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An Adams retrospective: is 42 still the answer?

By Branko Brkic 5 October 2009

The world has moved on since Zaphod Beeblebrox set the standard for executive government malfeasance and we were introduced to the second worst poetry in the universe. But perhaps it hasn't gone far enough to remove the need for a good towel.

You remember how it starts, right? One Thursday at lunchtime, the earth is suddenly demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass. Of course you remember, because hereby begin the adventures of Arthur Dent, who is plucked off the planet by his inimitable mate Ford Prefect, an interstellar travel book researcher posing as an out-of-work actor.

In this best-selling, genre-defining series, author Douglas Adams goes on to subject Dent to a range of plausibly ridiculous yet amusingly banal cosmic scenarios (the juxtaposition of these two adjectival phrases, it could be argued, is the very essence of the books’ success). From The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Adams’s opening gambit in 1979, through The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980), Life, the Universe and Everything (1982), So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish (1984) and finally Mostly Harmless (1992), we follow the hapless Dent as he repeatedly makes the mistake of trying to enjoy himself while working out Creation’s eternal mysteries.

But is Dent as relevant and appealing in 2009 as he was thirty years ago? Or, more precisely, could 42 still be ‘The Answer’? Guardian writer Jenny Turner, in a lengthy and detailed meditation on these profound questions, is in two minds. ‘[The] universe, 1979-style, would have seemed different from the one we know, and don’t know, today,’ she writes, ‘with space travel, in the years between the Moon landings and the Challenger disaster, both current and glamorous-feeling in a way it certainly isn’t now.’

Read more: Guardian

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