Literature / Young Zaphod Plays It Safe

Zaphod (in a rare moment of eloquence)

"Young Zaphod Plays It Safe" is a short Science Fiction story by Douglas Adams. Written between the fourth and fifth books of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series but set long before the beginning of the first, it features the character Zaphod Beeblebrox as a young man in charge of the Beeblebrox Salvage and Really Wild Stuff Corporation, conducting an expedition to the bottom of a remote alien ocean for the benefit of a group of shady suits from the Safety and Civil Reassurance Administration. Though they don't say much to Zaphod, preferring to keep the nature of their expedition a secret, it soon becomes clear that the suits are searching for a lost spacecraft, one that crashed into the ocean while holding top-secret and potentially deadly cargo. The story ends with another possible motive behind the demolition of the planet Earth by the Vogons.

Actually a huge Author Tract and an unsubtle Take That! aimed at Ronald Reagan, the story saves itself by being hilarious and full of vintage Adamsian wit.

"Young Zaphod Plays It Safe" provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Artificial Human: What the spacecraft is carrying that makes it so worrisome; turns out that "designer people" tend to be insane, and they don't project the usual warning signals that someone that dangerous would...
  • Author Tract
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Ronald Reagan was an insane charismatic artificial life form from outer space.
  • Buffy Speak: Lampshaded, discussed, or maybe just played with. "This is barking time, this is major lunch, this is stool approaching critical mass, this is... this is... total vocabulary failure!"
  • Insistent Terminology: The two suits accompanying Zaphod describe everything as "very safe".
  • Nuclear Weapons Taboo: Played with, as the most horrible weapons ever invented, including nuclear and all kinds of engineered gasses and viruses, are perfectly safe compared to a politician willing to use them.
  • Person as Verb: Invoked: Zaphod tells the ship to "do as I do"; it thinks for a second, and then sinks as low as it can go.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Zaphod, to a degree; although he's being used, he has nothing to lose in the matter, and cares little for the outcome of the expedition.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: There are very detailed descriptions of Zaphod and company vomiting inside their Hi-Presh-A Smart Suits, until the author gives up and promises no more of that kind of nastiness.
  • You Wanna Get Sued?: In several versions of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the reveal in the last paragraph is deleted entirely, making the build-up meaningless. You could say those versions... played it safe. Ba-dum-tish! (To be fair, at least some of these versions feature enough detail that a person familiar with eighties American politics could still probably puzzle out Reagan's identity, but by today's standards that pushes it into Viewers Are Geniuses territory.)