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The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, by Douglas Adams (pub. 1980)
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Caution: spoilers!

(The story contained in this book is a substantially reworked and contracted version of episodes 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 5, and 6 [in that order] of the radio series.)

When we last left our heroes (and heroine), they were about to get a bite to eat. And in the radio series, that is in fact what they did next. But in this version of the story, it will be some time before they do so. Meanwhile, I should now reveal something to you that I didn't reveal in my previous review. It had been revealed in the first book that the Earth, in fact, was a giant computer built by the Magratheans, under contract from pan-dimensional beings who were seeking the Ultimate Question. These beings (or their ancestors) had previously built a computer called Deep Thought, whose sole purpose was to calculate the Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything. It took Deep Thought seven and a half million years to figure out the Answer... which was 42. Obviously, this made no sense, because they didn't know the actual Question. So Deep Thought then designed the computer that would be known as Earth, the purpose of which... I've already explained. The Earth would take ten million years to run the program that would ultimately provide the Question. Unfortunately, the Vogons ended up destroying the Earth five minutes before the program would have been completed.

Now, there was a psychiatrist (or "brain care specialist") named Gag Halfrunt, who was mentioned briefly in the first book. In this, the second book, it turns out that he was actually responsible for hiring the Vogons to destroy the Earth, in order to prevent the Ultimate Question from getting out, for fear that it would put an end to any need for his profession in the future. (How he knew about the Ultimate Question, I have no idea.) And when he learned that Arthur and Trillian had survived the Earth's destruction (by the way, I don't suppose I mentioned in my previous review that Earth was the planet where Zaphod had picked Trillian up, six months before its destruction), Halfrunt then orders the Vogons to pursue and destroy the Heart of Gold, and the last two humans with it. (Zaphod and Ford would be unfortunate collateral damage.) However, in order to escape from the Vogon ship, Zaphod decides to hold a seance. Because of course he does. He summons the spirit of his late great-grandfather, Zaphod Beeblebrox the Fourth. The two of them argue for awhile, before ZB4 apparently uses ghost powers to manipulate the Infinite Improbability Drive. (Incidentally, it seems all of Zaphod's race have two heads and possibly three arms, which seems like a contradiction to the idea that he himself had had them surgically attached, but these books, and the various other media in which the story exists, make no particular attempts at continuity.)

The Heart of Gold then disappears just as it should have been destroyed, and so to the Vogons (and Halfrunt), it appears that it has been destroyed. Meanwhile, Zaphod himself disappears from the ship, and finds himself on the planet Ursa Minor Beta, outside the headquarters of the publishing company of the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." (The fictional one, I mean.) Back on the ship, Arthur, Ford, and Trillian are left to wonder what the hell is going on, where they are, and where Zaphod is. The next part of the story basically focuses on Zaphod. And to an extent, Marvin, who had also appeared on Ursa Minor Beta. Zaphod is looking for a man named Zarniwoop, whom he's never heard of, but whose name apparently his great-grandfather had put into his head. A man named Roosta takes Zaphod to Zarniwoop's office, while the building is being bombed (because it is now known that Zaphod had survived the supposed destruction of his ship). Finally, his pursuers stop bombing the building and simply latch onto it and fly it to another planet, Frogstar World B. There, Zaphod is subjected to the most horrible torture device ever built, the Total Perspective Vortex. But he survives it, and subsequently finds Zarniwoop, who gets him back to the Heart of Gold. (Marvin, alas, is left on Frogstar World B, which aside from the Total Perspective Vortex, is entirely desolate.)

Well, I've left out a great many details, of course. But next I must say that, immediately after Zaphod is reunited with his friends and Arthur, the four of them all vanish, leaving the ship in Zarniwoop's hands. Meanwhile, they find themselves, finally, at Milliways... the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. I don't want to say too much about what goes on there, except of course that there's drinking, and eating, and witnessing the end of the Universe. Well, also Ford tries to speak with another patron, an old friend of his named Hotblack Desiato, the ajuitar player and front man for the loudest rock band ever, Disaster Area. I mention him mainly so I can mention that over the years, whenever I've thought of him, I've never been quite able to remember whether his name was Hotblack Desiato or Desiato Hotblack. I also mention him because a bit later, our heroes (and heroine) will steal one of his ships. Meanwhile, I also want to mention that, before ordering their meal, our heroes are introduced to the Dish of the Day, an animal which was bred specifically so that it could tell people it wants to be eaten. Less cruel that way, obviously, though understandably, Arthur has no stomach for the idea of eating anything that can hold an intelligent conversation. And the main reason I mention the animal is because before being introduced, Zaphod says "We'll meet the meat." It has always bothered me that he was able to make that pun, since it should only work in English, presumably not in Zaphod's language (Betelgeusian, I suppose). But it's not important.

Anyway, they're soon reunited with Marvin, who currently has a job parking spaceships at Milliways. It turns out the Restaurant was built on what used to be Frogstar World B. Zaphod and the others had not traveled in space when they vanished from the Heart of Gold, but merely traveled hundreds of thousands of millions of years into the future. And Marvin has been there all those many millennia, having a simply dreadful time (as always). So... they steal one of Hotblack's ships, which turns out to be a very bad idea, because it's stuck on autopilot, for reasons I won't go into. But they'll die if they can't get off it again, which they finally do, using a teleporter. Unfortunately, its controls hadn't been fully hooked up, so they couldn't control where they went. This, by the way, is after the ship had gone back in time, to around two million years earlier than the time they had originally vanished from. After taking the teleporter, Ford and Arthur find themselves on another spaceship, which ends up crashing on another planet. (I remember once upon a time having thought of something about the occupants of that ship, who were from the planet Golgafrincham. Something that didn't make sense to me, and which I intended to mention whenever I might get around to re-reading the book and writing a review. So I wrote it down on a scrap of paper. And I think I stuck it in the omnibus I'm currently reading [unless it was the one I gave to my cousins, years and years ago]. Either way, the note isn't here now, and I have no memory of what it was that I wanted to say. However, there's a fair chance that whatever it was, wasn't important. In fact it's also possible that at some point I realized that what I thought didn't make sense actually did make sense, or else that it didn't matter that it didn't make sense, and I threw away the note, and later forgot that I had done so. But it doesn't matter.)

Well, I don't want to say any more about the planet that the Golgafrinchans and Ford and Arthur crash onto, but I will say that they survive. And make a discovery about that planet, which I won't spoil. And they find a way to figure out the Ultimate Question, or... maybe not. It's hard to say, really. But it's not important. Meanwhile, the teleporter had somehow sent Zaphod and Trillian back to the Heart of Gold (apparently in their own time, rather than two million years before their time). So they're reunited with Zarniwoop. Oh, and... one thing I did mention in my review of the first book was that Zaphod's brains had been tampered with. What I didn't say was that Zaphod himself had done the tampering. And in this book, we learn that others, including Zarniwoop, were involved in the reason behind that, which wasn't actually (as reported in the previous book) to find Magrathea. Rather, it was to find the person who actually rules the Universe, which they could only do with the Heart of Gold. I think it's odd that at one point, Zarniwoop says Zaphod has changed, since doing what he'd done to his brain. It's odd because as far as I can tell, the personality he has now is very much like the one described in the first book when Ford and Zaphod were talking about the kinds of shenanigans they got up to when they were younger. But whatever. In the present, Zaphod has no interest in meeting the man who secretly rules the Universe, but the three of them do meet him. Personally, I quite liked the guy. But Zarniwoop was frustrated as hell by him. Also, Zaphod and Trillian ditch Zarniwoop and take off on the Heart of Gold without him.

Well, and then there's more stuff with Ford and Arthur. But basically, that's the end of the story, for now. Lots of terribly interesting and hilarious and bizarre stuff happens, most of which I've left out. I don't think I liked this book quite as much as the first one, though in part that may be because I wasn't in the best frame of mind while reading the early part of the book. Depression may have muddled my ability to properly appreciate it. Or maybe it's because there was so much I didn't really remember from the first time I read it, and... I just feel like remembering things about this series is half the fun. But eventually there were quite a few bits that I did remember. And I think the later parts were mostly better, anyway. (Although I also think there were some things, not actual plot but... things... that were repeated from the first book, maybe.) And... I don't know what else to tell you, except that this might be a good time for you to listen to "What a Wonderful World."

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