The book begins exactly as the first one, Arthur wakes up blearily in his house, the only difference is instead of two bulldozers he now notices two bulldogs!
Yet, oddly, he recognises them as belonging to him and that's when the reader realises, he, same as Arthur, finds himself now in the year 2006 and obviously the Earth hasn't been demolished. (Or was it this parallel Earth thingy again?)
Anyway, Arthur seems to have changed considerably. For some reason he now seeks comfort and warmth in an exaggerated patriotism – a reaction to having being an intergalactic cast-away for so long?
We now learn there's a “cheerful little energy-being” involved in the story which will probably play an important role later on.
Ford shows up then, who again has had an undercover identity as an unemployed actor and brings along a yet unidentified youth, who then turns out to be the old Slartibartfast, miraculously turned young again. He confronts the reluctant Arthur that he has actually gone sort of mad – and that, again cosmic adventures lie ahead!
Meanwhile Zaphod Beeblebrox is introduced in the plot. He was roughing it for the last fifteen years pretty bad, always on the run from intergalactic police and frog-star fighters and he really is now again an intergalactic hitch-hiker, oh so knowing where his towel is!
Arthur now has digested his first shock and learns that Slartibartfast wants him for a job – on deck of the ship Titanic, in the year 1912 – and that's exactly one chapter before Tricia McMillan is introduced. She is busy in astrophysics and not bothered by male prejudices and competition in this field on the planet she is now living on, for there is no male competition – a planet entirely populated by women! The only person that bothers her is an unknown female colleague with the initials T.M.!
We are now at chapter 7 out of exactly 42! It dawns upon Arthur that the Titanic has played an important role in the entire universe! Well, if all those people would have stayed alive!
“No, it weren’t the people on board of the ship. It wasn’t the ship itself either, though it played a cosmic role in the history of entertainment-industry.”
“What was it then?”
“That I can tell you”, said Slartibartfast and helped himself to some more tea, with his other hand. He took a sip, without any haste.
“It was the iceberg.”
“The… the iceberg?”
“Of cosmic importance was… the iceberg?”
“The erm… iceberg.”
“The iceberg. Right.”
“Right… the iceberg… Well, I mean, it surely was a very beautiful iceberg, a wonderful iceberg, a truly worthy specimen of its kind, even”, Arthur let himself getting carried away, “surely he must have felt himself very, very, very loved by his mother ice shelf, when he broke loose and set out all by himself with just his siblings for a long and dangerous journey, maybe a motif for an other Hollywood-melodrama, the little iceberg, sob, sob, but eventually he had just melted and that was about it…”
“The Titanic never must’ve had hit the iceberg”, Slartibartfast interrupted him sternly and with an authority that did not suit his young appearance at all, “for it came out of course that way...”
Slartibartfast manages to talk Arthur into new adventures, just when it comes to our knowledge that there is also Trillian stranded somewhere and she has a ten-year old daughter:
Along with this Universe-stuff, of course, this was her only concern presently, for Random was, after she had changed her age constantly back then (was at a time ten, then fifteen, then eight, which confused everyone, of course) now just only ten (and that’s how she behaved as well).
Moreover, this for fifteen years now.
In chapter 9, Zaphod begins his towel-fight tournament, his only chance of leaving the god-forsaken planet NowWhat:
There they were a group of about fifteen of the most brutal towel-fighters of the whole galaxy; Zaphod was already able to see them from far away.
Especially a gigantic colossus with three arms, of which one of them seemed to grow right out of his head, came to his sight immediately. Out of each of his three hands or tentacles, a towel hung down limply.
Before Slartibartfast could take Arthur and Ford onto his hidden spaceship he is ageing again, very rapidly:
“What is it?”
“How do you feel?”
“Rather well, for a two-thousand year old undead mummy being freshly showered by holy water!” Indeed, he grew stronger noticeably.
In chapter 11 the towel-fight is taking place and we know that Zaphod always likes to fight dirty!
“I’m a towel of Squornshellous!” the towel said friendly. “We are related with the mattresses there. And who are you?”
Zaphod watched the humanoid lurking behind.
He found he was not in the mood for a small talk anyway. For he was stranded on NowWhat? and this was not a circumstance inviting for a nice little chat over the garden-fence. This was a circumstance inviting for a variety of mean tricks, to be last and finally a circumstance, which had been put to an end as quickly as possible.
“I’m Zaphod Beeblebrox, the Ex-President of the Galaxy. In addition, I coincidentally have had insight in secret files, any of them give proof that a gigantic, illegal breeding-program on Squornshellous had taken place. A filthiness without comparison, that”, he said merciless, therefore. “Or do you think it was coincidence that, spread over the entire planet, there were mattresses, pillows, towels, face cloths and so on, that grew by themselves? Of course not! You were being bred! Artificially produced!”
The towel folded itself in grief.
Zaphod found this to be exceedingly practical, for thus he could strike out both-handed over his head and easily deal the owner of the towel the ultimate blow, which kicked him out of the contest.
Chapter 13 brings the protagonists together, a misplaced jump with the ships' new improved bistromathic drive and they meet, on a beautiful planet with friendly natives, that want to help Zaphod to prove his deity – by untying him from his fleshy binds.
A wonderful blue sky spanned itself over the tropic paradise of Tropic Paradise Seven. A smooth ocean-breeze blew. Zaphod lay at the fine, white sandy beach and tried to relax. It just was not working so well.
Actually, he was rather a little worried.
And that was presumably somehow related to the fact, that he wasn’t lying nice and easy on his towel at the beach, but fettered and utmost not relaxed at all on a stake-pile on the beach and that way wasn’t waiting for the beauty, standing next to him with a scorching torch, to set his heart in flames but indeed the stake-pile. (Unless one would take “set his heart in flames” literally.)
Another misplaced jump gets them to the planet Magrathea, where Slartibartfast's ship gets confiscated.
“Strike me dead”, said Slartibartfast, whilst the computer announced, they were to be pulled per tractor-beam down to the spaceport and replied to Slartibartfast’s protests, that there was no way against it.
He looked at them all.
“There it was, this one spaceship about everything was perfect…”, he said woefully.
Now there are rough times ahead of the protagonists! To begin with, there is something wrong with Zaphods two heads, more will not be revealed. Then, by a tremendous coincidence, which brings a second creation of a sperm whale, by the way, a whooshing by of the Heart of Gold from somewhere in the past, they land... within the inner steel perimeter of a Chamber of Law. Chapter 17 It was luck, for all participants, that it weren’t the steel walls of the Magrathean Chamber of Law of course, but the ones of Argubuthon – as it had been indeed the namely destiny of the Heart of Gold!
Inside, a being named Prak lolled about on a bench and had a smoke.
“Hi”, said Prak, when he was coming to face with them, “compliments from the mice.”
“Hang on a second”, said Arthur, “just hang a second!”
We learn that the mice are still involved and that they still are after the question!
The Earth is still a supercomputer!
And there is still an important mission!
“Listen”, said Prak again, “I’m telling you now where to find the spaceship, with which you can take up your mission again. It’s on top of the Quentulus Quazgar Mountains in the land of Sevorbeupstry on the planet Preliumtarn, third out from the sun Zarss, in Galactic Sector QQ7 Active J Gamma. It is guarded by the Lajestic Vantrashell of Lob.”
There was a slightly embarrassed pause.
Then Arthur said, “I thought, we’ve had that already, don’t you think so too?”
Prak stopped short.
“Oh right, of course, I’m so diverted. So, okay, it is on the bottom of the Tequulus Schrazag Valley in the land of Beupersovytrip on the planet Praliumnerp, just the thirtieth out from the sun Farss, in the Galaktic Sektor PP9 Passive C Delta. It’s guarded… nope, nonsense, it’s not guarded at all, just stands around somehow, you could just hog it easily. Best of luck. You’ll get out of here, if all four of you just go about and touch this y-trong over there.”
He pointed out some peculiar item, standing close to them.
“What, that was all?” asked Slartibartfast in between, who had scribbled down some notes.
“Am I some sort of cosmic inquiry agency? Now hurry up, or else I will really have trouble, because your copies from the other layer of existence will drop by soon.” He put another cigarette between his lips, looked for a lighter. “And it would be really cool to have another smoke, in the meantime.”
Arthur thought briefly about disclosing his identity, rejected this thought though, he didn’t want to be guilty again of that Prak-copy here, whatever his fate then was, dying by laughter.
“By the way, I don’t know you fellas, but if you ever come round to see Arthur Dent, I mean, the Arthur Dent, well, then… wow, he really is the most important person in the whole Universe. So don’t forget to tell him that.”
Now everybody, except Slartibartfast, who was still writing in concentration, looked at Arthur. Yet he just put his finger imperceptibly to his mouth and looked back in an adjuring manner.
So they all went to the mysterious y-trong eventually and put their hands on it, all four of them. Arthur gave it a doubting look.
“Well, this here is to be trusted?”
“In case we are going to be separated”, said Slartibartfast now, “everyone fights his way through alone. We’ll meet on Vogsphere Three.”
There was a flash and they were gone.
“Woops. Off they went”, murmured Prak and took another draught. “If I’d only knew, who this one there had been.”
Arthur now has an appointment with an old acquaintance!
It flicked off again, to immediately after that light up for another time.
HAVE YOU BEEN DIVERTED
Oh no, thought Arthur.
Won’t I ever get rid of him?
Before he finally meets two women, which mean a lot in his life, only problem is he is now unfortunately a specimen in a zoo.
“When do the women arrive, then?” he asked excitedly. “When does it start finally? They sure must be, well, kind of lonely, I say.” He giggled embarrassedly. “There must be going on, erm, quite a lot, I say. I mean, where do all the little boys and girls… erm, all the little girls on this planet come from?”
“As if!” remarked the other one. “All they ever do with us is remove the germ-cells surgically, which they then process in laboratory. Artificial insemination. And this in a large scale.”
“They do what?”
“They peel our testicles.”
“They… they do what?”
“They peel our testicles. As if they were just some god-dam potatoes.”
“They peel, you said, you didn’t mean cut or operate? Peel, that’s right?”
“That’s right, peel.”
Arthur sorted out his feelings and found “upcoming horror” adequate. He tried it out right away, it worked nicely.
“And what are they going to do with us?”
“With us? We stay here at the zoo and vegetate about dully.” He pointed in the direction of the cells close by, in which the other prisoners stared about. “It’s waiting for me, too.”
“Right. Oh well, that’s nice.”
Somehow he manages to escape his fate and now all of the characters are reunited – on the planet Vogsphere three, the...
... Galactic Job Centre is situated on the myth-wrapped artificial planet Vogsphere Three. Despaired cries of tormented creatures descend from it and die away unheard in space, like protuberances bursting out of a sun, wasting their giant energies away senseless, loosing themselves afterwards gently whimpering in solar wind. Its function is to supply about ten percent of the galactic population with employment. In itself, as good as no jobs at all are arranged. Payment is given, if at all, for the first time when the receptor is dead for at least a hundred years already and then of course is immediately suspended.
(Exception, the People of the Payment-Receivers, which possess, through mutation, certain supernatural abilities to get to public money.)
A really, really hard time lies ahead for all of them!
Slartibartfast stared at the application form.
“Learned vocation” stood there. “Construction of planets” he filled in. Beneath “desired occupation”, in addition, “removal of cosmic anomalies” and “saving of the latter.”
After a long time of all sorts of sickening experiences, they manage to find the forbidden zones, fight their way into it, find and seize a spaceship, call it the Application Denied and get the hell away from this hellish planet.
Yet instead of reaching the Earth of present time, they somehow are hurled two million years into the past and have the doubtful delight of meeting the Golgafrinchams again. When they leave again they now are washed in a rather unbelievable manner onto Frogstar B, now only nine hundred years in the past. After this they even land on the flying part, of course, shortly before the time there other selves will arrive!
Is there some cosmic sense in all this nonsense?
What about the improbability-drive, for example?
“What would you say then if all this jumble is caused by the improbability drive? And that not by any certain flight at day x, but by the flight then.”
“Then”, said Slartibartfast meaningful. „Any time at all.”
They grew pale.
“You grow pale, therefore you got it. It simply is naïve to suppose all the improbabilities end when the flight is over, normality is reached again. How does one know that somewhere and most of all sometimes an improbability won’t occur, whichever coming into existence means, so to speak, the discharge of a hypothec due to this very flight. Moreover, no one, which has ever taken a flight with the improbability-drive, could be sure it will not follow him for the rest of his life. Yes, what’s even possible, beyond that”, he made a dramatic pause, “no one could ever be certain that his mere existence is nothing but a circumstance he has to thank for to this wretched drive. Now grow confidently even paler.”
They grew even paler.
Then, they pay a visit to the Big Burger Bar!
Chapter 29 In the beginning, the Universe consisted out of a point.
A point is, according to Euclid, what doesn’t have any parts; thus, the Universe had no parts at the beginning, thus no expansion.
What was actually but a mere theoretical, abstract and scientific affair, for, anyway, no one gets how it is possible to cram a whole Universe into a point.
Maybe that’s because it just isn’t true anyway. In any case it’s the problem of science it goes right along and constructs on some single, totally unproven axioms a whole complex system of thoughts that’s in itself as much as conclusive and outstandingly proven as the axioms themselves just aren’t.
Mathematics says, for example, if A equals B, so B equals A. What would be now then, if A isn’t A at all, but jellyfish-jelly in reality? Moreover, what if A is constantly changing itself, so today jellyfish-jelly, tomorrow a load of horse dung?
What if now, a point isn’t a point at all, but a whole Universe rolled up from inside to outside, only resembling a point from outside?
Okay, but that the Big Bang Burger Bar is now supposed to be inside of this point, now no one at all really gets.
Where they meet an old acquaintance! Yet, when they try to treat him the usual way, they get a nasty surprise!
“No shit?” said Marvin. “Well, there are two things, I wanted to do, should I ever come across a certain Zaphod Beeblebrox again, even if he now possesses only one head. At first I will show him this”, it was a document that stated he was a free robot, up to do whatever he likes and pleases and is able to within the abilities of his hard- and software, “and then I will show him this!” Now he raised his hand, turned it and extended his middle finger at Zaphod. “This I’ve sworn to myself. The only piece of paper I will ever pick up again is my document of release and the only door I will ever open again for somebody asking me to do so, or rather in this case not asking me, but which I will do anyway, is the door to his execution-chamber!!”
To their even greater astonishment he is a major attraction in the show and so is Wowbagger, the infinitely prolonged!
“What do have here, now? Ladies and Gentlemen, A Million Swears, You Just Have To Have At Hand! Don’t miss this book, it suits to every situation in life!” He rummaged around further. “What else do we have? What To Tell Which Being...? Ah, there it is! If Aliens Mess With You, not bad at all, that would be something for me, too. Then, Deadly Insults In The Current Fifty Galactic Languages, wasn’t there someone industrious…? From Erm, Erm… To Zark Off, A Choose Of The Best And The Stupidest Answers, I’ve Gotten Over Three Million Years! Well, that’s it, Ladies and Gentlemen, don’t you think so?” Cheering in the audience.
“A classic”, said Wowbagger, smiling modestly. “It’s a book that’s supposed to be on every stupid jerk’s book-shelf.”
“Stupid answers, stupid answers… let’s get closer into that, shall we?” said Max smilingly. “What was then, for example, say, the stupidest answer you’d ever gotten?”
“Well, well, I’d gotten an awful lot of stupid answers…”
The audience laughed. Arthur did not.
“I can very well imagine. There are a lot of brainless dummies out there, aren’t there?”
“A heap! A pile! Really. No one can imagine how many really stupid assholes there are out there!” Wowbagger was all himself again, for a moment. “Well, yet the biggest moron of all time and space… I guess, it was on a small rotten planet… I assume, two million years ago…”, he stopped to think, “can’t get it quite together, yet he lived in a cave, I guess, a humanoid in any case, was just muttering about, saying only erm… erm… erm! Zarquon! What a jerk. Somehow he seemed to be the jerk of all jerks in the world, that jerk that stuck to me the most.”
The audience roared.
Well, thought Arthur all the while, during which it was ringing in his ears, for he’s playing some part in the “How mad can this world ever get”-farce. Furthermore, for we have met for three times now.
Arthur now meets his fate. He is the most important person in the universe!
“A joke?” asked Arthur furious, a little while later.
“A joke it was”, said Benjy mouse.
“You can do with a little fun, can’t you?” said Frankie.
“Don’t be such a sissy.”
“No, Earthling, we no longer want your brain, not at all.”
“Why put so much sweat into something, right Benjy, if there’s a much easier way.”
“Right, Frankie. Mind you, it wouldn’t be much work though, would it?”
“No, just snip on it, here a little, there a little, can’t do too much damage to it.” They laughed.
Then Benjy mouse said earnest, “No, you see, we need you alive.”
“You tell him, Slarti”, said Frankie mouse.
The mentioned was clearing his throat and looked at Arthur solemnly.
“I’ve already said that the supercomputer Earth is refusing to announce the result as long as a certain requirement is not given. Therefore, I will name it to you now. I will pass on what the Earth has said.”
Arthur and the McMillan’s looked at each other. They had to get used to the formulation “the Earth had said”. All of them had spent a good deal of time on the planet, yet never had the felling she wanted to take up a conversation with them.
“For one thing, she has found the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything which’s answer is forty-two and for another, like Prak has hinted and the Earth, according to the mice, has confirmed, it cannot be dispensed with to look up the Creator of the Universes whoever that is and to consult him.”
“I have to tell you now something I had held back for quite a long time for good reasons, considering the state I found you in. For I had every reason to believe you couldn’t have coped with the truth.”
Arthur gulped. Slarti wasn’t surely all wrong about it.
It’s been quite a while he had last thought of his bulldogs and his right-wing friends and so he did that just for once again. And it was like a once and for all good-bye. To which he wasn’t prepared in no way at all back then yet.
“Still another thing. The reason I had looked you up, the reason I had insisted that much you would come along…” Slartibartfast cleared his throat, as if he had a lump in it, “the Earth has also found out there’s a person, who is the most important of all in the whole Universe. Furthermore, that one is inseparably connected with the answer, erm, the question. Without the presence of this person its announcement is not possible in any case.”
He coughed lightly.
“And this person…” He hadn’t looked at Arthur all the time, now he touched him again with some sort of side-glance. Arthur began to feel uncomfortable. Finally he said, “This person, Arthur, is you.”
At last, he was looking Arthur straight in the face again.
“Arthur, you are the most important person in the whole Universe.”
All of them looked at him, due to that.
Arthur felt hot.
Arthur felt cold.
Colourful pretzels danced around his eyes, his heart began to put on a hot techno-beat. Again, he thought. First Prak, then Slartibartfast even too.
In the end, he cleared his throat.
“Don’t keep on telling me that”, he was smiling insecurely, “or else I start to believe that myself too, after all.”
It is now high time they meet the Creator of the Universes, who reveals to them his secrets!
“Are you… God?”
“No. Are you?”
Arthur believed he was dreaming.
In front of him a man stood, looking alike Jesus on one hand, could have been on the other just a young fellow hanging around here by chance. Furthermore it wasn’t the sort of conversation he had intended to have with God, should he ever meet him. Yet what does one expect, who has just left the Universe through it’s exit and meets, in some sort of mysterious cosmic factory coming after it, someone who is looking alike Jesus?
What is this man? What is his function in this world? And why does he have so many nude posters hanging on the walls?
Then he pulled out something.
And it was the most beautiful thing Arthur had ever seen.
On first sight, it was spheroid and about the size of a football. Yet the longer one tried to focus one’s look on it, the more clearly it became that this just couldn’t be, yes, that this sphere couldn’t be related to any size at all. Anything in between a point without any expansion on one side and infinity in the other seemed to be possible.
An infinity, which could not be seen from the outside, nevertheless, but for some strange reason only from the inside.
It namely seemed as if, given one was looking long enough, one would be standing inside the sphere all of a sudden, looking at any sides right into infinity.
And the glow the spheres were radiating, didn’t seem to be from out of this world.
Arthur just didn’t have any comparison, he just simply hadn’t seen such a thing in all his life. It seemed as if the glow wasn’t taken in by the eye as well, yet from some kind of riddling extra-sense right in his very soul. It seemed to bewitch him, to pull him in his spell with all magical force, to…
He felt a gentle touch on his shoulder and startled from out of his trance.
“Do not look into it for too long”, the Scooper of the Universes said, “it’s no good at all. Can drive you mad somehow. I much more like to look over there…” He pointed out to the posters.
Arthur began to understand better why there were so many of them.
Now Deep Thought announces... well, what does he announce, alright? He announces nothing, but...!
“You want to hear it?”
“You want to know it? The Ultimate Question?”
“Which’s answer is forty-two?”
“The answer to the Great Question of Life, the Universe and Everything?”
“And you will finance by it a life of sex, drugs and rock’n roll?”
“Yes… that is to say, no, oh Deep Thought”, said Phouchg and Loonquwal now embarrassed and pusillanimous.
He carries on!
“For the supercomputer Earth”, said Deep Thought, “had found out something else too. It had found out that there is a person, a person of even greater cosmic importance than it’s the Earth, biggest computer in time and space and my humble self together. A person, which is the most important person in the whole Universe.”
“Only that most important person in the whole Universe can now announce the result, for such it is said.”
He was silent for a moment, only the humming of the speakers was heard.
“So is there a certain Arthur Dent in this room?” he said then.
“I repeat, is there a certain Arthur Dent in this room?”
Arthur gulped again. He said, almost inaudible, “Me, I am Arthur Dent.”
“Good. So listen now, Arthur Dent, most important person in the whole Universe. Show us some proof of your powers and announce the result. For, I’ve said so earlier on, only you are allowed to do so. Thus spoke the supercomputer called Earth, biggest computer in all time and space.”
Again, Arthur gulped. He was thinking feverishly.
Finally, the final chapter forty-two, which gives an explanation to what has vexed every Douglas-Adams-fan for such a long time, the Question to the Answer is revealed!!!!
No longer will you wake up, dear reader, and ask yourself, “42 is the question, but what is the answer anyway”!!!
Yet, let's not forget, what Prak said “that if the Universe vanishes, because one knows Question and Answer at the same time, it will be replaced be something even more incomprehensible!”
So, what does the energy-being which has been trapped in Arthur's body for such a long time has to say?
Moreover, what will exactly happen when the Question and the Answer is spoken out by someone at the same time?
Jochen Lembke, Europe´s cab-driving writer, Germany, England, Switzerland and so on, the cab-world-record that goes on and on, and author of the best H2G2-sixth volume ever written or else money back!
Blog in English language: http://ejochenlembke.wordpress.com/