Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Radio Series 2

I have an article on staple tropes of science fiction and fantasy television out at Den of Geek this week; apparently there's a show called Fringe that I've never seen and need to, but all my favourite shows are represented there!

I first came across The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy as a book, but my favourite incarnation of this modern myth has always been the original two radio series. Series 2 has all sorts of gems in it that rarely get transferred to other media or that get thoroughly transformed in the process, mostly those revolving around the planet Brontetaal. My personal favourite is the Shoe Event Horizon (which I believe appears in one of the books, but I haven't read them in a long time), a 'rather sad' historical phenomenon which is under investigation by three attractive young archaeologists called Lintilla (they're clones).

Arthur runs into the Lintillas after an encounter with the Bird People, who live in the ear of a 15-mile high statue of himself (it's a long story). The Bird People refused to go anywhere near the ground, and have not touched it since they shook the dust from their 'things'. Lintilla, as it turns out, is investigating the reason for this odd behaviour and has had a stroke of luck; a deep shaft in the ground has suddenly appeared (caused by Marvin the Paranoid Android plummeting to the ground from 13 miles up) and revealed several archaeological layers. After a brief explanation of how archaeological layers are like layer cake, she points out to Arthur an entire archaeological layer of compressed shoes.

After a certain amount of running around being chased by Foot Warriors, the Guide reveals the true cause of this extraordinary phenomenon (in a sequence involving some mildly disturbing button-pushing and pleasure noises from a young boy and a computer). While in a thriving, go-ahead civilization, people are looking up at an infinite horizon, in a depressed, downward spiralling civilization, they are looking down, at their shoes. To cheer themselves up, they buy a new pair. Everyone does this. And so shoe shops start to multiply to meet demand. When demand starts to dry up, the shoe shops start making shoes that don't fit or pinch uncomfortably or fall apart very quickly, so that everyone has to keep buying more shoes. Eventually, no shops other than shoe shops can survive, the economy collapses and any survivors eventually evolve into birds and never set foot on the ground again. It's implied that this is the way Oxford Street is going (and if it was bad back then, in 1980, imagine how far along we must be now!). The whole thing is completely brilliant and, apart from the birds bit, frighteningly plausible.

Lintilla the archaeologist is very unusual for a science fiction and fantasy archaeologist because, unlike Indiana Jones, various characters from The Mummy or Lara Croft, she is not trying to find treasure, nor is she looking for some kind of powerful, mystical or alien artefact. She's actually just trying to find out about history. She gets caught up in various adventures with Arthur over the course of a couple of episodes, before vanishing from the story all together with the end of Series 2 on the radio, and her status as a clone becomes vital to the plot, but in her actual job as an archaeologist, all she does is dig and learn about history. Her closest counterpart is probably River Song, who is similarly engaged in actual archaeology in 'Silence in the Library'/'The Forest of the Dead', though without the digging part. (I have a vague memory of Captain Picard doing some actual digging at some point as well, but haven't seen that episode in about 20 years, and can't remember which one it was!). Lintilla is a breath of fresh air for fictional archaeologists. In fact, her job is usually so dull, she has a 'crisis inducer' to help her pretend there's some kind of adventure in progress when, usually, there isn't.

It's rather nice to hear an archaeologist just doing their job in a science fiction setting, complete with digging and everything - and to this day I can't visit an archaeological dig without half expecting to find 'an entire archaeological layer of compressed shoes'...


  1. Yes, I am yet to be bitten by the Fringe bug too!

    I loved going back into HHGG and the article at den of geek! The great thing about Adams' work is that it feels fresh and modern even reading it today - something you can't even say when reading some of William Gibson's earlier stuff for example..

    Also, if you haven't seen it - there is a great YouTube clip of the Daleks entry for the HHGG.. It's fan made, but awesome!


  2. I saw that article at Den of Geek. Didn't realize it was you. It even made it to Fark.

    I think there was some Picard digging, but not much and it might have been rather sloppy. Certainly his sometime girlfriend was more in the Indiana Jones mold.

    For me, written H2G2 just hasn't held up. It's all very whiz-bang and "Look, I just made a philosophical funny", but after a while it gets old. DNA might have become a better writer had he lived longer, but he never would have been able to match Pratchett. I waffle on whether he is better or not quite as good as Tom Holt.


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