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From the Archives: SF Masterwork of the Week: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral Arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.

Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.

Thus begins, in my opinion, the funniest book ever written. It began life as a radio series, before it became a book, spawned a very good television programme and a very average movie, and somewhere along the way became first a cult hit and then a pop cultural phenomenon. It is, of course, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – an author who really knew where his towel was.

One Thursday lunchtime Earth is unexpectedly demolished to make way for a new hyperspace bypass. For Arthur Dent, who has only just had his house demolished that morning, this is already more than he can cope with. Sadly, however, the weekend has only just begun. And the Galaxy is a very, very large and startling place indeed . . .

The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy became a massive cult success when it was first published and continues to sell all over the world. It introduced such memorable characters as Arthur Dent, Marvin the Paranoid Android, Zaphod Beeblebrox and, of course, the Vogons, and remains one of the funniest, most irreverent and entertaining novels ever.

This is surely the greatest book ever to come out of the great publishing corporations of Ursa Minor and even though it has enjoyed SF Masterwork of the Week status before, we include it again without hesitation. Partly because it’s a wonderful, wonderful book, and partly because our next two SF Masterworks of the week are The Restaurant at the End of the Universe and Life, the Universe and Everything.

That’s a lot bad poetry, paranoid androids, homicidal robots and two-headed ex-Galactic Presidents to get through, but you’ll be fine as long as you remember two little words:

DON’T PANIC!