Thursday, March 22, 2018

March's Book: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams
Science Fiction (1980 - 166 pp.)

This is my first time reviewing a Douglas Adams book since I reviewed the first in this series, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, in August 2012. At the rate I'm going, I'll finish the fifth and last book in 2036, just before I turn 50. Suffice to say my five-book set might last me a surprisingly long time.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe is filled with laughs, much like all the other Douglas Adams work I know. Arthur Dent is well into his journey now, having heard Vogon poetry and having learned the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything. It's rather difficult, though, for him to acquire tea. In the first few pages, Arthur encounters a machine that will tailor a drink to him, which first insists on making him an unidentifiable, horrible-tasting concoction and then saying "Share and Enjoy!" When Arthur requests tea, the machine wonders aloud why anyone would want to drink boiled leaves. When Arthur requests milk, the machine asks, "squirted from a cow?" (154-156)

Zaphod Beeblebrox, who is convinced he is the coolest person in the universe, naturally ends up being the one to be plunged into the Total Perspective Vortex. Anyone else exposed to this nefarious machine/well would be so devastated by the amount of perspective s/he would suddenly have that s/he would nearly perish. It's not so great to be able to see your surroundings - and yourself - in every light, after all. Not for Zaphod, though. His guide, Gargavarr, says, "And you saw the whole infinity of creation?" To which Zaphod replies: "Sure. Really neat place, you know that?" (199)

Much of the second half of the book takes place in the eponymous restaurant, Milliways. Adams includes a charming story on how the restaurant came to be (213), along with the scientific difficulty in ensuring that a restaurant can always be at the end of an ever-expanding universe. The solution helps the characters get there; Milliways must exist in both space and time, so people can make reservations for any past or future time.

This calls into question what the Universe really is. Thankfully, Adams provides an encyclopedia article. In 2018, it'd be a Wikipedia article, but back then it was... Grolier, perhaps? Some of favourites are some of the shortest and tersest.

AREA: Infinite.
EXPORTS: None. (243-244)

Finally, the book ends with Dent being asked to recommend a book. Which one, of course? "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," he said at last. (309) This mirrors Zaphod's comment at the end of the first book, when he says the characters are going to the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. (143)

One of Adams's greatest pieces of wisdom is political, which almost feels out of place in the fantastical outer-space land/air/vacuum except that nothing would be out of place. So I leave you with this: "To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are also, ipso facto, least suited to do it." (278)*

Wikipedia has a better plot summary than I can provide here. These are admittedly scattered thoughts, but The Restaurant at the End of the Universe is really just a stream of hilarious highlights.

Ease of Reading: 7
Educational Content: 2

*Adams also uses the word "palaver" on the same page. If I ever use it, I don't want to be told it's too obscure a word to appear in literature!

NOTE: In a bizarre similarity to another book I didn't see coming, but that may point to the popularity of Scrabble in the '80s, Dent makes the word EXQUISITE on a triple word score against Trillian, the other Earthling on the voyage. (186) This unlikely sequence of letters (there are only one X and one Q in 100 tiles) is reminiscent of the Scrabble scenes in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, released five years later.

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