Life, the Universe and Everything, by Douglas Adams (pub. 1982)
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Caution: Nearly Total Spoilers!
Well, this is the third book in the Hitchhiker's trilogy, and the first one not to be based on the radio series. In my previous review, I said that Ford and Arthur (and the Golgafrinchans) had crash landed on some planet, two million years in the past. I will now reveal that that planet was Earth. At the start of this book, they've been there for five years, though Arthur and Ford had parted ways four years earlier. Two years before the start of the book, Arthur was visited by an alien named Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged, who called him a jerk, and then left. Of course, Arthur has no idea of his name or what that was all about, but readers get to learn of Wowbagger's story. That is the first part of the book that I've always remembered, though I couldn't have told you which of the Hitchhiker books it happened in. In the present (which is to say, two years after the Wowbagger incident, but still roughly two million years in the past), Ford returns. One of the things he mentions, in passing, is that the Guide tells of there being a knack to flying, though so far he hasn't been able to manage it, himself. (I didn't remember Ford mentioning anything about this, but I did remember something about that particular passage in the Guide, which comes later in the book.) Another thing that Ford mentions is that his Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic has detected eddies in the space-time continuum. And not long after that, a sofa appears in front of them, and runs away. They give chase, and eventually catch it. Once they do, it (and they) disappear from the prehistoric past, and reappear on Lord's Cricket Ground, in London, two days prior to the Vogons destroying the planet (in the first book). I didn't exactly remember any of that.
Ford eventually realizes that there's an S.E.P. field nearby, which stands for "Somebody Else's Problem." It's a sort of camouflage that prevents people from seeing things. The thing this particular S.E.P. is preventing people from seeing is a spaceship, the Bistromath, which turns out to belong to Slartibartfast. He tries to recruit Ford and Arthur to go with him to prevent some terrible threat to the existence of the entire Universe. The ship runs on the principles of "bistromathics," which is of course where the ship's name comes from. (All of this, I remembered.) I won't go into the details of how it works, but of course it's interesting and amusing, because everything Douglas Adams writes is interesting and amusing.
I should also mention that Marvin is stranded on a planet called Squornshellous Zeta, and we learn a bit about what he's been up to. All very depressing, of course. And then a team of white robots appears, steal Marvin's leg, then steal Marvin himself. (These robots had previously stolen something on Earth, while Ford, Arthur, and Slartibartfast were still there.) I hadn't remembered any of this, really.
Meanwhile, on the Heart of Gold, Zaphod has been depressed, because he had achieved his great objective (at the end of the second book), the nature of which had been hidden even from himself, and it had turned out not to be so great, after all. And now he doesn't really know what to do with himself. So he mopes a lot, and gets on Trillian's nerves. So she leaves him, via transporter beam. But not before reading the Guide's entry on flying, under the heading of "Recreational Impossibilities." (I didn't remember that she had read this, so it's not the bit about flying that I've already said I did remember, or at least not her part in it. The actual entry I did remember, just not that she was the one who read it.) The day after Trillian leaves, the white robots show up and steal the ship's Infinite Improbability Drive.
Back on the Bistromath, Slartibartfast shows Ford and Arthur a holographic history (or "Informational Illusion") of the Krikkit Wars, which had lasted approximately two thousand years, cost two grillion lives (I have no idea how many that actually is, but it sure sounds like a lot). The wars ended ten billion years ago. The people of the planet Krikkit had never known about the existence of anything beyond their planet, until a terribly unlikely incident led them to discover the outside Universe's existence. This led them to develop instant and all-consuming xenophobia, which led them to try to destroy everything that wasn't Krikkit. (All this I remembered. And I've always found the whole usage of the name "Krikkit" in this book terribly amusing. Also, I find it sort of tragically apt to be rereading the book in 2018, considering how much xenophobia there is on Earth, lately. But I suppose it's nice that in reality, at least Earth still exists.) After the "masters of Krikkit" were finally defeated, their world was locked within an envelope of Slo-Time, so that very little time would pass on Krikkit while very much time passed everywhere else. Meanwhile, one of their warships, crewed by the team of white robots, had escaped. The robots were now trying to assemble the various pieces of the key that would unlock the envelope their masters' homeworld is sealed within, to release them so they could continue what they'd started, ten billion years ago. This is what Slartibartfast wanted to prevent. Arthur was, as usual, basically confused by all this, while Ford simply wanted nothing to do with it.
Eventually, they all beam down to a party where the final piece of the key is supposed to be. However, Arthur gets diverted elsewhere. This was done by someone called Agrajag, a name that sounds familiar to me, but I don't think I remembered anything about him or this part of the book. It's quite good, though. Agrajag hated Arthur probably more than anyone has ever hated a single individual, and with good reason... despite it all being a coincidence. I won't spoil what that was, but the point is that he now wants to get revenge against Arthur. And he fails. Soon after that, Arthur learns to fly. This is the part I remembered (in addition to the entry about it in the Guide), though strangely enough, Arthur never even read that entry. But readers of the book will understand how he managed it, because of the earlier part involving Trillian reading the Guide. Anyway, it's quite good. But after a bit of flying, he crashes into a flying party, where he is reunited with Ford and Slartibartfast. I really didn't remember anything about the party, but it also turns out to be where our heroes are reunited with Trillian. And... the white robots show up, and get the piece of the key, and leave again. So it seems our heroes have failed to save the universe. Actually, there is something about the party that I remembered, and that's that "Belgium" is a terribly offensive word everywhere in the galaxy except Earth, apparently. (Though I didn't remember that this fact was divulged in this book, let alone this particular party.) Arthur, Ford, and Slartibartfast return to the Bistromath, taking Trillian with them. (She didn't really want to go with them, but Arthur ignored her wishes, which I'd like to point out really isn't okay. But I suppose the story demanded it.)
Trillian then watches the Informational Illusion about Krikkit, as well as one about some other, seemingly unrelated historic event. A bit later, the Bistromath arrives at the Slo-Time envelope surrounding the planet Krikkit, though there doesn't seem to be anything they can do to stop the robots. And they are soon reunited with Zaphod, who had been kidnapped by the robots. However, he just stays long enough to retrieve the Infinite Improbability Drive, after the robots had used the key to unlock the Slo-Time. So he returns to the Heart of Gold, alone. Meanwhile, the others go down to Krikkit, to talk to the people there. Meanwhile, Zaphod returns to Krikkit, or rather to the Robot War Zones, miles above the surface of the planet. There, he finds Marvin. The two of them monitor the others' meeting with the masters of Krikkit on a viewscreen. (Marvin even says something about Trillian that is probably as close to a compliment as he is capable of giving, though Zaphod, of course, being totally self-absorbed, doesn't realize that Marvin is right about her.) It's Trillian who puts together various pieces of information, and manages to avert the end of the Universe. (She also says she's grateful to Arthur for having ignored her wishes back at the party, though I didn't really understand that.) Anyway, after saving the Universe, Arthur, Ford, Trillian, Zaphod, and Marvin return to the Heart of Gold.
And then they return, briefly, to Lord's Cricket Ground, to the same day they had been there previously. Something important happens there, but I won't spoil it. (I'm really sorry, btw, to have spoiled so much, up to this point.) Later, on the Heart of Gold, they meet a half-mad journalist who tells them a story about a trial, on the planet Agrabuthon. Someone named Prak had testified... and I don't want to give anything away about that, either, but I will say the concept at the center of this part of the story is one of the things I'd always remembered, even if I didn't remember any details, nor could I have told you which book it happened in. Then they go to Agrabuthon, to meet Prak for themselves. He's terribly amused to meet Arthur, for a reason that isn't revealed (as far as I can tell), so that left me pretty confused. (But quite possibly it'll be explained in the next book; if so, it's one of the things I've forgotten about the series.) Anyway, Arthur asks Prak about the Ultimate Question, which he knows about for a reason I won't go into. Unfortunately... what he says about it seems to permanently negate the possibility of Arthur ever learning the Question. (This disappoints me, but I suppose no Question ever could have been truly satisfying, and I appreciate the way Douglas Adams got around the need of ever providing one.) Prak also mentions the final message from God to his creation, that is to say, the people of the Universe. He tells Arthur where the message is, but not what it is. (And I do actually remember what it is, so I suppose that must be in the next book, or the one after that, though I'm a bit surprised that it wasn't in one of the first two books.) And later, Arthur's friends drop him off on Krikkit, which is a pretty nice place, when its people aren't trying to destroy everyone else in the Universe. So he finally has a new home, and won't have to be constantly thrust into strange and terrifying circumstances all over the galaxy. (Presumably, he'll also finally get some new clothes, so he won't have to spend all his time in his now very worn pajamas and bathrobe, as he has ever since the Earth was destroyed.)