Review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Wow.  That’s the first time I’ve ever written a review and put “Review” in the title.  This is an historic moment.

Okay.  Moment over.  On with the review.

I finished the first book in the Eclectic Reader Challenge (more information under the “The Challenge” tab) in a shockingly short amount of time.  Granted, this is the first full book I’ve read since the Great LOTR Debacle (Omnitopia Dawn doesn’t count, as I had already gotten started on it beforehand), so it’ll probably take some time for me to get used to Normal Reading Speed once more.

Then again, it was a pretty short book, all told.  Only about 143 pages.  Those pages were pretty small type and pretty big pages, but still.

Don’t think this meant the book was lacking in anything, because it wasn’t.  I was expecting it to be funny, but I wasn’t expecting this quality of humor.  It got to the point where I was making a friend read certain passages because they were just too darn hilarious to pass up.  Highlights included Marvin the Paranoid Android (although I didn’t really get the Paranoid part, as he’s more clinically depressed than anything else) and Eddie the computer.  Although, really, the whole thing was great fun to read.

Aside from the humor, though, I didn’t expect the book to be so satirical.  Irony and sheer wit pervaded the book from the very first page. It contained a surprising amount of commentary on human nature (mostly the more absurd things we do) and society.  The book also sometimes breaks from the main narrative to reveal an interesting tidbit or other from the actual Guide.

One of the novel’s main themes (if I can call it that) is the phenomenon of extraordinary (and meaningless, according to the author) coincidences happening when they are extremely improbable.  Improbability actually factors a lot into the humor and the plot of the story, and here’s where the science-fiction portion of it all comes in.  There’s one scene in particular where the power of improbability is causing all sorts of strange and wonderful things to happen to our main characters, and the reader just has to go along with it.  There’s no making sense of it all, but somehow I could still follow along, and that, to me, is a mark of extremely good writing.

Speaking of the main characters, just one thing I wanted to point out here: there are four (not counting Marvin) main passengers on the Heart of Gold (which is their spaceship): the humans Trillian and Arthur Dent, and the residents of Betelgeuse Five, Zaphod Beeblebrox and Ford Prefect.  I simply wanted to point out that aside from Zaphod being in possession of two heads and three arms, both of these otherworldly individuals are humanoid.  Now, I realize that Ford had to blend in with the humans, and that from a writing standpoint Adams probably wanted us as readers to be able to relate to these characters better than if they were, say, Hoovooloos (which are superintelligent shades of the color blue), but it just seems a little strange to me that two aliens should be so human in appearance, when the author literally had an entire galaxy’s worth of imagined species to choose from.  This also happens, presumably, with the old man on Magrathea, because the narrator doesn’t note anything strange about his own appearance.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it does help to relate to the characters and lends more to the action if I don’t have to keep worrying about how a certain character’s movements and whatnot “look” in my head.  I simply thought it was interesting.

And another thing: the plot was spectacularly paced.  One subplot led straight into another seamlessly.  Even the different books of the trilogy read straight into each other.  When I finished the last page, I was ready to just dive immediately into the first page of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.  Brilliantly plotted, overall.

And, well, I suppose those are my thoughts on this particular novel.  If we’re rating this…3.5 out of 5 stars.  It would be a four, but I did think the characters were a bit flat.  Either they had oversimplified personalities or really they had no distinct personality at all, and the fact that this was written mostly just to be funny can’t change my opinion that something is lacking.  Maybe Adams flushes them out a little in subsequent books, but I feel this should have been done within the first novel.

This concludes this month’s review.  Next month I will be reviewing a different book, of a different genre, with different pictures.  In the interim, I just finished The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and just started on Scott Westerfeld’s Goliath this weekend.

Side note: John Green’s novel was incredible.

Happy reading.

A Matter of Character

Hello, readers!  Once more, it is my turn to contribute to the terrific Teens Can Write, Too! blog chain.  This month, we get into the nitty-gritty parts of writing, those elements that regularly induce psychotic meltdowns and reduce even the hardiest writer to screaming at his or her keyboard in a fit of unbridled literary rage.

This month’s prompt was, and I quote, “How do you develop and relate to your characters?”  Let us begin.

I generally assume when writing posts that you have at one time or another attempted to write a novel.  Therefore, you’ve had some dealing with characters and how…complex they can be.

I’ve had my fair share of character encounters, but I’ve never really thought about how I develop them until now.  So, let’s delve into the word-filled land that is my writerly brain, shall we?

Let’s use an example for this.  We’ll call him Ryan, and for the sake of context let’s say he lives in a spaceship on its way to colonizing an alien planet (did you really expect me to make a realistic example?).  Now, I have some say in the basic personalities of my characters, but beyond that they like to surprise me by taking control- that is, it’s extremely hard for me to simply do whatever I want with them.  A lot of things I try will just not work.  Instead, it’s up to me to figure out what they want to do and to make sure their roles and actions within the plot fit their personalities, not the other way around.

So how do I get to know Ryan?  Well, I’ve found that a good way to test a character’s…um…character is through reactions.  How does Ryan react to other people on the ship?  How do the other colonists react to him?  How do I want my readers to see him?  If Ryan accidentally locks himself out of the ship with only ten minutes of air in his helmet, will he freak out?  Call for help?  Or find a way to get inside without any assistance?  It helps if I try to put myself in Ryan’s shoes and see through his eyes, as it were.

I think having a good background for a character also goes a long way towards deciding why they act the way they do.  For example, Ryan might have been raised on the spaceship.  He knows his way around everything.  Therefore, he wouldn’t be the type to freak out and he would calmly open the air lock using the external switch.

I was going to draw a picture of Ryan...but then I remembered...I can't draw.

I used to think it was strange when an author said they felt like they had no control over their characters, but now I completely understand.  When something feels awkward in my writing, most of the time it’s because I misrepresented a character somewhere along the way.

I can’t try to force Ryan to suddenly become a different person or make a decision that he wouldn’t normally make.  Once his character is set, there’s no going back, and more often I’ll change the plot sooner than I’ll change the characters.  It’s more work if I have to perform my own version of Extreme Makeover.  I speak from experience.  I’ve scrapped entire plots because early on I made an assumption about a character that turned out to be wrong.  It simply could not be fixed.

My advice is this: please, PLEASE, for the love of ALL THAT IS BOOK NERD, don’t go against what your characters want!

As for physical traits, I have a lot more control- at least for basic things (hair color, skin tone, etc).  Sometimes background information helps with this, and sometimes not.  The physical traits that can be changed, like hair style and clothing, are determined by personality.

On to names.  Names are tricky, and for this type of thing I absolutely love websites like this one when I need a little inspiration.  I’ve posted before about the importance of picking a good name for your character.  Essentially, if one decides that a character is going to have a name that means something, that name should completely fit the character.  That includes not only the meaning of the name but also, if it works with the story, the region or language from which it originates.  Again, background comes in handy.

And that’s basically it.  I love all my characters because they’re all unique and they all have a different story.  I don’t believe in there just being one story (the protagonist’s) for every book or series.  Every character has something to contribute and a different tale to tell.  It’s how you learn to use your characters in the most efficient way possible, how you combine all of the intersecting threads that make up their storylines to create the best one, that counts.  When I learn to do that, I’ll have made it as a writer.

Happy reading!

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