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Literature / Mostly Harmless

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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:

  • AM/FM Characterization: Ford, surprisingly. He is in awe of the singer at The Domain Of a the King, who turns out to be Elvis, having left the Earth with some passing aliens. Itís one of the more oddly touching moments in the book.
  • Anti-Advice: Arthur Dent asks a soothsayer how he should live his life, and her counsel boils down to "Here's my autobiography. Read it, and do the opposite of what I did."
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Random. Justified as her mother isn't really interested in raising her, and she's basically been dumped with her unsupecting father on boring backwater planet Lamuella.
  • Buffy Speak: The Guide calls the sum total of all possible universes/timelines the Whole Sort of General Mish Mash, or WSOGMM for short.
  • The Chessmaster: The Guide Mark II. It uses "reverse temporal engineering" to change the past and ensure that any action its owner undertakes will have the desired outcome. The Vogons ultimately use it to destroy Earth once and for all.
  • Crapsack World: NowWhat, an alternate Earth which Arthur visits on his travels. It's so bad that the ghastly smile on the president's picture is due to the fact he'd just shot himself, and every inhabitant has only one ambition: leave.
  • Crazy Enough to Work: Ford manages to subdue the new editor of the Guide by throwing his towel at the man and yelling "kill!" His towel does not possess the capacity to kill on command, but it distracts the guy long enough for Ford to knock him out (and steal his ID card so he can give himself an unlimited expense account).
  • Darker and Edgier: Than the previous books in the "trilogy".
  • The Ditz: The guy running the desk at the hotel alternate-Trillian is staying at is mind-bogglingly stupid, and ends up costing Trillian a job because of it.
  • Downer Ending: All Alternate Universe Earths are destroyed, and 80% of the main cast dies. See Creator Breakdown. ...or so it seems, until the sixth book reveals that, at Random's request, they're placed into a Lotus-Eater Machine by the Guide Mk. II and given one last shot at survival.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Poor Fenchurch. At least the radio adaptation has a Deus ex Machina at the end that spares her.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Guide Mk. II is a pandimensional thing of limitless power (it can make anything happen simply by arranging events in the past to bring about a given future event) that has the appearance of a black bird. Sometimes.
  • Extremophile Lifeforms: Played with. The narration notes that life can exist in all sorts of hostile environments, such as the intoxicating seas of Santraginus V, the fire storms of Frastra, and even New York.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Vann Harl (actually Zarniwoop, as described in the second book), corporate bastard extraordinaire. By this point in the series, the Guide had come to represent freedom from the norm, and thus, both his transformation of the Guide HQ from a dadaesque palace of fun to a drab corporate office complex and his attempt to misuse time-traveling technology to profit infinitely from a single sale are seen as gruesome sins in this series' world. However, he is ever so utterly suave and in-control... though we know he is loathsome, it's hard not to like him. Just a little.
  • 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.
  • Hyperspace Is a Scary Place: If you're from a plural sector, travelling through hyperspace can lead to pronounced cases of spontaneous existence failure.
  • 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). She likes to throw rocks at people who annoy her, and keeps a specially sharpened one in her pocket for the right occasion, which she can "cause a lot of trouble with".
  • 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.
  • Mid-Suicide Regret: The Great Ventilation and Telephone Riots of SrDt 3454 resulted in a requirement that all office buildings have windows that actually open, a development which apparently also led to a lowering of the suicide rate:
    All sorts of stressed and rising executives who had been forced, during the dark days of the Breathe-O-Smart tyranny, to jump in front of trains or stab themselves could now just clamber out onto their own window ledges and leap off at their leisure. What frequently happened, though, was that in the moment or two they had to look around and gather their thoughts they would suddenly discover that all they had really needed was a breath of air and a fresh perspective on things, and maybe also a farm on which they could keep a few sheep.
  • 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.
  • Naughty Tentacles: Implied by the throwaway reference to the Guide having a statue of "Leda and the Octopus" (rather than swan).
  • No Sympathy: Arthur tries to complain about what happened to Fenchurch to the spaceline people, but once they figure out what's happened, they just laugh at him.
  • 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.
  • Precision F-Strike: Arthur, on meeting Ford again, and having had a really unpleasant night, actually uses the word "fucking" to explain as much.
  • Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies: Or more like "Earth Gets Obliterated, Everyone Dies".
  • 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...
  • This Is No Time to Panic: The Guide's iconic "Don't Panic" has been replaced by a small print "Panic". Yes, it is time to panic.
  • 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.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Arthur makes the mistake of taking a deep breath before approaching the old woman in the cave on Hawalius (whose cave is surrounded by goat corpses and flies). The results are not pretty, and described in nauseating detail.
  • You Cannot Grasp the True Form: Arthur is thoroughly disturbed by the man on the pole not making any sort of spatial sense.