Literature / Mostly Harmless

Mostly Harmless (1992) is the fifth installment in the increasingly inaccurately-named The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, and the last written by franchise creator Douglas Adams himself. Set several years after the fourth one, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, its plot divides into three distinct branches. The first concerns the series protagonist, hapless Englishman Arthur Dent, as he tries to find a new, Earth-like home to settle down on after the unexpected erasure of his soul-mate, Fenchurch; he eventually builds a sort of life for himself as resident sandwich-maker for the primitive villagers on the planet Lamuella (but not for long).

The second concerns Ford Prefect and his ill-conceived attempts to save the Guide Corporation from corporate sleaze Vann Harl and Infini-Dim Enterprises, a bureaucratic nightmare run by the Vogons that wants to pervert the spirit of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy for profit. The third concerns Trillian, who reinvents herself as an interplanetary anchorwoman and bears Arthur's child, Random Dent, who is absolutely nothing like her mild-mannered father.

This book is by far the darkest of the series, which had hitherto been very upbeat, due to a bad case of Creator Breakdown.

Preceded by So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. Succeeded by And Another Thing.... Has next to nothing to do with the Connecticut sketch comedy Mostly Harmless, but is definitely related to the Mostly Harmless Roleplay LJ group.

Mostly Harmless provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Gambit Roulette: "Temporal reverse-engineering", the special feature of the Guide Mark II; give it a goal, and it will turn out to have already been acting to bring it about while also working on somebody else's future agenda and ensuring you give it the goal it wants.
  • Genre Shift: This book isn't funny. Mostly it's just creepy and strange.
  • It Runs on Nonsensoleum: The series' phlebotinum runs entirely on Rule of Funny. In this book, there's an anecdote about a race whose interstellar craft run on bad news, the only thing in the universe that travels faster than light. (Their ships don't work very well, and somehow nobody's ever pleased to see them.)
  • Little Miss Badass: Random (at the very least, she tries to be).
  • Married to the Job: Trillian is much more interested in her career than raising her (clearly emotionally damaged) daughter. Granted some of it isn't her fault, temporal induced aging and all, but it comes across as enormously selfish that she doesn't even consider a job that would let her stay in Random's life.
  • Mega Corp.: The Hitchhiker's Guide Corporation and Infini-Dim Enterprises.
  • Mind Screw:
    • Ford's voyage into the four-dimensional Guide online network.
    • The scene in which Arthur visited the man in the village filled with poles. Said man can walk to the horizon and back in a single step, and can step off one of the poles (each one is 40 feet tall, mind you) and live.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Arthur's epic sandwich-making skills.
  • The Operators Must Be Crazy:
    ...the third event, which was a rampaging mob of long-distance telephone operators who had got so twisted with having to say, all day and every day, "Thank you for using BS&S" to every single idiot who picked up a phone that they had finally taken to the streets with trash cans, megaphones and rifles.
    In the ensuing days of carnage every single window in the city, rocket-proof or not, was smashed, usually to accompanying cries of "Get off the line, asshole! I don't care what number you want, what extension you're calling from. Go and stick a firework up your bottom! Yeeehaah! Hoo Hoo Hoo! Velooooom! Squawk" and a variety of other animal noises that they didn't get a chance to practice in the normal line of their work.
    As a result of this, all telephone operators were granted a constitutional right to say "Use BS&S and die!" at least once an hour when answering the phone and all office buildings were required to have windows that opened, even if only a little bit.
  • Plot Armor: Arthur Dent has it, and it's explicitly justified. Remember Agrajag from Life, the Universe and Everything? The guy who kept getting reincarnated, and whom Arthur keeps accidentally killing? There's an incarnation of him that Arthur hadn't met at that point, and the narration explicitly states that until Arthur accidentally kills that incarnation of Agrajag, he literally cannot die. Which he does, at the end of this book, with his own death (and everyone else's) following by mere seconds.
  • The Pollyanna: Colin, a flying security robot that Ford meets (and names) when he revisits the Guide HQ. Ford reprogrammed him so he would always feel happy, no matter what happens, effectively turning him into the anti-Marvin.
  • Satiating Sandwich: Arthur Dent, having undergone an existential crisis over his only skill being sandwich making, ends up the chief sandwich maker for the tribe on Lamuella, with several whole pages about this exalted position, and his divine sandwich-making skills earn him more respect than the village chief.
  • Sir Not Appearing in This Book: Zaphod Beeblebrox and Marvin. Well, at least Marvin has a good excuse.
  • Sleeper Starship: The Grebulons were on one until they crashed on the planet Rupert and lost their memories.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: All of the main characters (including Marvin) in the radio play.
  • Stranded With Edison: Discussed but averted; when Arthur Dent is stranded on a planet with an Iron Age culture, he intitally thinks he can bring them civilisation, before realising that he doesn't actually know how to make anything. Except sandwiches...
  • Took a Level in Badass: After spending the last four books only interested in his hedonistic lifestyle, Ford, with said hedonistic lifestyle threatened, manages to escape several security robots with a towel and a shoe.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Trillian (see Married to the Job, above).
  • Unfortunate Names: If you heard someone refer to Random Dent, you would think they were talking about some random dent on the wall. Her full name is Random Frequent Flyer Dent, making it even more pathetic.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Almost every major character.
  • You Cannot Grasp the True Form: Arthur is thoroughly disturbed by the man on the pole not making any sort of spatial sense.