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An Earthly Prequel to a Galactic Guide

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September 1, 2000

Douglas Adams’ sci-fi satire The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and its four sequels chronicle the interstellar exploits of a hapless human who is helped along on his journey by the novel’s namesake-an ingenious handheld gadget that offers advice about almost any place, object, entity or event in the cosmos. The electronic handheld Guide, regularly updated by its users, is a forerunner of today’s emerging e-books and wireless Internet access rolled into one.

Once totally fictional, Adams’ concoction has led to the quite factual Earth Edition of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on the Web. Launched in May 1999 by the London-based new media firm h2g2 Ltd. (formerly The Digital Village), it has grown into a community of more than 30,000 registered participants in 85 countries. These “researchers”-including Adams himself-post entries on all aspects of living on the planet, ranging from the quirky to the truly useful. Topics include alcoholic drinks, the world’s best beaches, English, American and Australian slang, and the question of whether intelligent life exists on Earth. For fans of Adams’ writing, among the most noteworthy finds are his wry entries on “Festive Hangover Cures” and “International Driving Laws.”

Like the device in the books, h2g2 is a work in progress. As Adams recently wrote on the site: “The Guide itself, big as it has become, is still a little like the fossil record in that it consists almost entirely of gaps.” Yet the power of h2g2 is that gaps can be filled, not only by researchers posting at will but also with responses to specific queries. Adams’ request for information on scrambled eggs, for example, elicited entries on “How to make the perfect scrambled eggs” and the best places on Earth to eat scrambled eggs. Available since last December, a wireless version of h2g2 beamed to handheld devices and cell phones is the first step toward the real-time portable guide to the galaxy of Adams’ imagination.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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