Life, the Universe and Everything
Life, the Universe and Everything is the third book in Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, preceded by The Restaurant at the End of the Universe and followed by So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish.
The title, as is the case with the titles of all five books in the series, comes from some dialogue in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (in this case, in chapter 25):
'O Deep Thought Computer,' he said, 'the task we have designed you to perform is this. We want you to tell us...' he paused, '...the Answer!'
'The Answer?' said Deep Thought. ‘The Answer to what?’
'Life!’ urged Fook.
'The Universe!’ said Lunkwill.
'Everything!’ they said in chorus.
Here's what Douglas Adams had to say about the book, with regard to the story's other incarnations: "In the summer of 1982, a third Hitch Hiker book was published simultaneously in Britain and the United States, called Life, the Universe and Everything. This was not based on anything that had already been heard [on the radio or television versions of The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy]. In fact it flatly contradicted episodes 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 of the radio series."
I suppose I should include a SPOILER ALERT at this point.
Once again, picaresque
Life, the Universe and Everything, like its companion volumes, is more or less a picaresque story. Oh sure, there is a bit of a plot involving the premature and cataclysmic end of the universe, but the plot is merely incidental to the kind of wordplay and humour that Douglas Adams' readers delight in, neatly summarised by Ikura as "irony, dry wit and quirky phrasing." Even if the plot was absent, and the book was instead a series of short stories and extended jokes, it would succeed. Once you've read the book, you can pick it up at any time thereafter and flip open to any old page and begin laughing.
- Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged (chapter 1): A being who had had immortality thrust upon him, knew not instinctively how to deal with it, and therefore hit upon a project to occupy his time: he would insult every single being in the Universe, one at a time, in alphabetical order. Our hero, Arthur Dent, has the misfortune to be insulted by Wowbagger not once, but twice.
- The Bistromathic Drive (chapter 7): A starship drive that operates on the principles of bistromathics - that numbers are not absolute, but depend on the observer's movement in restaurants. An example of a non-absolute number is the recipriversexcluson, a number which is defined as anything other than itself.
- Marvin the Paranoid Android (chapter 9): Everyone's favourite robot makes his first appearance on Squornshellous Zeta, where he has been trudging in tight circles in a swamp for one-point-five million years. We find him having a depressing conversation with a mattress named Zem, who is thirty billion times less intelligent than he is.
- The Art, or rather the Knack, to Flying (chapters 11 & 20): "The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss." Arthur literally stumbles upon this knack for himself.
- The Longest and Most Destructive Party Ever Held (chapters 21-22): Now into its fourth generation, and unlikely to abate, due to selective breeding and recessive genes. Attended by, among others, a woman with a head shaped like the Sydney Opera House, the Thunder god Thor, and an actor who has recently won an award for 'The Most Gratuitous Use of the Word "Fuck" in a Serious Screenplay'.
See, these are the bits that people remember - they could exist without the plot. Rather than being amusing extensions of the plot, the plot instead appears to be merely a framework within which these apparent asides can be presented.
The plot, for what it’s worth
That said, there is a plot with a twist here, and what I’d like to do here is untwist the backstory to that plot. But first, the plot:
- Chapter 1: Picks up where The Restaurant at the End of the Universe left off. Arthur has been stranded on prehistoric earth for five years.
- Chapter 2: One morning, he decides to go mad for something to do. Ford Prefect returns from his travels abroad, and announces the existence of eddies in the space-time continuum. Arthur and Ford locate an eddy in the vicinity of a Chesterfield sofa, and catching up with it, are transported to Lord's Cricket Ground in the mid 1980s, two days before Earth is due to be destroyed by the Vogon Constructor Fleet.
- Chapters 3-4: Slartibartfast picks them up in his new ship, powered by a Bistromathic drive. It's a hell of a mover.
- Chapters 5-16: Slartibartfast fills them in on current events, in which a bunch of Krikkit robots have begun collecting the various parts of the Wikkit Key to free their imprisoned masters on the planet of Krikkit.
- Chapters 17-22: Slartifbartfast drags Arthur and Ford along with him to stop the robots, since completion of the Key will precipitate the premature end of the universe. They meet Trillian at a party, and Arthur convinces her to join them.
- Chapters 23-25: The Wikkit Key is finally completed, and the Wikkit Gate is unlocked; universal annhilation is at hand.
- Chapters 26-33: Trillian, using deductive reasoning, figures out the motivation behind the Krikkiters' xenophobia, and talks them out of their destructive plans.
- Epilogue: Sets up parts of the So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish: the existence of God's final message to his creation; and the further adventures of Arthur Dent.
Now, to untwist the backstory
Twenty billion years ago, the Silastic Armorfiends of Striterax employed Hactar, a supercomputer, to design "an Ultimate Weapon" for them that would completely vanquish their enemies.
Hactar designed a bomb that, when deployed, would connect the hearts of every major sun and thus precipitate a universal supernova, ending all life in the universe.
The Armorfiends summarily used the bomb to blow up a munitions dump.
When the bomb failed to detonate, the Armorfiends discovered that Hactar had got the guilts about destroying the universe, and had made the bomb impotent. They proceeded to pulverise Hactar.
Hactar, however, was a special type of computer, whose constituent parts contained the DNA for his overall structure; so even though he now resembled a cloud of dust floating in space, he was in fact functional.
Hactar decided to fulfill his original function, and encompassed the star Krikkit and its sole planet. As a dust cloud, Hactar's presence obliterated any view of the galaxy or universe beyond.
After ten billion years, sentient life evolved on Krikkit, blissfully unaware of the concept of 'others'. Slowly nurtured by Hactar, the Krikkiters eventually discovered a universe beyond their sun, and since it conflicted with their concept of life, the universe and everything, they decided to get rid of it - the rest of the universe, that is.
Armed with Krikkit robots, the Krikkiters descended upon the galaxy with a hitherto unknown ferocity, and the ensuing struggle with the galactic defenses lasted for roughly two thousand years.
At the war crimes trial, the Krikkiters were sentenced to have their world enclosed in a Slo-Time envelope, inside which time would proceed at an almost infinitely s-l-o-w pace, relative to outside: ten billion years in the galaxy-at-large would equate to five years on Krikkit. At the universe's end, Krikkit would be released from the envelope, and the Krikkiters would continue their existence as the solitary inhabitants of the universe.