning in life – a partner – was suddenly gone. So, he basically travels the universe bored out of his brains, and then settles on a planet to become a sandwich maker, which is basically the only thing he is good at. As for Ford, well, he uncovers a conspiracy at the Hitchhiker’s Guide headquarters, but then heads off to find Arthur only to have his ship stolen by a daughter that Arthur never knew he had, and can’t for the life of him ever remember making her, at least with the mother that is (who happens to be Trillian).


Trillian is the odd thing with the book – is she a journalist or is she an astrophysicist? At first I was a little confused because it seemed as if Adams had completely forgotten what her original profession was, but then it turns out that she got a lucky break, or a not so lucky break as the case may be. Apparently an alternate version of Trillian gave up astrophysics because she missed out on the ride of a life time when she rushed off to get her bag and Zaphod left without her. Then she missed out on another job of a lifetime when she left her bag in her room only to discover that she wasn’t wearing her contact lenses. However, as it comes to light, even if one does get the scoop of a lifetime it doesn’t mean that the newscasters will run with it, especially if they some something much more interesting – we’ve been visited by aliens, well, that’s going to clash with the royal wedding, and the royal wedding is so much more important than aliens that we might as well leave the aliens for another time, maybe a slow news week.


Then again when does news cease to be news – well quite quickly so it happens. If one alien spacecraft lands that is a scoop, but when the next, and the next, and then the next, it ceases to be news and simply becomes part and parcel of everyday life – a politician is corrupt! Hey, all politicians are corrupt so why are we going to run with that story when a baby hippo has just been born in the London Zoo (why is it that, having only spent less than a month out of my entire life in London that I am starting to treat London as if it is my home town? ).


What about the absurdity of life? I find it interesting that this whole concept of absurdity came about when people decided that religion just wasn’t for them – it is as if religion actually gives people a sense of worth and purpose and when you throw that away that sense of worth and purpose suddenly vanishes. Well, not really, because we begin to define ourselves by our possessions, which includes our jobs, our families, and of course our stuff. Yet what happens when all of these things cease to give us pleasure, or even purpose. No wonder the divorce rate is so high because we are measuring our worth by our happiness and when our relationships cease to make us happy we simply discard them. Mind you, the media doesn’t help because they help us define our purpose through the constant bombardment of their propoganda. What if our job doesn’t satisfy, and we aren’t agile enough to get ourselves another job – I guess we are a failure them.


Yet defining ourselves, and defining life and purpose, are huge money spinners. Self help books, universities, and even religious institutions, make bucket loads of money off of people seeking purpose, and sometimes I wonder if they all sit down at their weekly meetings and laugh about our stupidity. Mind you, our purpose could actually be sitting there staring us right in our face yet we would pretty much ignore it because, well, it is too simple and finding out the meaning of our existance couldn’t actually be that easy (or even simply that), so we all wander off back into the misty streets, find the local bar, and return to our beer.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1916966581
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-02-13 11:06
Tintin's Final Adventure
Tintin and Alph-Art - Hergé

The version of this album that I read was the unauthorised completed version. I do offer my sincere apologies to the Herge estate, but I really could not read the published sketch version simply because it was clearly uncompleted. Herge began writing this in 1980 (his original idea of setting the final comic in an airport departure lounge was thankfully scrapped) but he unfortunately died before he could complete it. From reading what he originally wrote it is clear that there was a substantial amount of work needed to be done, particularly since parts of the completed version required substantial editing (for instance where did Tintin meet the informant?).


It appears that this was intended to be Tintin's final horah, and Herge had moved slightly in a new direction. In a way it is similar to Tintin and the Picaros, where Herge was attempting to wind up some of the unfinished plots, and also having a parade of all the characters (with the exception of Alcazar) through the story. This comic is also set in the world of Modern Art, something that I understand Herge was becoming ever more attracted to later in his life. It may be suggested that he was moving towards a post-modern viewpoint, but it appears that this is something that Herge rejected. While some of his comics are clearly modernist, and absurdist (such as The Castafiore Emerald) he was not a post-modernist author.


I will only deal with the completed parts here rather than look at the sections that other authors have written, particularly since it is glaringly obvious where somebody else has stepped in to complete the story. Herge and his estate made it clear that Tintin was not to continue after Herge's death. This, I believe, is a good thing, particularly since Tintin is Herge's creation, and Herge is really the only person who is able to get into the mind of Tintin and his companions.


Another change here is that Herge introduces a young, single, attractive female into the comic. While female characters have appeared (and Castafiore with regularity) in many cases they are thin on the ground and usually married (though the landlady also make appearances early on in the adventures). However, here we have a potential love interest for Tintin, which once again is moving away from Herge's norm. There is even a hint that both Tintin and the Captain may be attracted to her (as can be seen where the Captain takes her umbrella), however it is unclear where Herge was intending on taking this (and whether he was intending on actually making her a love interest). I did appreciate it that the completed comic did take it in that direction, however this was added after Herge's death.


One final thing that I discovered about unauthorised Tintin comics. There is one floating around (and available) called Tintin in Thailand. I have not read it (and have no intention of doing so) however I understand that this particular comic is actually quite obscene. The story is that this comic was going to be released as a 'recently discovered Herge manuscript' and was to be sold on the black market. However the police mounted a sting operation, arrested around 6 people involved in the production of the comic, and seized about 1000 copies of it. It appears that Herge's insistence that no Tintin be released after his death is taken very seriously in Belgium, particularly since copyright breeches generally do not attract sting operations. However I suspect also that there was more than just copyright issues with regards to this unauthorised comic (though I have since found it on the internet).


It also appears that Tintin fans also take this request very seriously, particularly since the Cult of Tintin aka Tintinologist, refuses to accept any fan based stories on their site, and other than a completed Tintin and Alpha-Art, and a number of speculative covers for other Tintin adventures, there is pretty much no other unauthorised comics available (with the exception of Tintin in Thailand, which, from what I understand, is an absolute travesty).

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/285672480
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review 2016-11-16 04:47
Sorry for the Inconvenience
So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish - Douglas Adams

When I first read this book I loved it namely because I happened to be a hopeless romantic and our protagonist, Arthur Dent, finally gets a girlfriend. Well, finally is probably not the best way to describe it because Adams does raise the possibility that Arthur may have had a relationship with Trillian (and when the question is metaphorically asked the reply is basically 'none of your business'), and also suggests that there is a rather long gap between books two and three where we end with Arthur together with a Gulgafringan and then beginning again years later with Arthur by himself in a cave (having discovered that all the Gulgafringans has died off, just because).



Anyway, more time has passed since the end of book three and the beginning of book four and we once again meet up with Arthur, who happens to be standing in the rain at the side of the road on a planet that looks remarkably like Earth, and in fact happens to be Earth. Okay, there are a couple of minor differences, though I would hardly call not having been blown up by the Vogon Constructor Fleet as being a minor difference (though Arthur's house still standing, in the grand scheme of things, is). However there is also the fact that the dolphins have still vanished, and everybody happens to have a fish bowl with the inscription 'so long and thanks for all the fish' upon it.



The thing about this particular book is that it is more of a romance than the other books in the series, which sort of gives it a different feel. The other thing is that for a bulk of the book the story is set not only on Earth, but both Arthur and Ford are going their separate ways – it isn't until we get close to the end that the two once again come together, but it is only for a short while as Arthur and his girlfriend (Fenchurch, so called because she was conceived in the ticket line at Fenchurch Street station, though my only experience of Fenchurch Street station is having a meal at a pub underneath it) head off to try and find God's final message to humanity (or the Universe to be precise).



It also goes back into the old style where there is little to no plot and the main characters just seem to stumble around trying to work out what is going on, only to discover that the answer that they were looking for, in this case God's final message, is a piece of absurdity. Actually, there is sort of a plot, but not in the same sense that Life, The Universe, and Everything had a plot. Rather it involves the main characters continuing their search for meaning, and when they finally discover this meaning, as I mentioned, and as is the case in the other books, the answer that they were looking for turns out to be absurd. In a way it even seems as if God's message to the world is not so much an answer to the reason why we are here, namely because there doesn't seem to be any real reason at all, at least in Adam's mind.



In a way I guess this is where our secular society is heading, even though many people in the Western realms still seem to consider themselves connected to some form of religion. Mind you, when you head out of the cities you do tend to discover a much more religious, and conservative, culture, but that has a lot to do with the country being very conservative, and new ideas filter in much more slowly (if ever). In a way, with their religious outlook, people in the country still seem to have a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging, and a sense of identity. However, once you head into the cities, and into the realms of the intellectuals, this traditional purpose and reasoning suddenly seems to get thrown out the door. In a way it is this rejection of religion that leads to these rather absurd views of the universe, and meaningless understanding of life.



However, we aren't necessarily the first, or only, people in the history of the world because many other civilisations, particularly those who eventually freed themselves of the tyranny of a king, because in a such a system the purpose and meaning of life is to serve the king, but then one wonders whether the king, who seems to exist in this world to be served, would eventually suffer an existentialist crisis. I'm not sure, particularly is the king never really gave it that much thought – it is only the intellectuals that would start thinking along those lines since most of the kings would probably just be incredibly self-absorbed.


As for this book, well it is much shorter, and a lot different, than the other entries in this series, and while I may have gushed over Arthur's romance when I was younger, these days it is a lot different as I am somewhat (or a lot) over that hopeless romantic streak that I used to have. As for the story, it is okay, and the message is interesting, but in the end the first two were much, much better (and this one was quite a lot less funnier as well). Oh, and the fact that Arthur, and to an extent Fenchurch, can fly really doesn't appeal to me all that much.


Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1809590267
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review 2016-10-25 12:27
It's all just a game of cricket
Life, the Universe and Everything - Douglas Adams

I'm going to have to be honest here and admit that I really wasn't all that impressed with this book. In fact the story was originally meant to be a six part Doctor Who series which was rejected by the producers, and I can see why – it just really didn't seem to be what I would expect from Doctor Who. Okay, the Doctor can be pretty tongue in cheek at times, and while there are suggestions that some Earth practices have extra-terrestrial origins, the who idea of cricket being a reflection of a huge intergalatic war really doesn't seem to fit well with the genre. I guess that having been rejected as a Doctor Who serial, being redrafted and made the third part of the Hitchhiker's Guide series sort of makes the story feel a little forced. Moreso it has a plot, and the one thing about absurdist literature is that it isn't really supposed to have a plot. Sure, the first book dealt with the search for the answer to the ultimate question, and the second dealt with the search for the true ruler of the galaxy, however they sort of sat in the background, and even then there was no real conclusion in the same way that Waiting for Godot really didn't have a conclusion.


The difference with this book is that the plot is front and centre. Arthur and Ford are trapped in prehistoric Earth however after parting ways for four years (and having some random person appear and insult him), they meet up again and discover a temporal anomaly in the form of a couch. So, what does one do when they see a couch in a place where it really shouldn't belong – well they sit on it. Anyway, the couch then proceeds to take them to Lord's at a time when the Australian Cricket Team simply cannot beat the English (and once again lose). All of the sudden these robots appear, hit bombs (that look like cricket balls) all over the place with bats that look like cricket bats, steal the ashes, and disappear. As it turns out the ashes aren't supposed to represent the 'death of English cricket' (well, they do, but that was only a representation) but rather are a piece of a key that is supposed to open the 'Wikit Gate' beyond which is imprisoned the world of 'Krikit'.


What is then revealed is that eons ago the world of Krikit was isolated due to a dust cloud, however one day a spaceship crashed, and after examining the spaceship, and realising that things existed beyond the sky, the inhabitants of Krikit decided to go and have a look, and it turned out that they didn't really like what they saw there. So, they proceeded to declare war on the entire universe. After a long and protracted period of hostilities the people of Krikit eventually lost (should I call them Krikitters? I'm not really sure) and they, and their world, were imprisoned in a field of slow time. However, a single spaceship full of robots managed to escape and proceeded to travel the galaxy and reassembling the key that would open the Wikit Gate. Ironically, parts of the key also included Marven's leg, a part of the infinite improbability drive, and the part of a trophy which represented the most gratuitous use of the world 'fuck' in a serious drama (though apparently when the book was released, this section of censored, so the world Belgium was used instead, which I have to admit is probably somewhat more clever that the other word that is used).


Look, as I have already mentioned, I wasn't particularly enamoured with this story, and I still have two more to go. I do remember liking the next one, but until I have read it I won't say anymore (though most people sort of write that one off as a load of rubbish). As for this book I don't want to write it completely off because there are some really good scenes, and jokes, in it, but it doesn't really have the panache that the previous books had. For instance, the whole discussion of flying being throwing yourself at the ground, and missing, was actually quite stupid. Okay, it did have a purpose in the book, but the Hitchhiker's Guide entry just simply didn't seem to be as clever as the entries in the first (and second) book. I guess that is the problem with a lot of books where they start off as a single book and quickly morph into a never-ending series (though Terry Pratchett seemed to have been able to solve that problem with his Discworld series).


Anyway, let us consider the title of the book, which is relates back to the original concept of the series, and in a way comes around to the question at the end of this book – what is life all about. The thing is that the answer to this question seems to be forever out of reach, or simply unobtainable through normal means (such as asking a computer, but then again how is a computer going to be able to answer such a question, particularly when the computer is limited by its creator). Okay, some people believe that they have the answer, which is what religion is all about. Actually, that is the prime definition of a religion, namely that it provides the answer to the questions of 'where did we come from, what are we doing here, and where are we going?'. Sure, most religions boil down to God, God, and God, but not all of them. Dare I say that scientific materialism answers those three questions: dust, whatever we want it to be, and dust. However I suspect that this whole scientific materialistic view of the universe is what created absurdism in the first place because despite providing the answers to these questions the answers weren't satisfactory.


Sure, the answers that end with God can be considered satisfactory answers, yet for some reason we insist on killing each other over the exact interpretation of what 'God' actually means. Okay, it technically means, as Bill and Ted put so well, 'be excellent to each other and party on dudes' yet this simple thing seems to be beyond us. Sure, there are some (such as myself) that imply that being excellent to each other also involves being excellent to God, but that sort of comes hand in hand. The baffling thing is that despite the fact that we agree that being excellent to each other is a really good idea we seem to not actually want to do it where we are concerned. In fact Adams even touches on that point namely because anybody who comes along and suggests that being excellent to each other would probably solve all of our problems ends up getting killed.


The problem is that our interpretation of being excellent to each other pretty much involves letting me do what I want to do and anybody who stops me from doing what I want to do is not being excellent to me. So, when we do things that are technically not being excellent to each other (such as polluting the world because, well, we want to live our hyperdisposable lifestyle) and people pull us up on it then we get upset and claim that being excellent to each other is not actually as great as it is cracked up to be and we might as well look for another solution to the ultimate question that doesn't involve me giving up all the really cool things that I have. Okay, I'm sure I could participate in this challenge that one of the social justice organisations is suggesting– namely living on one power socket, but I would cheat by having lots of powerboards and lots of extension cords so that my life isn't actually impacted all that much (or I could just live off my laptop as opposed to desktop and computer in the lounge room, but that is beside the point). Actually, come to think of it, there is a computer in the lounge room that I don't use – I think I should format the hardrive and turn that into my video machine as opposed to using my laptop, but I think I have drifted so far off topic that I might bring my story to an end now.


Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1788452022
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review 2016-09-13 10:33
Parking Cars - what else does one do in a car park
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe - Douglas Adams

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.


Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1753755670
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