The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Read The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (UHG2G) by Douglas Adams while abroad for three weeks in India.

The UHG2G is five books by Adams all follow our human protagonist Arthur Dent along his adventures with Ford Prefect, Zaphod Beeblebrox and other fun characters (like Wonko the Sane) as they travel around the universe in seemingly impossible improbable (I.e. via the Improbability Drive powered spaceship) ways.

The book is a science-fiction classic with a cult-like following. I remember all my nerdy peers reading it in middle school. Somehow I managed to miss it then. I’m finally catching up a full lifetime (as I was 14 then) later.

The UHG2G was a great book to take with my on vacation as its dense, humorous, adventurous and sort of about traveling. Even as absurd as the situations are within the various books in the UHG2G, Adams has a great way of storytelling that prods the imagination in wonderful ways. I have to recommend it for nothing other than its unavoidable connection to all other science-fiction and its dry, ridiculous humor.

Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey by Chuck Palahniuk

Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey by Chuck Palahniuk

Just read my third Chuck Palahniuk book Rant, which is an “oral biography” of a rabies-infected, super-messiah named Buster Casey (nicknamed “Rant”) who lives in a dystopic future where people plug-in to “boost peaks” (like watching a movie for all the senses), something that reminded me of The Matrix. In this dystopia there is a cultural dichotomy of “Daytimers” and “Nighttimers” that has been established to help deal with overpopulation — both groups coexist in the same space but never together (i.e. night and day). For fun nighttimers go “party crashing” whereby they tag other party crashers cars by bumping into them. A whole culture emerges out of this game.

A repeat theme of Rant from other Palahniuk books is rebellion against the self-imposed quarantining and numbing of humanity. Like in Fight Club, there’s this sense of despair over the loss of experiencing anything real. Crashing cars into each other de-isolates us. Self-inflicting spider bites (And other nasty critter bites) makes us feel alive even as we experience the pain. “Boosted peaks,” which are akin to heightened vicarious life-experiences as “produced” by others, are fought by the protagonist Rant as he spreads rabies (he may or may not be doing this intentionally). Rabies seems to inhibit anyone from boosting peaks.

All of the themes presented in Rant seem pertinent to our modern angst-ridden times. Palahniuk is a unique writer even as his characters seem a bit too similar at times (similar in their extreme strangeness perhaps), and sometimes his writing makes me feel downright dirty. Regardless, I’ve enjoyed everything of his I’ve read thus far.

A note on the book’s style — it is written as though you are hearing the various characters talk to you about Rant, their experiences with him, Party Crashing, etc. I enjoyed this style as it had a nice pacing and it made for an interesting, if not somewhat jarbled, storyline. Overall, even at only 300 pages, there is a lot that happens (and a lot to absorb), making Rant one of those books I could easily find myself rereading one day.

I definitely recommend it. And I hear Palahniuk plans to write two more installments that deal with Buster “Rant” Casey in the next two or three years. I look forward to them.

Update:

My brother-in-law, Michael Van Cise, who turned me onto Rant had this to say about the book:

In Rant, Chuck Palahniuk takes the reader on a wild ride where it’s difficult to separate reality from fiction. The title character, Rant Casey, intentionally infects himself with the venom of poisonous spiders, snake venom, and the rabies virus. Because he’s a sort of hybrid being/super-human (or at least a supercarrier of disease) he can survive the toxins and disease and uses the side-effects of the disease or toxin to his advantage. Specifically, spider venom gives him sustained erections and the rabies virus takes away his ability to “boost” (an escape undergone by characters in the book via a port located at the back of their necks through which they boost transcripts of things others have recorded), which enables him to achieve the mental state necessary to travel through time. The book could be categorized as science fiction given the ports as well as the fact that urban society is divided into daytimers and nighttimers. As with Fight Club and Choke, Chuck Palahniuk introduces medical knowledge and other factual information which is stimilating, whether or not its true (and I have not tried to verify the facts, medical or historical, though I assume some are created/fictional and others are actual). If you like Fight Club, you’ll enjoy Rant. There are revelation moments in the storyline of Rant just as in Fight Club. The story builds on itself, tidbits of information being released to the reader through various characters though things are more unresolved at the end of Rant than in Fight Club.

I’ll also note that Michael mentioned liking this book best amongst the three or four (?) Palahniuk books he’s read, which include Fight Club, Diary, and Choke. I happen to agree though I will never be able to say what a virgin reading experience of Fight Club would be as, like most people, I saw the movie first.

Update 2 (Today is Feb 21): More from Michael:

I was listening to NPR (www.pba.org) this morning and heard Garrison Keillor and his “Writer’s Almanac.” Today is Chuck Palahniuk’s birthday.

First, it appears I’ve been pronouncing his name wrong. Keillor pronounced it “puh LAH nik” (rhymes with “colonic”), as opposed to how I was saying it, like PAUL- uh- nick.

Apparently Chuck’s first novel, “Little Monsters” was rejected by publishers as being too crude (imagine that!). He had the idea for fight club after being in a fight, returning to work and having people pretend like they didn’t see him.

You can find the transcript of Keillor’s bit at writersalmanac.publicradio.org. [Y]ou can listen to it by clicking here.

Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein

Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein

Just finished Starship Troopers, which I was first introduced to a number of years ago by the movie of the same name. Suffice to say that the movie is quite different from the book; however, I don’t think having seen the movie detracts from the book — probably because the book is much more cerebral than the battle-focused movie.

This was my third Heinlein read. My favorite thus far is still The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, but I’m sure I’ll still be reading more of his stuff.

One aspect of ST that I enjoyed was the picture of a world where government is controlled by individuals who are selected for via a grueling process of elimination. I’ve often remarked that the only individuals who’d make good politicians are those who did not want to be politicians. Said differently, anyone who desires to be a politician, wishing to control others, is the very sort of person I do not want to be a politician!

Heinlein solves this problem by creating a society that only allows the military to vote. In this society, those who make it into the military are all volunteers and are held to incredibly high standards where it appears the slightest mistake can be punished by flogging or even death.

It’s an interesting solution — one worthy of some thought. It’s also seemingly at odds with libertarian ideals (which are put forth subtly in TMIAHM). However, Heinlein’s solution is provocative.

Other ideas in ST include the nature of man and the nature of morality. Having recently read Speaker for the Dead, it’s challenging to conceptualize right/wrong with regards to race when there are multiple races throughout the universe. Is it “us” (humanity) or “them” (some other alien race)?

For such a short book (about 275 pages), Starship Troopers packs a lot of punch. I recommend reading it.

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury



Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

Started this book on my flight back from India to the States. It’s not a long read, but it took me awhile to plow through it. I think it’d be a fun book to read for a young kid, but as an adult, it just seemed dated and a bit too “aw shucks” to me (There are a lot of old fifties-ish expressions in the book).

One aspect of this book I enjoyed was that it did paint a nice picture of a time (October/fall/Halloween) and a place (small town).

Definitely no Fahrenheit 451. Get it for your kids (if you have any looking for a fun Halloween-ish book to read).