The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
It occurred to me that The Hitch Hiker's Guide bears some significant similarities to the concept of our Book: it's huge, you could access any type of knowledge ever put into it with ease, and you definitely would enjoy doing so. For inspiration and fun, I pulled out some excerpts from the book about, well, the book.
From Chapter 2:
Here's what the Encyclopedia Galactica has to say about alcohol. It says that alcohol is a colourless volatile liquid formed by the fermentation of sugars and also notes its intoxicating effect on certain carbon-based life forms.
The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy also mentions alcohol. It says that the best drink in existence is the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster.
It says that the effect of a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster is like having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick.
The Guide also tells you on which planets the best Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters are mixed, how much you can expect to pay for one and what voluntary organizations exist to help you rehabilitate afterwards.
The Guide even tells you how you can mix one yourself.
Take the juice from one bottle of that Ol' Janx Spirit, it says.
Pour into it one measure of water from the seas of Santraginus V — Oh that Santraginean sea water, it says. Oh those Santraginean fish!!!
Allow three cubes of Arcturan Mega-gin to melt into the mixture (it must be properly iced or the benzine is lost).
Allow four litres of Fallian marsh gas to bubble through it, in memory of all those happy Hikers who have died of pleasure in the Marshes of Fallia.
Over the back of a silver spoon float a measure of Qualactin Hypermint extract, redolent of all the heady odours of the dark Qualactin Zones, subtle sweet and mystic.
Drop in the tooth of an Algolian Suntiger. Watch it dissolve, spreading the fires of the Algolian Suns deep into the heart of the drink.
Add an olive.
Drink ... but ... very carefully ...
The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy sells rather better than the Encyclopedia Galactica.
From Chapter 3:
Beneath that in Ford Prefect's satchel were a few biros, a notepad, and a largish bath towel from Marks and Spencer.
The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy has a few things to say on the subject of towels.
A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker can have. Partly it has great practical value — you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindboggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you — daft as a bush, but very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.
More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have "lost". What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.
Hence a phrase which has passed into hitch hiking slang, as in "Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There's a frood who really knows where his towel is." (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)
From Chapter 5:
Ford handed the book to Arthur.
"What is it?" asked Arthur.
"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It's a sort of electronic book. It tells you everything you need to know about anything. That's its job."
Arthur turned it over nervously in his hands.
"I like the cover," he said. "Don't Panic. It's the first helpful or intelligible thing anybody's said to me all day."
"I'll show you how it works," said Ford. He snatched it from Arthur who was still holding it as if it was a two-week-dead lark and pulled it out of its cover.
"You press this button here you see and the screen lights up giving you the index."
A screen, about three inches by four, lit up and characters began to flicker across the surface.
"You want to know about Vogons, so I enter that name so." His fingers tapped some more keys. "And there we are."
The words Vogon Constructor Fleets flared in green across the screen.
Ford pressed a large red button at the bottom of the screen and words began to undulate across it. At the same time, the book began to speak the entry as well in a still quiet measured voice. This is what the book said.
"Vogon Constructor Fleets. Here is what to do if you want to get a lift from a Vogon: forget it. They are one of the most unpleasant races in the Galaxy — not actually evil, but bad tempered, bureaucratic, officious and callous. They wouldn't even lift a finger to save their own grandmothers from the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal without orders signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public inquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat and recycled as firelighters.
"The best way to get a drink out of a Vogon is to stick your finger down his throat, and the best way to irritate him is to feed his grandmother to the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal.
"On no account allow a Vogon to read poetry at you."
From Chapter 8:
The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times over many years and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers.
The introduction begins like this:
"Space," it says, "is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mindboggingly big it is. I mean you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space. Listen ..." and so on.
(After a while the style settles down a bit and it begins to tell you things you really need to know, like the fact that the fabulously beautiful planet Bethselamin is now so worried about the cumulative erosion by ten billion visiting tourists a year that any net imbalance between the amount you eat and the amount you excrete whilst on the planet is surgically removed from your bodyweight when you leave: so every time you go to the lavatory it is vitally important to get a receipt.)
To be fair though, when confronted by the sheer enormity of distances between the stars, better minds than the one responsible for the Guide's introduction have faltered. Some invite you to consider for a moment a peanut in reading and a small walnut in Johannesburg, and other such dizzying concepts.
The simple truth is that interstellar distances will not fit into the human imagination.
Even light, which travels so fast that it takes most races thousands of years to realize that it travels at all, takes time to journey between the stars. It takes eight minutes from the star Sol to the place where the Earth used to be, and four years more to arrive at Sol's nearest stellar neighbour, Alpha Proxima.
For light to reach the other side of the Galaxy, for it to reach Damogran for instance, takes rather longer: five hundred thousand years.
The record for hitch hiking this distance is just under five years, but you don't get to see much on the way.
The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy says that if you hold a lungful of air you can survive in the total vacuum of space for about thirty seconds. However it goes on to say that what with space being the mind boggling size it is the chances of getting picked up by another ship within those thirty seconds are two to the power of two hundred and sixty-seven thousand seven hundred and nine to one against.
From Chapter 11:
The Encyclopaedia Galactica defines a robot as a mechanical apparatus designed to do the work of a man. The marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation defines a robot as "Your Plastic Pal Who's Fun To Be With."
The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy defines the marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation as "a bunch of mindless jerks who'll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes," with a footnote to the effect that the editors would welcome applications from anyone interested in taking over the post of robotics correspondent.
Curiously enough, an edition of the Encyclopaedia Galactica that had the good fortune to fall through a time warp from a thousand years in the future defined the marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation as "a bunch of mindless jerks who were the first against the wall when the revolution came."
From Chapter 15:
(Excerpt from The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Page 634784, Section 5a, Entry: Magrathea)
Far back in the mists of ancient time, in the great and glorious days of the former Galactic Empire, life was wild, rich and largely tax free.
Mighty starships plied their way between exotic suns, seeking adventure and reward amongst the furthest reaches of Galactic space. In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. And all dared to brave unknown terrors, to do mighty deeds, to boldly split infinitives that no man had split before — and thus was the Empire forged.
Many men of course became extremely rich, but this was perfectly natural and nothing to be ashamed of because no one was really poor — at least no one worth speaking of. And for all the richest and most successful merchants life inevitably became rather dull and niggly, and they began to imagine that this was therefore the fault of the worlds they'd settled on — none of them was entirely satisfactory: either the climate wasn't quite right in the later part of the afternoon, or the day was half an hour too long, or the sea was exactly the wrong shade of pink.
And thus were created the conditions for a staggering new form of specialist industry: custom-made luxury planet building. The home of this industry was the planet Magrathea, where hyperspatial engineers sucked matter through white holes in space to form it into dream planets — gold planets, platinum planets, soft rubber planets with lots of earthquakes — all lovingly made to meet the exacting standards that the Galaxy's richest men naturally came to expect.
But so successful was this venture that Magrathea itself soon became the richest planet of all time and the rest of the Galaxy was reduced to abject poverty. And so the system broke down, the Empire collapsed, and a long sullen silence settled over a billion worlds, disturbed only by the pen scratchings of scholars as they laboured into the night over smug little treaties on the value of a planned political economy.
Magrathea itself disappeared and its memory soon passed into the obscurity of legend.
In these enlightened days of course, no one believes a word of it.