Friday, February 08, 2008

BooksFirst Audio Addendum - Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster Edition

Books Heard

The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams and read by Stephen Fry


When I did my BooksFirst post for this month I neglected to include the audiobook I listened to. I count unabridged audiobooks as being the same as a standard print book. And suitably appropriate for the aural format is The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. More so than even Neverwhere, Hitchhikers Guide is a cross-media beserker that has been (in chronological order I think) a radio show, a television series, a five-volume inappropriately named trilogy, and a movie.

It is to my discredit as a geek that I have never read the entire book all the way through. In my defense, I tried to read it on the cheap while I was in college. Every time I found myself in the bookstore I would read a chapter or two. Unfortunately I kept losing my place and had to abandon the effort.

Many years ago my high school English teacher asked me if there was anything to this Douglas Adams character since many of her students and my fellow nerds were insisting it was a classic on par with the works of Kurt Vonnegut. That is near blasphemy to me. Hitchhikers Guide is many things but a great piece of literature it is not. It’s amusing, cynical, clever, but not particularly transcendent. Ironically, because of its role as a touchstone of geek culture up there with Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, it will probably outlast all the Booker Award Winners of the last half century.

The audiobook is read by the ubiquitous Stephen Fry who is an actor, writer, and director among other things. He is also the voice of the award-winning Harry Potter audiobooks (which I have never heard). I also think that he has done several Terry Pratchett novels, although my Googlin’ skilz are 2 l@m3 2 confirm this.

In many ways the contrast of outsized exaggeration and British understatement serve the written and spoken versions of the series better than the more visual adaptations, although again, I am speaking out of ignorance having never seen any.

I will get around to the rest of the series, either out loud or in print, so in the meantime, Don’t Panic.

What is your favorite version of the Hitchhiker’s Guide?


Anonymous said...

For me, it's a toss-up between the books and the original radio play. The books are able to work in more subtle humor and they also bring in the fourth story (I really dislike Mostly Harmless. OTOH, Adams hadn't really developed as a writer when he wrote the original trilogy and they are somewhat lame in parts.

I don't do audio books. I absolutely cannot stand being read to. It drives me completely up the wall, no matter how good the reader is. I think all of the Discworld books are read by Tony Robinson, and for him I might make an exception. (His use of different voices moves his work closer to an audio play.)

The Mistress of the Dark said...

It's been ages since I read the first one. I have the whole series in one lovely bound edition. I think that's a summer reading project. Right now I'm reading Einstein's bio...but I'm not really sure why.

Anonymous said...

It took me a long time to get through the books because they didn't seem to be especially well-written, although the humor is definitely there. Like you, I kept stopping, stalling out and having to start over. So I have to agree with you about whether Adams deserves a place among Vonnegut et. al.

I've heard that the film was pretty dreadful, but the BBC series is supposed to be really good. I've been pondering purchasing a copy via Amazon.

I don't like being read to, either, but I don't think of audiobooks in that context, so they don't bug me. I like them for road trips. I drive a lot as part of my job, but any given stretch in the car during the work week isn't enough for me to maintain attention.

Anonymous said...

@Claude Actually, it's the other way around. The old BBC series is abominable: production values that are awful even by cheesy 70s BBC standards, terrible casting, bad acting, the works. The movie frames a lot of the jokes in a different way, but it works. Adams was the primary writer of the script, even though they didn't get to filming it until years after his death.

I especially can't listen to audio books in the car. If I'm driving, then I can't really follow the thread of the book. My attention is pulled here and there by the demands of the road.

Outlasting Booker Prize winners isn't much of a feat. Most of them are "literary" writers that no one reads and have very little to offer anyone. But, no, Adams is far from really being worthy of long-lasting fame. A lot of his work is already dated. Pratchett is the one who will still be read 100 years from now, and deservedly so.

Anonymous said...

i love the book. the multi-media extravaganzas don't do much for me, although i did really like the visuals of the guide itself in the recent movie.

stephen fry reads the original uk release of harry potter and the philosopher's stone (the name over the pond for the first one), but jim dale does the reading for the version most commonly found in the us. my favorite stephen fry gig, however, is as the host of QI, a british sort of game show of esoteric knowledge for celebrities. it's on youtube - it's really funny.


flasshe said...

My first exposure to the HHG universe was through the books, which I read in college. I thought the first book was the funniest thing I'd ever read (at the time). Then a co-worker of mine from England lent me the original radio plays, and I have to say that I prefer them to any of the subsequent media. The voice acting and sound effects are superb. Once you've heard them, you can see that the books are really just straight adaptations of the plays, which is maybe why they don't appear to be that polished.