H2G2: The Good Stuff

blogged his favorite lines from H2G2, I thought I should pick some of mine too. I’m skipping the oft heard ones like 42, Don’t Panic, Mostly Harmless and So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish. The list can go on forever, so I’m restricting myself to 3:

  • When the Drink button was pressed it made an instant but highly detailed examination of the subject’s taste buds, a spectroscopic analysis of the subject’s metabolism and then sent tiny experimental signals down the neural pathways to the taste centres of the subject’s brain to see what was likely to go down well. However, no one knew quite why it did this because it invariably delivered a cupful of liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea. — I doubt anyone can write delicate titillating prose like this anymore. I distinctly remember the first time I came across it in a beautiful article that appeared in PC World India. This was way way back, before I’d even heard of H2G2.
  • He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it.
  • The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why and Where phases. For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question “How can we eat?” the second by the question “Why do we eat?” and the third by the question “Where shall we have lunch?”

What’s your line(s) from the book?

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy

In between the hangover-inducing-oversleep of the CNY holidays, I also managed to kickstart my ambition to read the full H2G2 series (which is a 5-book-trilogy now) by reading the first one – The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. This is the second time I’m reading it, having attempted something similar a few years back which had stopped after The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe (the second one). As the book starts off, human Arthur Dent is rescued by his alien friend Ford Prefect just before Earth is destroyed by Vogons to make way for an interstellar expressway. Ford turns out to be an author for the H2G2 which is like a Lonely Planet for the Galaxy. They hitch a ride on the Heart Of Gold, a spaceship stolen by Ford’s semicousin Zaphod Beeblebrox. Also on the ship are the eternally depressed robot Marvin and Arthur’s love interest Trillian. By the end of the book, the reader discovers the answer to the Great Question of Life, the Universe and Everything and also the secret of what Earth was — a computer to figure out the Ultimate Question for which the answer (42) is known!

The book is a short, light and funny zany read. I was really able to appreciate the sci-fi humour better this time around. (Watching the movie recently helped too.) As you read along you will notice loads of terms and quotes which have entered our daily life from this book. It is easy to see that Douglas Adams must’ve just patched on the story as and when he got ideas without building a coherent base. That’s not actually a problem since H2H2 never asks to be taken seriously. If sarcasm is your kind of humour, it’s hard to not like this book.

Fahrenheit 451

The really scary fact about Fahrenheit 451 is that it is more true page-for-page today than when Ray Bradbury typed it all out sitting in the UCLA library basement in 1953. How ironic that this is a book about burning of books which I read while I was burning with a fever! The novel follows a fireman named Guy Montag living in a dystopian country which is at war, where people just wanna be happy at any cost, watch live TV all day, listen to something-like-radio and books are nowhere. Since all homes were fireproofed a long time ago, the real job of firemen like Montag is to burn books. Books are seen as stokers of discussion, rebellion and dissent and hence the anti-intellectual public have banned them. Anyone who is found to possess books is jailed and their books soaked in kerosene and torched by the firemen. The only media that survives isn’t much different from today’s reality TV, tabloid papers and 24 hour music FM.

Montag sees crazy people everyday who are ready to die for their books and just doesn’t understand why they do that. Secretly, he has been storing away a book or two at these book burnings. He runs into a new neighbour Clarisse who seems to never tire of enjoying the outside world and asking Why? about everything. One day she too disappears (the system having dealt with this rebel) and Montag starts to read the books he’s been hiding. He is blown away by what he reads and confronts his boss Captain Beatty to talk about it. Montag discovers that Beatty is actually well read and can parry all his queries with this knowledge. Having no escape from this knowledge hating world, Montag is forced to ally with an English professor, kill Beatty and join a band of outcasts who have turned themselves into walking books, having stored it all to memory.

I don’t really remember why I had added this book to my to-read list. I’m guessing Fahrenheit 9/11 had something to do with it. The name of the book is inspired by the temperature at which book paper catches fire: 451°F. Ray Bradbury is good, the simple words ache with poetry but kill with their potency. The author mentions that the inspiration for the book came from the McCarthyism, self-censorship, Nazi book burnings and a future of nuclear war in the 1940-50s. There is not a single thing about the book that in 2007 seems out of place. That is whats really scary about it. At just 172 pages it’s a short quick read. If you can’t find time for the book, at least do read the author’s excellent preface (titled Burning Bright) written for the 1993 edition.

– – –

An excerpt where Beatty explains to Montag how and why the world came to be like this:

“When did it all start, you ask, this job of ours, how did it come about, where, when? Well, I’d say it really got started around about a thing called the Civil War. Even though our rule-book claims it was founded earlier. The fact is we didn’t get along well until photography came into its own. Then–motion pictures in the early twentieth century. Radio. Television. Things began to have mass.”

[…]

“And because they had mass, they became simpler,” said Beatty. “Once, books appealed to a few people, here, there, everywhere. They could afford to be different. The world was roomy. But then the world got full of eyes and elbows and mouths. Double, triple, quadruple population. Films and radios, magazines, books levelled down to a sort of paste pudding norm”

[…]

“Picture it. Nineteenth-century man with his horses, dogs, carts, slow motion. Then, in the twentieth century, speed up your camera. Books cut shorter. Condensations, Digests. Tabloids. Everything boils down to the gag, the snap ending.”

[…]

“Classics cut to fit fifteen-minute radio shows, then cut again to fill a two-minute book column, winding up at last as a ten- or twelve-line dictionary resume. I exaggerate, of course. The dictionaries were for reference. But many were those whose sole knowledge of Hamlet (you know the title certainly, Montag; it is probably only a faint rumour of a title to you, Mrs. Montag) whose sole knowledge, as I say, of Hamlet was a one-page digest in a book that claimed: now at least you can read all the classics; keep up with your neighbours. Do you see? Out of the nursery into the college and back to the nursery; there’s your intellectual pattern for the past five centuries or more.”

[…]

“School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosophies, histories, languages dropped, English and spelling gradually neglected, finally almost completely ignored. Life is immediate, the job counts, pleasure lies all about after work. Why learn anything save pressing buttons, pulling switches, fitting nuts and bolts?”

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