Well, it has taken years, and the prospect of seeing the film, to convince me to settle down to read the series. Although I am not a fan of the genre, I was expecting great things given the amount of praise with which they've been bestowed over the years. I was, admittedly, a bit disappointed.
The idea is a terrific one: Arthur Dent is the only human saved from Earth by his alien friend Ford Prefect, who had managed to hide the fact that he is an alien for years and years. Given the sharpness of Dent, this doesn't come as much of a surprise. Armed with a copy of The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy they set off on a journey through space and, during The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, time. On the way they meet various more-colourful characters, in particular Zaphod Beeblebrox, who really is the star of the show, and get themselves into all kind of crazy situations. No real sarcasm intended: Adams explored imaginative possibility fully and some of the encounters feature delightful moments.
I've suggested that Arthur is neither a particularly intelligent or interesting character, which is fair enough, as he's intended to be an Everyman. Arthur Dent's naivete is crucial to the story; it allows astounding occurrences to be explained to the reader in simple terms, thus enabling the engagement of those who generally hate sci-fi (such as myself). His character also allows Adams to Anglicise the novel, despite its inter-galactical nature; Dent is thoroughly English, most obviously manifested through his obsession with tea. He is a passive soul, who applies the stiff-upper-lip technique when coping with the destruction of his life and planet. The reader does not struggle to identify with Dent, probably because of his calm demeanour; we are allowed to apply our own characteristics to him, to some extent.
It would be hoped that Dent would be surrounded by vibrant, interesting characters to compensate for his lack of fire. This is granted with the character of Beeblebrox, who is selfish, egotistical, immoral and misguided (although by what exactly is unclear). He is often bitingly funny and is also suggested to offer the hottie factor, being the winner of Trillian over Arthur. I suspect that the sexual potency of Beeblebrox has also been recognised by the film's director, given the casting of Sam Rockwell in the role. I must get around to seeing the film! However, the remainder of the supporting cast, namely Prefect and Trillian, are yet to excite. Prefect and Dent are clearly meant to be foils for one another, but I'm at a loss as to whom is supposed to shine. Trillian is in the potentially powerful position of being the leading female in the tale, a clever and desirable woman at that. However, I cannot thing of a single defining characteristic she possesses, she is so under-used. Luckily for the novels, a variety of interesting and engaging aliens are encountered along the way, particularly in TRATEOTU.
The book is written in an entertaining and engaging style. Language is often used effectively for impact. However, I was surprised at the many examples of poor or lazy grammar, given that Adams held a degree in English from Cambridge. In my view, there is no excuse for ending a sentence in "of". Except when one is quoting an example of poor grammar, of course.
Despite my criticism, the books have been an easy and enjoyable read. I have also been able to feel quite smug at finishing two science-fiction novels in a row; not even just finishing, liking too! I have been warned that later books in the series are crap; let's hope not, given that I've just started Life, The Universe and Everything.