This was my favourite book in the series - clever and hilarious, of course, but also fascinating on philosophical and scientific levels. Parallel universes and infinite Earths - well there were at the start of the novel anyway. One thing I did notice after five books, however, is the lack of character arcs.
Less happens in this, the fourth book of the Hitchhiker's trilogy, than in the preceding three, but it is funny and clever in true Adams' style. The story includes a new Earth and a love interest for Arthur Dent (one that sends them soaring into the clouds). Three bowls gifted by the missing dolphins, an inside-out house in California, the co-ordinates to God's final message, a grumpy rain god and angels in Scholl sandals provide the requisite whimsy and allow the reader it indulge in a much needed escape from reality. It's silly and fun (as you'd expect) but perhaps not quite at the level of other Adams novels. Suspense and conflict are absent, replaced by convenient coincidences that allow Arthur to sail gently through the story.
I visited Douglas Adams' grave at Highgate and partook in the tradition of leaving a pen. I'm not sure why that's done by so many. Were Adams' pens always running out of ink? I would have left a towel, but I didn't have one with me.
As with Princess Bride I'm phenomenally late to the Douglas Adams party, but in spite of my dislike for science fiction (and, to be fair, space-related science fact, for that matter), my resistance was been worn down and I thought I had half a chance of enjoying it on audio. When I saw an edition narrated by Stephen Fry, I figured my chances increased to at least 3:2.
Summed up thoughts:
I still don't like science fiction - If I'd been reading this book, I'd have DNF'd it at Zaphod Beeblebrox, and never even gotten to Slartibartfast. The combination of space and names I can't pronounce would have spelled its doom. Also, as much as I ultimately enjoyed Adams' humor, the space stuff still bored me.
The opening description of Zaphod Beeblebrox was almost the second death knell for this book; the author's description of him, in the scene right before he absconds with the Heart of Gold, was so unerringly and disturbingly similar to another alien life form currently squatting in an oval office somewhere in the US, that I almost couldn't go on. Fortunately Zaphod Beeblebrox soon shows signs of intelligence and self-reflection that made it obvious he was a vastly higher being.
Stephen Fry is amazing. Anyone who doesn't think a narrator can make a book better has never listened to Stephen Fry. The book stands on its own merits, but I'd not have finished it without his voice bringing it to life. I know this because I'd originally started a different edition and I couldn't get past Ford and Arthur's first inadvertent hitchhiking experience.
Funniest moment for me: the "spoiler alert" Adams gives out before the Heart of Gold lands on the mythical planet (of course I can't remember its name, it's some complex science fiction word). That made me laugh out loud.
Overall, the story started slowly for me and I honestly couldn't figure out what all the fuss was about. Once they they landed on the mythical planet, things got more interesting, and I was just really getting into the story when, of course, it ended. Now I have to hope and pray Stephen Fry narrated an audio version of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.
I'm keeping this in my pocket for possible use in the Snakes and Ladder game.