The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams (pub. 1979)
Amazon; B&N; DouglasAdams.com; Goodreads; isfdb; Penguin Random House; TV Tropes; Wikia; Wikipedia
(The story contained in this book is an expanded and somewhat altered retelling of the story contained in the first four episodes of the radio series.)
I started re-reading this book on my 42nd birthday, in September 2017. (If you've ever read or seen or heard any version of the story, you'll already know why I chose that age to re-read the series.) I plan on reading the rest of the series throughout this year of my life, finishing hopefully before my next birthday. (Of course, I intend to read unrelated books in between each book of the Hitchhiker series, just to keep things interesting. Not that it's really necessary; all the books in this series can't help but be interesting.) I do want to mention that for this review, I read an individual copy of the first book. I really don't remember where or when I got this copy, or whether I first read it before or after I bought an omnibus of the complete series. Certainly that omnibus was where I first read the rest of the books in the series, but since I don't have it anymore (and have never owned any individual copies of the other books), for the rest of my reviews I'll be reading a newer omnibus, which I bought quite a few years ago and haven't read until now. (Or rather, won't read until I start the second book, in early 2018.)
So... what to say about this book? First of all, it's more humor than sci-fi. It's quite simply one of the funniest, cleverest, most absurd things I've ever read. The turns of phrase, the ways of looking at things in unexpected ways, and um... everything. It's the little things that ultimately made this book (and its sequels) my favorite books ever (and made Douglas Adams my favorite writer). But the plot is important, too, of course. And the characters. I just don't want to spoil too much about it, so it may be hard for me to decide exactly what to divulge. I suppose the first plot point to mention is that the title of the book also refers to a book-within-the-book, of the same title. And interspersed throughout the plot of the real book are entries from the fictional "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." The prologue sounds a lot like one of those entries, but I don't think it actually is. Anyway, it sets the tone pretty well.
Then, in chapter one, we meet a fairly normal, 30-year-old Englishman named Arthur Dent. His house is about to be demolished to make way for a bypass that's to be constructed. He does his best to protest this, by lying down in front of the bulldozer, but then his friend, Ford Prefect, shows up and insists on taking him to a pub for a few pints of beer. Ford says that the planet is about to be destroyed. And sure enough, a fleet of Vogon constructor ships soon show up above the Earth to do just that (to make way for a hyperspace express route). Luckily, Ford manages to hitch a ride on one of the ships, and brings Arthur along with him. As it turns out, Ford is not from Earth, but rather from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse. ("Ford" also isn't his real name, and we don't actually learn his real name. Though we do learn a nickname that he used to be called, since his childhood, but that's not important. Even after he leaves the Earth, everyone will just call him "Ford," and in fact one of the things about this book that has never really made sense to me is how people who had never known him by that name seemed to automatically know to call him that, now. But that, too, is unimportant.) Anyway, he was a roving researcher for the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a sort of electronic book that has all sorts of information about all sorts of planets and other interesting things, throughout the galaxy. Somehow, Ford had come to be stranded on Earth fifteen years earlier, so he's happy to get off this backwater planet, after all that time. Arthur, of course, is rather upset about his homeworld being destroyed.
Meanwhile, on the planet Damogran, a ceremony is taking place which will unveil the brand new starship Heart of Gold, the propulsion system of which is powered by the recently-developed Infinite Improbability Drive. Ford's semicousin, Zaphod Beeblebrox, who is probably the most outrageous character in the history of the galaxy, had become President of the Galaxy specifically so that he could be present at this ceremony, so that he could steal the ship. He's accompanied by a brilliant and beautiful woman he'd picked up at a party on another planet, six months earlier. Her name is Tricia McMillan, though now everyone calls her "Trillian." (Incidentally, years after I first read this book, there was an instant messenger I quite liked that was called Trillian, which let one monitor various other instant messengers simultaneously. It was the sort of thing I'd been wishing for for a few years or so, so I was quite glad to discover its existence, and even gladder that it happened to be named after this character. But of course I haven't used it or any instant messengers in quite a few years now, though I suppose some version of the app still exists.) Anyway... Ford and Arthur had been teleported aboard the Vogon ship by cooks of a race called Dentrassis, which they did mainly to annoy the Vogons. When the stowaways are discovered, it's not long before they're tossed out the airlock into space. Thirty seconds later, the Heart of Gold rescues them from certain death. Once aboard, they meet a depressed robot (also referred to as a "paranoid android," though I'm pretty sure neither "paranoid" nor "android" are truly apt descriptions of him) named Marvin.
Soon after that, we learn that Zaphod had stolen the Heart of Gold specifically to search for a legendary planet called Magrathea, home of an ancient race of people who had custom-built planets for the fabulously wealthy people of the former Galactic Empire. But that industry ended millions of years ago, when it ruined the galactic economy. Ford, like most people, doesn't believe any of this, but Zaphod is certain Magrathea is real. And it turns out he's right. On the planet, Arthur meets an old man named Slartibartfast, who explains some things to him. Things that ultimately involve Earth, but here we're getting into the part of the story that I really don't want to spoil. (In fact I've already left out a great many details, such as the fact that Ford, as well as most aliens Arthur will meet, look human enough. And Zaphod does, too, except that he's had a third arm and second head surgically attached, presumably sometime in the past six months, as he didn't have them when he first met Trillian. Although there are things about the timing of all this that are a bit confusing to me, because of a subplot involving some tampering that had been done to Zaphod's brains, which I think happened before he met Trillian. But best not to think too deeply about that, at least not just now. Anyway, the point is, even after mentioning this, in passing, there are still many details of the story that I've left out.)
So, I really don't know what else to say, except that at the very end of the book, Zaphod suggests getting a quick bite at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.