I have read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and most of its sequels several times over the course of my life. In truth I actually prefer the Dirk Gently duology, I think it’s the better, funnier stories, but Douglas Adams is of course most known for the tale of Arthur Dent. Though in truth, unlike many tales about a character, Arthur Dent only infrequently has much agency, or even apparently cognition of what’s going on around him, and to him.
I actually thought the movie was rather good. Mos def was great as Ford Prefer, Zooey Deschanel a good Trillian, Sam Rockwell a superb Zaphod Beeblebrox, and Martin Freeman a wonderful Arthur Dent, if a bit empowered. But it was a different tale than the original novel, and while I had my issues with what felt like a shoehorned in romance subplot, Douglas Adams himself consulted and helped work on the screenplay, so it’s not as if it’s my place to question it.
Sadly, Douglas Adams is gone. And another British wielder of whimsy is also stolen before his time. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is a confusing enduring endearing series of interrelated, occasionally contradictory, tales, and tackle some issues like sexuality and gender and race and creed in ways that are baroque but not hamfisted.
I finally read Mostly Harmless just recently, and I was saddened. Saddened because, I felt it was a rather dreary end to a fun quadology, and though at least circular in the way that stories often are, it reminded me of Douglas Adams absence, and also dealt an off-screen death to Arthurs happiness, finally achieved in the 4th book, So Long and Thanks for all the Fish. I almost wish I hadn’t read it.
The universe is in fact often a silly place. Many of the things, things we take for granted, are in fact rather absurd, and the way we live our lives simply accepts those absurdities as given. Whimsical science fiction, dare I say speculative fiction, can challenge those perceptions, and make us see them, reflect on them, even gently mock them, while not making people feel attacked or criticized for living their way of life. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is mostly a series of characters going to places that are either Space-Brittain or Not-Space-Brittain. The people of the Galaxy that some Hitchhike about (and they are quintessentially people) don’t live significantly different lives, for all that they take space cruisers instead of sea cruises, and eat space biscuits rather than regular biscuits, though appallingly they can’t seem to get any tea. One might opine that the HGttG suffers of a lack of imagination, of course in space people would live different lives, and aliens wouldn’t be people at all, they’d be fundamentally alien. But of course, that isn’t the kind of science fiction that HGttG is, it’s rather the kind that attempts to show that, even in space, even traveling interplanetary or interstellar, we’d still confront many of the same issues, emotional and practical, as humans confront today. And that, fundamentally, if we go into space as we are now then appalling futures like “planet Starbucks” is not far from the horizon.
The disgusting flaunting of wealth that was the penis race of the billionaires is reflective of this dark reality, a future in space, if it has comedic elements is probably likely to be closely related to Avenue 5 than The Orville. And Science Fiction and Fantasy seem to be headed further and further down into this dark hole. The endless exploration of fascism and it’s ramifications almost seems unnecessary – those who are capable of understanding and seeing fascism don’t need magic fascism explored yet again. But there are endless repetitions of it, and it’s not reaching the people who are needing to be reached.
It’s entirely possible that I’m just out of touch, but it really seems to me as the Douglas Adams, and the Lewis Carrols are no more. I miss Terry Pratchet, more keenly every day. It’s entirely possible that I am truly starting to get old, my taste has ossified. I worry about that. What may be new and quirky isn’t new and quirky to me, just dull and tiresome. Noise, so to speak. When it does occur now it seems to invariably be young adult.
Does the future have to be grim dark?
Can we no longer even imagine a future that isn’t grim and dark?
Or perhaps we can only imagine… in the brilliant neon huge of the future there is only capitalism and societal collapse.
Or maybe it’s just me.