- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
- The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
- The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
- The Salmon of Doubt
“The point is, you see,” said Ford, “that there is no point driving yourself mad trying to stop yourself from going mad. You might just as well give in and save your sanity for later.”
The robot stopped and looked at the mattress. It looked at it quizzically. It was clearly a very stupid mattress. It looked back at him with wide eyes. After what it had calculated to ten significant decimal places as being the precise length of pause most likely to convey a general contempt for all things mattressy, the robot continued to walk round in tight circles.
“Listen, bud,” said Ford, “if I had one Altairan dollar for every time I heard one bit of the Universe look at another bit of the Universe and say ‘That’s terrible’ I wouldn’t be sitting here like a lemon looking for a gin.”
There was a point to this story, but it has temporarily escaped the chronicler’s mind.
A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.
It was his subconscious which told him this – that infuriating part of a person’s brain which never responds to interrogation, merely gives little meaningful nudges and then sits humming quietly to itself, saying nothing.
I knew I was on to something because when I went to San Francisco to talk about it everyone said I was mad. So I thought, “Good, it means nobody else is doing it.”
“Are you telling me,” he said, “that you set yourself up to become President of the Galaxy just to steal that ship?”
“That’s it,” said Zaphod with the sort of grin that would get most people locked away in a room with soft walls.
“Sorry, did I say something wrong?” said Marvin, dragging himself on regardless. “Pardon me for breathing, which I never do anyway so I don’t know why I bother to say it, oh God I’m so depressed. Here’s another of those self-satisfied doors. Life! Don’t talk to me about life.”
It is an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem. For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much – the wheel, New York, wars and so on – whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man – for precisely the same reasons.
“So what do we do if we get bitten by something deadly then?” I asked.
He blinked at me as if I were stupid. “Well, what do you think you do?” he said. “You die of course. That’s what deadly means.”
“But what about cutting open the wound and sucking out the poison?” I asked.
“Rather you than me,” he said, “I wouldn’t want a mouth full of poison.”
We talked about how easy it was to make the mistake of anthropomorphising animals, and projecting our own feelings and perceptions on to them, where they were inappropriate and didn’t fit. We simply had no idea what it was like being an extremely large lizard, and neither for that matter did the lizard, because it was not self-conscious about being an extremely large lizard, it just got on with the business of being one. To react with revulsion to its behaviour was to make the mistake of applying criteria that are only appropriate to the business of being human.
“Trillian?” he said. “She’s just a kid. Cute, yeah, but temperamental. You know how it is with women. Or perhaps you don’t. I assume you don’t. If you do I don’t want to hear about it. Plug us in.”
Arthur shook his head and sat down. He looked up. “I thought you must be dead …” he said simply.
“So did I for a while,” said Ford, “and then I decided I was a lemon for a couple of weeks. A kept myself amused all that time jumping in and out of a gin and tonic.”
“You’ll have to excuse me,” said Arthur. “I’m terribly happy.”
When it had enjoyed its little spin and had calmed down a bit, Arthur reached out for the bedside light, not expecting it to come on. To his surprise it did. This appealed to Arthur’s sense of logic. Since the Electricity Board cut him off without fail every time he paid his bill, it seemed only reasonable that they should leave him connected when he didn’t. Sending them money obviously only drew attention to yourself.
The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair.
Dirk was unused to making such a minuscule impact on anybody. He checked to be sure that he did have his huge leather coat and his absurd red hat on and that he was properly and dramatically silhouetted by the light of the doorway. He felt momentarily deflated and said, “Er…” by way of self-introduction, but it didn’t get the boy’s attention. He didn’t like this. The kid was deliberately and maliciously watching television at him.
I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
“In this replacement Earth we’re building they’ve given me Africa to do and of course I’m doing it with all fjords again because I happen to like them, and I’m old fashioned enough to think that they give a lovely baroque feel to a continent. And they tell me it’s not equatorial enough. Equatorial!” He gave a hollow laugh. “What does it matter? Science has achieved some wonderful things of course, but I’d far rather be happy than right any day.”
“This must be Thursday”, said Arthur musing to himself, sinking low over his beer, “I never could get the hang of Thursdays.”
One of the major difficulties Trillian experienced in her relationship with Zaphod was learning to distinguish between him pretending to be stupid just to get people off their guard, pretending to be stupid because he couldn’t be bothered to think and wanted someone else to do it for him, pretending to be outrageously stupid to hide the fact that he actually didn’t understand what was going on, and really being genuinely stupid. He was renowned for being amazingly clever and quite clearly was so – but not all the time, which obviously worried him, hence the act. He proffered people to be puzzled rather than contemptuous. This above all appeared to Trillian to be genuinely stupid, but she could no longer be bothered to argue about it.
The road suddenly turns out to be impassable because it’s being rebuilt by the Chinese, only we’re not supposed to know that. And exactly what is meant by ‘suddenly’ I don’t know because they’ve apparently been at it for ten years.
I didn’t notice I was being set upon by a pickpocket, which I am glad of, because I like to work only with professionals.
“We would love to stay and help,” shouted Ford, picking his way over the mangled debris, “only we’re not going to.”