Remarkably enough, I had never read this book. I found it a light read, went by very quickly and was quite funny in places. Marvin the Paranoid Android, the Improbability Drive, Vogon Poetry, they were all pretty funny, but they were also all pretty one-note, and after a while the satirical humor so beloved by so many fans began to wear on me. It made for a fun book but I guess it's just not my kind of humor; it wasn't laugh-out-loud funny to me, and since in the years since there's been much better humor done in popular genre fiction, I am not sure I want to read the rest of Adams's "trilogy in four parts."
The premise is typical British humor: Arthur Dent is a hapless Everyman who gets yanked into an improbable situation, in this case, narrowly escaping the Earth's destruction. Taken aboard a Vogon space cruiser along with his friend Ford Prefect, who turns out to have been a Betelgeusian stranded on Earth for the past fifteen years, he and Ford escape from the Vogons and are rescued by Zaphod Beeblebrox, former President of the Galaxy now on the run for stealing a spaceship known as the Heart of Gold. Zaphod's girlfriend happens to be another Earthling whom Arthur met and unsuccessfully tried to chat up at a cocktail party years ago.
You can see how all the absurdities just pile up, and that's only the first few chapters. Adams makes them work in a surprisingly well-plotted novel, which is what kept me from rolling my eyes and tossing the book once I got tired of all the silliness. In the end, all the little details and clues are tied together in a surprisingly successful manner, proving that Adams could actually write. So the book isn't just one long comedy sketch. It's a comedy sketch with a plot.
The characters and the ideas Adams created in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
are so memorable they have become part of the cultural firmament. Millions more people have probably heard of Yahoo!'s Babel Fish than know where the name came from. I really wish I could say I'm a fan and fell in love with this book, but the humor alone would only rate 2 stars from me. I am bumping it up to 3 stars for being a quick, entertaining read with a well-crafted story, but I liked it without loving it. Certainly worth reading to fill in that gap in your pop-culture education, but it just isn't the great book of brilliant hilarity I've heard it described as.