The Invention of the Book, and Also Douglas Adams

Carolyn’s Team Pick:

In 1993, Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, recorded an audio clip about the invention of the book and how eventually books would all be scrunched up into silicone or something, for his then-publisher Voyager Books.

This spring, The Literary Platform hosted a competition to animate that audio. The entry below, by Gavin Edwards, lost to a stop-motion video by Eleanor Stokes, but I think it’s even better than the technical winner.

(A transcript is available at The Literary Platform.)

Voyager Books launched the Expanded Books project in 1991. The project featured books on CDs with a few extra features, including search and the ability to change font size. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was one of the first books released, along with Jurassic Park and The Complete Annotated Alice, which is probably why Adams was asked to record the clip (also he had basically already predicted e-books with the Guide and has the best book-reading voice ever).

…I am really just hoping that by this point in the post people will mostly want to talk about Hitchhiker’s Guide (but not the movie). Go!

Any excuse to reference xkcd is a good excuse.

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Ryan Yates

Ryan Yates was the NSFW Editor (2013–2018) and Literary Editor for, with bylines in Nylon, Refinery29, The Toast, Bitch, The Daily Beast, Jezebel, and elsewhere. They live in Los Angeles and also on twitter and instagram.

Ryan has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. Can I talk about how, although the radio play will ALWAYS be number 1 for me, I didn’t hate the movie nearly as much as other HHGG fans? Like, I wasn’t thrilled about the love story/my archnemesis Zoe Deschanel, but I liked the way they just alluded to some of the classic jokes to make way for new ones. I mean, fuck, I don’t need to see another rehash of the exact same material! How can you reinterpret it?

    (And I say this as someone who uses an obscure radio play character’s name as a Twitter handle, so I’M LEGIT DAMMIT)

    Also, the video was cool. I like the Vogon poetry reference.

    • I actually started to feel a lot better about the movie after I re-read the intro to the Trilogy in Five Parts version and realized that changing random things and altering the storyline and doing things in a weird way has happened all along. Also at least the Vogons weren’t anthropomorphic garbage bags (though the tv series does have a special place in my heart just because of that).

    • I enjoy the movie for what it is. Half the fun of every new media that gets a Hitchhiker version is that they don’t so much make adaptions as they do re-interpretations. However, I’m almost always happy to see Zooey.

      • Zooey Deschanel in this movie helped me realize I’m a huge homo. I’m pretty sure I still have a journal entry somewhere of me going O____________O

        • Every time I see criticism of the kind of roles she tends to play, I feel like a bad feminist because I’m like, “Yes, yes, I see what you’re saying, that is a fine point, BUT IN THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE MOVIE SHE WORE THESE LITTLE BLUE SHORTS AND WAS REALLY HOT AND THAT IS ALL THAT MATTERS TO ME RIGHT NOW.”

    • Well, yeah. I liked the movie quite a bit myself, and while I don’t mind people who dislike it because, to them, it just wasn’t a very good version of the story, I’m endlessly amused by the “fans” who dislike it because it changed too many things from the novel. Complaining that a version of the Hitch Hiker’s Guide is different to one of the other versions means that you really haven’t picked up on the whole ethos of Adams’s work, I would say.

    • I actually love the movie. It’s my favorite ‘I don’t want to think, I just want to watch something funny’ movie.

    • I didn’t really get into the books, but quite liked the movie. Especially when they get through the Improbability Drive and different things happen to them! #sacrilege

  2. step 1 bazillion, invent book
    step 1 bazillion and 1, write hhgg
    step 1 bazillion and 2, create autostraddle
    step 1 bazillion and 3, ASGG

    yup i would like an autostraddle guide to the galaxy preferably in time for christmas posting, okay please and thanks.

      • you could put the queer girl city guides and all the get bakeds on there. and other stuff. but instead of “don’t panic” it would say “you do you.” because, yes, it is the ultimate most important thing.

  3. HHGTTG is probably my all time favorite book, I even did my senior thesis for my BA on it. I had a cat named Zaphod Beeblebrox you guys.
    Douglas Adams was a visionary (Last Chance to See anyone?) and I genuinely cried when he died.

    I didn’t mind the movie, I knew it wasn’t going to be as good as the books or the radio show, so I wasn’t expecting that. And I how they reimagined the characters.

    • …I have a cat named Zaphod Beeblebrox.

      (I wanted to name the other one Ford but no one else in my house would go for it.)

    • I have a metal band named Gargravarr. We just haven’t written anything yet/there are only two members. ONE DAY.

    • My cat is just Arthur, because I wanted to doubly reference HHGG and The Tick. And also I wanted to surprise/foil everyone who knows I would be the first to suggest a name like Zaphod Beeblebrox for a pet of any sort.


      Also, I have always wanted to name a cat Slartibartfast, but have always been shot down.

    • So much yes to Last Chance to See. It’s unsurprisingly (based on the username) my favorite book of all time.

  4. I’m glad to see that a lot of people share the general acceptance of the different adaptations. For a while, I felt kind of horrible for having seen the movie before I read the books (I was 11, so I think this is reasonable, honestly) and thought I had to hate the movie, but once I listened to the radio show I realized that adaptations of the series could be genuinely different. It’s sort of refreshing, and something I haven’t found in other series.

    Also: I love his other books as well. I haven’t read Last Chance to See, but the Dirk Gently books are fun.

    • Fun fact – the books are also an adaptation. The radio play was the very first incarnation.

      Another fun fact – the original concept Douglas Adams had that eventually became HHGG was a series called Ends of the Earth, in which each week would see a different way for the Earth to be destroyed. But after he wrote the first one, well, he couldn’t leave that alone, now could he? :)

      • Another fun fact- Douglas Adams came up with the idea for the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy while lying drunk in a field in Europe. I have to admire anyone whose defining achievement was the result of lying drunk in a field. Let him be an example to us all.

    • Last Chance to See is pretty much the best book I have ever read. I mean, I’m a wildlife biologist who likes humorous memoirs as much as I like science fiction (which is a lot), so it’s like that book was written JUST FOR ME, but I don’t think any of those things have to be true to enjoy it.

  5. I love the books, my favorites <3 And I love the movie aswell, it's cute and fun and it has Zooey Deschanel and Martin Freeman and amusing background noises XD

    Also, I wish they'd make a new tv-adaptation of it. I already have a wish list for who I'd like to play some characters XD (Arthur Darvill For Arthur Dent, yes/yes? I think he'd be perfect ^^ And Andrea Riseborough for Trillian. And possibly, and this may just be me and just cause I haven't managed to come up with anyone else for the part yet, but Russell Brand for Zaphod *grins* Though it'd be half weird either way – either a blonde Russell or a darkhaired Zaphod *shrug* Still.)

    I have to admit though, I've only read the first book in English, and I… actually preferred the translation I read first. Huh. But I'll give it another go and see if I've changed my mind.

  6. I love HHGTG, but The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul is my favorite book. It’s been a while and I keep meaning to re-read HHGTG, but getting distracted by other books. Eff this, HHGTG is going to the top of the reading list.

  7. I love HHGTTG so much that I went to Innsbruck and laid in a field. About the movie: I love the radio plays and the old BBC miniseries a lot, and really hated the movie when it first came out, but you know what? I don’t hate it now. I mean, it has Sam Fucking Rockwell as Zaphod, which is practically the best idea I’ve ever heard. Zooey pisses me off and the pacing is terrible and I hate that Marvin looks like a fucking iPod, but it’s honestly a way better movie than I originally gave it credit for.

    • I thought Mos Def as Ford was an inspired piece of casting, too. At first I thought it was insane but then it totally worked.

  8. I’ve never actually read HHGTTG in book form, but I’ve listened to the audiobook probably 10 times. It was my family’s roadtrip listening. Hearing it all in Douglas Adams’s voice = the greatest. Sometimes I quote things from it, and people almost never know what I’m talking about, but the few who do are immediately my friends.

    Love the “Getting the Book Invented” clip.

  9. I’m mega-late to the party, but everything about this post makes me happier about life. I’m an unabashed dork for Douglas Adams. Also, I feel like my 42 tattoo leads to some interesting conversations.

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