'Hitchhiker' author returns to his routes

November 09, 1992|By Karol V. Menzie

Douglas Adams certainly has a way with words. Fans of his ultra-dry wit and elegant grammar will be happy to know he's back in form in his latest book; equally delightful, he's back in the realm that he (and his fans) know best.

After a couple of flirtations with other subjects -- ghost detectives and vengeful Norse gods -- Mr. Adams' "Mostly Harmless" returns to "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." It is billed as "the fifth book in the increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhiker's Trilogy."

Arthur Dent is back, hapless as ever; and so is his nemesis (or savior, depending on your point of view) Ford Prefect, native of a small planet near Betelgeuse who spend 15 years compiling data on Earth, only to have it reduced by editors to the two words that are the new book's title. Prefect is still dodging accountants and suborning robots; Arthur is still dodging technology and looking for a reasonable facsimile of Earth. Then there is Tricia McMillan, a British TV presenter with a background in -- well, never mind.

It is Mr. Adams' genius to hurl readers into a plot that seems to go everywhere and nowhere, then suddenly drop the pieces into place, click, click, click, like tumblers in a lock.

There are "Hitchhiker" fans who refuse to believe Mr. Adams will ever equal the original effort, which is not fair to an author who is the Monty Python of print, bringing absurdity, idiocy and extreme literacy to the field of humor -- and bringing humor to the genre of science fiction, which desperately needs it.

Mr. Adams may not always be screamingly funny, but he is always original.

He is, besides, the eschatologist of the 20th century. His suggestions about how the world might end are both horrifying and hilarious: In the first "Hitchhiker's Guide," Earth was casually scheduled for demolition to make way for a new hyperspace bypass.

The logic and naturalness of his narrative is part of its horror. Such perfectly ordinary people as Arthur Dent and Tricia McMillan do their best to get on in the face of total chaos. They are, like many of us, intelligent, well-meaning and enduringly baffled. Occasionally they are redeemed, usually through no fault of their own.

If, at the end of the book, you are still not quite sure about the Whole Sort of General Mish Mash and the Axis of Probability, you are probably not alone. Or, as Mr. Adams puts it, "Please feel free to blither now."

Karol Menzie is a food and home writer with The Sun.

'Mostly Harmless'

Author: Douglas Adams

Publisher: Harmony Books

Length, price: 277 pages, $20

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