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Literature / So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

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...So sad that it should come to this
We tried to warn you all, but oh dear...

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish (published in 1984) is the fourth installment in the increasingly inaccurately-named The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy; it's set eight years since the beginning of the first book, but the amount of time that has passed between the end of the third, Life, the Universe and Everything, and the beginning of this one is not made clear. The plot concerns series protagonist Arthur Dent, who is very surprised to discover that his homeworld, planet Earth, seems to have suddenly sprung back into existence even though the alien Vogons destroyed it eight years ago to make way for an interstellar bypass.

He explores his old Islington home and, seeing everything back where it should be, starts to suspect that his memories of space travel may have been nothing more than hallucinations; after all, the people say, a nearby water source was found to be accidentally contaminated by hallucinogens. Arthur returns to his old ways and even strikes up a meaningful romance with Fenchurch, a beautiful young woman who seems just right for him. However, something is not quite right. Every dolphin on Earth seems to have mysteriously disappeared, someone is going around anonymously giving out fishbowls as gifts, and Fenchurch herself is hiding one or two oddities. Eventually Arthur and Fenchurch set out on a quest to discover the truth, leading to encounters with Ford Prefect, a giant robot "invader", and Wonko the Sane...

Notable for featuring God's Final Message to His Creation.

Preceded by Life, the Universe and Everything. Succeeded by Mostly Harmless.

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Aliens Speaking English: God's final message to Creation, located on an alien planet, is written in English. It's spelled out letter-by-letter, so there's no chance that it's the setting's Translator Microbes.
  • All Just a Dream: Subverted. Arthur considers the possibility that he might have hallucinated his time in space, but quickly realises this can't be true because he's clearly been somewhere. It eventually turns out the Earth was restored by the dolphins.
  • Ambiguous Time Period: It's only been a few months (from the Earth's perspective) since the Vogon attack, but Know-Nothing Bozo is an in-universe dig at President Ronald Reagan, and Arthur is familiar with this. So ... the first book was set at least two years after publication?
  • Back for the Dead: True to the narration's promise at the halfway point, Marvin does indeed show up at the end after being absent from the whole book up to that point. Then his age catches up to him and he dies.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Ford pulls this to get himself, Arthur and Fenchurch onto a spaceship and off Earth.
  • "Begone" Bribe: Rob McKenna (see Perpetual Storm below), uses this to great effect. He is able to make a good living getting resorts and such to pay him to not visit them.
  • Bizarrchitecture: Invoked in the description of Wonko the Sane's house, which is essentially an inside-out asylum meant to hold the rest of the world..
  • Brick Joke: This story starts with an almost identical narration to the first novel, but instead of "this is not her story", it says that this is her story, and reveals in the first few chapters that it's Fenchurch.
  • British Stuffiness: Arthur invokes this when telling the biscuit story. When a man took one of his biscuits, he "did what any red-blooded Englishman would do"; ignored it.
    Well, it's not the sort of thing you're trained for, is it? I searched my soul, and discovered that there was nothing anywhere in my upbringing, experience, or even primal instincts to tell me how to react to someone who has quite simply, calmly, sitting right there in front of me, stolen one of my biscuits.
  • Cosmic Plaything: Not just Arthur Dent this time but Rob McKenna, the trucker who is an unknowing rain god and has absolutely no idea. All he knew was that he constantly had a literal rain cloud over his head. He's catalogued two hundred and thirty-one separate types of rain. The clouds loved him and want to be near him, but he didn't see it that way. After Arthur suggests he show his journal of all the rain (mainly to get the creepy trucker to stop telling him about it), he does. As a result, according to Murray Bost-Henson, his status as a rain attractor apparently becomes recognized internationally, and several nations (namely those who rely on pleasant weather to attract tourists) and major airports paid him to stay away at all times.
  • Crazy Sane: Wonko the Sane built his bizarre inside-out house and called it "The Asylum" when he decided that the world had gone mad.
  • Democracy Is Flawed: "On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people, if they didn't vote for a lizard, the wrong lizard might get in." Though one could argue this is more of an argument against first-past-the-post voting than against democracy in general. (There’s a name in political science for the principle that first-past-the-post voting leads to people voting strategically for the “lesser of two evils”: Duverger’s Law).
  • First Contact: Ford arrives on Earth in a ship that creates this scenario. He then sneaks himself, Arthur and Fenchurch on board when it's leaving.
  • Flight of Romance: Arthur and Fenchurch take this up to extremes, not just falling in love, but also, um, really getting to know each other.
  • Funny Conception Story: Fenchurch was conceived in the ticket queue of the Fenchurch Street Railway Station, hence her name.
  • The Genie Knows Jack Nicholson: Ford is a fan of the film Casablanca, though the heaps of trouble he's constantly in have kept him from ever finishing it.
  • Giant Robot: Ford's return to Earth is facilitated by one of these making First Contact. Due to a strange case of brainwashing, it has come to Earth for a relaxing vacation.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Arthur spends some time staring at the Horse and Groom in the hope that considering the pub where it all started might help him make sense of what actually did happen, before eventually concluding that the important thing is that it's a pub, and it sells drinks.
  • If I Had a Nickel...: Ford says, "If I had a pound for every time one part of the universe looked at another part of the universe and said, 'That's terrible,' I wouldn't be sitting here like a lemon asking you to bring me a cup of coffee, but I don't and I am."
  • Intentionally Awkward Title: Although it's one that's entered the popular lexicon.
  • Killed Off for Real: Marvin. He's quite relieved about it, really.
  • Law of Conservation of Detail: Discussed at length in Chapter 25, as the narrator tries to invoke it as an excuse for why this is the first we're hearing of Arthur's love life.
  • Look Ma, No Plane!: Arthur and Fenchurch, taking a somewhat innovative approach to joining the Mile-High Club.
  • Love Before First Sight: In that Arthur falls in love with Fenchurch while she's asleep, so he had seen her, but he had not met her.
  • Making Love in All the Wrong Places: Fenchurch's parents, which was how she got her unusual name. Apparently they were waiting in the ticket queue at Fenchurch Street Station, they got really bored, and, well...
  • Metaphorgotten: Ford:
    Life is like a grapefruit. Well, it's sort of orangy-yellow and dimpled on the outside, wet and squidgy in the middle. It's got pips inside, too. Oh, and some people have a half a one for breakfast.
  • Mile-High Club: When Arthur and Fenchurch are consummating their relationship in mid-air, they briefly do some of their love-making on a jet’s wing before being blown off. An old lady with a window seat gets to watch, and is cheered up to realize the universe is not as mundane as she feared.
  • Million to One Chance: After Arthur loses Fenchurch's number, he decides to occupy himself by learning to code and attempting to calculate the location of his cave on prehistoric earth. He comes up with an answer he knows has no realistic chance of being correct, goes to the address and knocks on the door. The text notes that by sheer unimaginable chance he got it exactly right, and then Fenchurch answers the door.
  • Mistaken for Thief: At one point, Arthur tells Fenchurch a story about how he thought a man in the station waiting room was eating his biscuits, but he actually was eating from his own identical bag and Arthur had accidentally stolen the other guy's biscuits. It was apparently a real-life experience of the author, although it had been an Urban Legend since before then.
  • The Nicknamer: Murray Bost Henson, calling Arthur nicknames of endearment such as, "my old silver tureen", "my old elephant tusk" and "my old prosthetic limb".
  • Personal Raincloud: Played for Laughs and Justified Bob McKenna has recorded a log showing that it rains everywhere, all the time. This is because, unknown to himself, he's a rain god and the clouds are honoring him by raining wherever he is. They don't hang lower than average rain clouds though so this might be why no one noticed.
  • Precision F-Strike: If you're reading the American version of the booksnote  then this book contains a whopper. In fact, all of Chapter 25 is spent building up to it. See Sophisticated as Hell.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Arthur's biscuit story actually happened to Douglas Adams.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Arthur's computer-assisted star-mapping.
  • Sapient Cetaceans: The disappearance of the dolphins, though previously mentioned in the series, is something of a plot point here.
  • Screw the Rules, They're Not Real!: Arthur Dent describes an occasion when he thought he'd encountered someone who ignored the unwritten rule "You do not sit down opposite a stranger in a railway cafe and start helping yourself to their biscuits", and he realised there was absolutely nothing in his mental toolkit to deal with the situation because people just don't do that. It turned out his biscuits were under his newspaper; the ones on the table were the other guy's. This is apparently based on something that actually happened to Douglas Adams.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Offered by the author in a case of No Fourth Wall, when he advises the uninterested reader to skip the chapter where Arthur and Fenchurch have sex.
  • Shout-Out: Arthur asks if Fenchurch was born in a handbag at Fenchurch station.
  • Sophisticated as Hell:
    What is he, man or mouse? Is he interested in nothing more than tea and the wider issues of life? Has he no spirit? Has he no passion? Does he not, to put it in a nutshell, fuck?
  • Textual Celebrity Resemblance: Parodied.
    If you took a couple of David Bowies and stuck one of the David Bowies on the top of the other David Bowie, then attached another David Bowie to the end of each of the arms of the upper of the first two David Bowies and wrapped the whole business up in a dirty beach robe you would then have something which didn't exactly look like John Watson, but which those who knew him would find hauntingly familiar.
  • Theseus' Ship Paradox: Invoked in Marvin, who mentions that almostnote  every part of him has been replaced at least 50 times.
  • Timey-Wimey Ball: This book is set a subjective eight years for Arthur after he first left the Earth at the beginning of the first book. As he spent five of those years on prehistoric Earth, it can be inferred that this is about three years after in "real time". But on Earth itself, just under six months appear to have passed (from early September to mid-February). Then again, when he left Earth, it was destroyed. It could be inferred that it took the dolphins two and a half years to get it set up so Earth could continue without anyone noticing the difference.
  • Unexpected Genre Change: For a large part of the book, Science Fiction yields to romance and Slice of Life (it's still funny, though).
  • Vandalism Backfire: Arthur's tale of eating someone else's biscuits.
  • Way Past the Expiration Date: Arthur returns to his home after years in space, and eats "the three least green furry things" in the fridge for breakfast. It's noted that, fortunately, this killed several diseases he was carrying that might have wiped out all life on Earth.
  • When He Smiles: Wonko the Sane.
    But his smile when he turned it on you was quite remarkable. It seemed to be composed of all the worst things that life can do to you, but which, when he briefly reassembled them in that particular order on his face, made you suddenly feel, "Oh. Well that's all right then."
  • Wretched Hive: Han Dold City, where bartenders garotte you if you ask for credit, nobody cares if you kill a bass player, and Ford finds himself in the middle of a gang war. Between two factions of police.
  • Zero-G Spot: Arthur and Fenchurch.