Sunday, 12 May 2013



Friday, 13 April 2012


Entry: Campaigns.

Beings across the galaxy fall into two main and easily recognisable categories, two-legged ape descendants and everybody else. This second category is variously furry, tentacled, psychic, bright blue and so thoroughly alien that the majority of the civilised races have a really hard time relating to them when they say, show up for a job interview, marry their daughters or run for elected office.

However, due to the prevalence of cheap spacial and trans-dimensional travel, the chances of meeting anyone that remotely resembles the two-legged standard becomes increasingly remote the further (and more boldly) you go.

We are all, or so we are led to believe, just one big happy family, living together in groovy, alcohol soaked harmony beneath the warming light of a billion suns. This was an accepted truth that bore (or deserved) little scrutiny and kept all the endless races happy with their imagined place in the galaxy.

That was before Runn-berr, a plucky little being from the farming colonies of Vegan-Siluri decided that the farming community wasn’t getting the credit it deserved for feeding trillions of souls and decided to run for president.

The role of president had long ago been dissolved due to the inability of anybody trustworthy to present a suitable candidate – but this na├»ve little being changed all that by pointing out that if a president was merely appointed to preserve and protect the interests of a low paid but essential portion of society then nothing could possibly go wrong.

All those of you reading this who are in proud possession of a history degree please feel free to groan and mutter amongst yourselves.

Runn-berr appeared on chat shows and impressed upon the audience the vital importance of carrots, the regular supply of grain from the agri-planets to the galactic centre and the gratitude that should be expressed so that this arrangement continued and didn’t, to pick a random and non-threatening example, suddenly stop.

Within two weeks Runn-berr had everyone’s attention, without lifting a paw he had single handedly held an entire galaxy to ransom, given control of the agricultural industry to the farmers who grew the produce and generally caught every politician napping.

He was immediately made president. For life. The other politicians had searched in vain for any possible opponent and had found none that were so cute and at the same time projected a statesmanlike calm that inspired trust and leadership. It also didn’t hurt that everyone who ever saw Runn-berr just wanted to pick him up and give him a cuddle.

Then there was the campaign poster. Never has a presidential campaign been over so quickly. Here lies a lesson for us all.

Entry ends.

Thursday, 5 April 2012


Entry: Spirituality.

Once the Gods had been either disproven or been asked politely to leave so that the major religions could go about their business in peace, the beings of the galaxy needed something to fill the void in their lives that the philosophers had created thanks to their highly educated (and provably true) arguments.
Being an egotistical and self-centered lot, the beings of the galaxy decided instead to believe in themselves. Unfortunately this involved a great deal of staring into mirrors and smiling and did precisely no one not a single jot of good. This was until one clever soul decided to look up how his ancestors did it, before all the laws and the rules and the vast citadels full of priceless antiques and everything else that used to pass for a seriously organised faith in the ‘good old days’.
The answer was that the ancestors spent a lot of time looking at and thinking about wolves, bears, eagles and then licking an almost terminally venomous frog so that the things they thought made some kind of weird sense.
This was, philosophically at least, a real out of body experience.
The narcissistic masses tore themselves away from their bathroom mirrors and any other reflective surface that had managed to catch the light and show off their good side and ventured out into the wild to experience the grandeur, majesty and voracious appetites of the larger species of noble predators. Those that survived wrote great long tales of how the unworthy were weeded out, how the pure of spirit were chosen and filled with wisdom and the variety of large bore rifles that were employed to tell the difference.
Many simply faked the whole thing, hid out up the nearest tree for a week eating nothing but concentrated Nosho (the tiny pill that fills you up! Up ! UP!) and then snuck back into to town to tell elaborate lies about a close encounter with a bear that had shown them the true meaning of the stars and the vast entirety of creation. However, the truth was that the only wildlife experience they had really had was when a family of nano-weasels tried to make a nest in one of their nostrils.
The frogs everyone was licking certainly didn’t help, sending many addled souls wandering happily to their deaths believing they were chasing imaginary pixies over very real cliffs. As far as the frogs were concerned they now had conclusive proof of the benefits of evolution, having long ago developed the ability to sweat out vast quantities of psychoactive chemicals designed to make any potential predator experience astonishing visions, loosen their bowels, chase pixies and, most importantly, drop the frog.
Some frog philosophers even went so far as to suggest that the only reason the advanced mammals had gods in the first place was that their ancestors spent a lot of time in sweat lodges getting up close and personal with amphibian happy juice.
Soon the advanced mammals, at least those who were sane, alive and capable of running faster than their spirit guides, decided to seek wisdom and get in touch with the universal energies from other less hazardous sources. This is why any bazaar on an art colony world will be up to its knees in crystal shops – because no one ever died after being chased and eaten by a rock (except those misguided souls who followed the spiritual power of earthquakes to the foot of the all knowing mountain – but those guys, on the whole, got what they deserved).
These days the noble predators spend their days eating smaller animals, making baby predators and only occasionally meet in jungle clearings to read the past and future of the universe in the subtle movements of the clouds.

Entry ends.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Digital Watches

Entry: Digital watches.

One problem with setting foot on any new and exciting world is that the watch that worked perfectly well at home is now completely useless.
The reasons for this, described in slow, serious tones by any passing physicist, are that the planet moves around the star at a different speed to your own, the planet spins slightly faster or slower than you are used to and the mass of the planet itself is bending local space-time just enough to make life interesting.
Faced with an hour containing four-hundred and twenty minutes, an eighteen hour day and a five-hundred day year most hitchhikers will give up and fall back on the oldest traveller’s timepiece, their own bodies.
The phrase “Eat when you are hungry, sleep when you’re tired” is a good rhythm to fall into, especially as it contains two of the five secrets to eternal happiness (See Happiness – Eternal – Secrets of – page 1010105628485.5 – just under the advert for drain beetles. Apologies, this article is currently unavailable due to an on-going editorial/spirituo-philosophical debate.)
Knowing the time, apart from the obvious reason of being able to have a convincing and spirited argument with a barman about the accuracy of the pub clock, is not actually essential. Most beings will quickly adapt to their new surroundings, stay awake for months waiting for nightfall and then go to a bar. As the effects of sleep deprivation are well known and the effects of most of the galaxy’s more potent drinks are the most exhaustively documented things in existence the combination can frequently be amusing – for other people at least.
The digital watch was therefore due for something of an overhaul. Once the fundamentals had been ironed out (i.e. which limb it should be worn around and how fashionable and hip the design should be) the marketing department handed the project over to the engineers.
From all over the galaxy the finest technical minds from the most prestigious watch companies (such as Vonc, $io and Parsec Bleep) came up with a device that posed one of the most hotly contested questions in the galaxy; where should “time zero” begin?
Most of the major religions cited the birth of their prophets, other realist communities proposed the publication date of their first book and physicists suggested the birth of the universe itself – until it was pointed out that a watch would have to be as long as your arm to even show the date, never mind the time.
After much wrangling and debate the leaders of all the major worlds met in the Grand Debating Hall of Floid-Repaxa Beta and were each handed a pointed, ceremonial “argument stick” and were told not to come out until there was a majority consensus. The only survivor, a woman named Triel Martoni, staggered out, locked the doors behind her with a pointed look, wiped her bloodied stick on the ceremonial curtains and announced that the beginning of practically fashionable time was three thousand years ago to commemorate the invention of the first piece of truly useful design, the digital watch itself.
There was polite smattering of applause before the emergency services were called to the scene to take Martoni off to stand trial for the needless slaughter of several heads of state.
These days Universal Time is accepted across the galaxy, even though the different lengths of any given day now means that midnight more often than not occurs in the middle of the afternoon but, as the bars always close five minutes early and nobody wears a digital watch anyway this is all largely academic.

Entry Ends.


Friday, 23 March 2012


Entry: Homophones.

One of the lesser-known side effects of the galaxy's reliance on Babel Fish is the problem of the linguistic commonality known as homophones and the fact that the majority of fish have a tin ear when it comes to the spoken word.
The definition, as stated in the Very Large Book (a space born database that contains every piece of information about the universe we currently live in - and quite a lot of other startling facts about other universes that no one has ever heard of - the current consensus being that it makes up most of the stuff it says) is of a word that is pronounced the same as another but has a totally different meaning.
Lots of linguists have spent their lives getting very excited about the ubiquity of the phrase "gin and tonic" throughout the galaxy, but the real nub of the problem can only really be grasped at a much smaller scale.
Take two worlds, any two worlds, and carefully observe there is nothing up my sleeves...
Imagine you are from an ordinary planet somewhere in the Dexahulbris Cluster. You will probably speak some variation of Standard Galactic and, as of right now, you are on your holidays on a sunny little rock in the vicinity of the Wobstar. There are some things you need to know; some of them are quite important. In the local dialect some of the basic words do not mean what you think.

For example:

  • Wa-ter - a battle cry - i.e. " we're going to wa-ter kick the fertilizer out of our enemies"
  • Food - local teenage pronunciation of "frood". Holding a sign that reads “Odd Jobs for Food” will end up with you moving a battered sofa and getting a hug from a grateful hippy.
  • Hotel - a prostitute's phone number
  • Palindrome - a large building designed to host any unsuccessful political rally.

And so on...

There is very little a hitchhiker can do to combat this problem except learn the formal words for the items in question. Thus “Can I have a glass of melted ice, with some ice in it?” may get you a lot of funny looks but it will prevent the outbreak of hostilities.
The accepted alternatives for common terms that do not suffer from double meanings are:

  • Food: Nourishment / a meal / burger.
  • Water: Melted ice / burnt hydrogen.
  • Hotel: Hostelry / inn / campsite / friend’s sofa / park bench / prison cell.
  • Palindrome: Word the same backwards.

The palindrome example is especially worthy of note as it brings us neatly to the Squebblori people of Traxyodel Seven – who have constructed a language of surprising sophistication from a very limited vocabulary.

Favorite examples include:

  • Sky: The breathing blue.
  • Moon: sunless blue, ball give birth every month.
  • Politician. Lots of money, parents are weasels, lies even when asleep.

Interestingly the Squebblori have no phrase for hitchhiker. They will simply look you up and down, hold their noses and walk away.

Entry ends.


Friday, 16 March 2012


Entry: Gigs.

On the rare occasions that a busy hitchhiker has time to kill and (even more unlikely) money to spare, you can usually find them in darkened rooms, determinedly clutching a warm, fizzy anaesthetic and avoiding being knocked over by the crowd as, on a bare, greasy stage, teenage beings attempt to extract illegal noises from devices that fall more in to the definition of “power tools” than musical instruments.
This is a "gig", the small, bastard offspring of the larger, grander and far more expensive "concert", of which more later.
A "band" is a loose term derived from the whistle and drum arrangements that historically led an army into battle, finished their rendition of "Oh, bloody hell boys! Here we go again!" and legged it.
These days a band is a motley collection of beings who have decided that loud noises and leather trousers are a career choice and will thus dedicate all their free time and other peoples money to creating the kind of sounds that would, in an agricultural setting, be used to scare the fertiliser out of large herbivores.
The life cycle of a band usually follows the same basic pattern. One being, usually with some skill in getting a tune out of some wire pulled over a wooden box with a hole in it, will meet other like minded beings who can bang taught animal skins and play other, stranger instruments. The newly formed band will then practise in their parent’s garage until either the damage to the neighbour’s aural canals results in criminal proceedings or a song finally emerges.
Sometimes these are one and the same thing.
This noise is then recorded as a "demo", primarily to reassure the bar owners that are looking for something cheap to fill a slot during the quieter nights of the week, that the band in question isn't merely three weirdos whacking a bucket with a microphone and calling it "art", as this tends to upset the dedicated mid-week alcoholics, leave a bill for new furniture and increases the costs of liability insurance.
Gigs can take several forms. The familiar location is a sweaty shed tacked onto the back of a bar that has been comprehensively soundproofed and is a fertile source of subjects for any sociological study of masochism.
Once the band has become more successful the venue grows to become a local town hall or farmer’s field. Neither of these are soundproofed and will soon separate out the actual musicians from stunt yodellers and other horrors.
Should a band suddenly find that more people are paying to see them play than paying lawyers to make then stop then they will instantly become incredibly rich, wear sunglasses indoors at night and take up residence in the wreckage of hotel rooms.
Gigs then become more of an exercise in population control than anything else as hundreds of thousands of beings descend on a sports stadium and sing along to their favourite songs and squint at the stage. The band themselves will always be too far away to see, obscured by bright lights and, in most cases, somewhere else entirely.
Take the example of “Blast Radius” the second most successful band in all of recording history. They started as a wistful folk band that sang songs about fields of corn moving gently in the breeze, the boxes of matches in their pockets and the possible reasons why most of the field was on fire.
Within six months the band had changed into a “Catastrophe Rock” outfit and played concerts that sold out entire continents. After two years it was all over, the band members retreating into the kind of public reclusiveness that is the bread and butter of any good public relations firm who can make a non-appearance into an event and would, in fact, prefer that the artists in question did not exist at all.
This brings us neatly to the final evolutionary stage of the gig, the charity event.
When a cause such as the alarming decline in the dingo population or the “inhuman” conditions suffered by factory farmed Babel Fish needs a bit of spare cash, the participation a retired rock star is essential to get the public’s interest.
Note: this doesn’t work if the cause in question is the preservation of retired rock stars and the upkeep of their rehab facilities.
Soon, a fashionably dilapidated venue will be filled to bursting with balding beings in tie-dyed t-shirts, who are prepared to listen patiently to several hours of desperate explanations as to why the animal in question is worth saving before the retired musician makes an appearance.
Then, from a cloud of dubious smoke and laser light, the retired rock star will stumble, blinking out onto the stage, strap on his weapon of choice and let rip with a totally unhinged version of an old favourite that leaves the crowd in stunned and awestruck silence.
The deafening applause this causes is often used as a cheap and effective way to demolish old concert venues.
The next charity concert is for the last surviving fan. To date, over two thousand retired rock stars have signed up to be in the audience.

Entry Ends.

Friday, 9 March 2012


Entry: Communications.

Linguists agree that the primary catalyst for language is the fact that cows have legs.
To explain.

In primitive hunter-gatherer societies it was vitally important to work out where the vast herds of proto-wildebeest would be tomorrow or starve to death. Urgent pointing was not a long term solution, neither were crude paintings of the last sophisticated dinner party, so language – born out of the sheer frustration of having to eat grass for dinner again – exploded out of the mouths of our troglodyte forbears as a direct reaction to the prospect of permanent vegetarianism.
After its initial discovery language moved on fairly rapidly. We spoke to other members of our clan, ran a long way to speak to other clans, then rode a horse to deliver messages to even further clans, then tied the messages to the legs of birds who flapped off to deliver them for us because we, as a species were, frankly, knackered.
Eventually birds, horses and the other wildlife we had pressed into service were replaced with cunning devices that connected our farthest settlements with telegraph wire and telephones. Then, when we had finally managed to crawl hesitantly out of the gravity well, we built satellites to beam our important thoughts about where would be the coolest place to have dinner around the globe.
Then came space travel, which buggered the whole thing up for everybody.
The mind-boggling distances involved meant that any message sent to some distant friend would take so long to arrive that the friend in question would have been long dead and their descendants would have evolved into something else entirely and wouldn’t be able to understand the primitive signal when it did show up. And, of course, given the nature of stars and their worrying tendency to swell up and explode, the planet your friend lived on might not even exist anymore.
Early experiments with entanglement, the smashing apart of previously happy atoms into their component quanta that then spent the rest of their lives wondering where the other half went, were a limited success. The understanding that the universe began from a single small dot meant, at some level at least, that everything was entangled to everything else and so the galactic cross chatter of beings discussing dinner became nothing more than an unintelligible racket.
The Drel-ep-na-ro people (from a planet with so many syllables in its name that it has never been written down and is known instead by its nickname of Ax) had spread out into the universe and were having the same problems as everybody else. However, unlike other races, their ships were powered by holedrives, devices that didn’t so much warp space-time as burrow though it, connecting distant planets together with a terrifying whirling vortex through which their ships would attempt to hurtle - before the whole unstable mess snapped shut and scattered their molecules into the vacuum.
The physics, or at least the bit most beings bothered to read, simply stated that under the right conditions the distance between any two points was, effectively, zero. This didn’t seem to worry anyone at the time.
The communications companies approached the technology with caution and, after the loss of several fingers and a small moon, managed to produce a prototype handset that, if used very carefully, would allow instantaneous conversations with anyone in the galaxy. The fact that your ear might be sucked off the side of your face and wrenched into deep space was seen merely as an “inconvenient feature”.
After the addition of several null-o-field generators, molecular integrity clamps and a roll of sticky tape to wrap around your head, the device was ready for its first field test.
No one is exactly sure what happened next but the published report presented the following hypothesis.
The first call was made on Grabbel 5 – the corporate headquarters of the galactic communication company Rho Inc. The tiny device opened up its local hole and tried to make a connection.
Suddenly all the other atoms in the Rho network became very excited indeed and, because they were entangled, produced holes of their own to get in on the action. The planet collapsed, falling in on itself as the interesting bit of spatial physics demonstrated what happens when you ignore zeros in equations.
The resultant black hole is all that remains of the Grabbel system but, curiously, it still functions perfectly as a hub for all inter-galactic calls. As physicists tell us, the only thing that is preserved inside a black hole is information and, in this case, the information in question happened to be the phone book.
This black hole is why it always sounds as if you are standing at the bottom of a well and shouting into a bucket when you discuss your groovy dinner plans. There were attempts to try and improve the sound quality, but every engineer sent to work on the problem has never been seen again.

Entry ends.


Saturday, 3 March 2012


Entry: Medicine

Falling ill on your travels, and in fact falling anywhere, can be especially hazardous for those of us 'fortunate' enough to work for the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. We are not like normal mortals (or any of the other forms of life that have mysteriously ended up on the payroll) and thus come with our own set of job specific hazards.
And even the smallest thing can be fatal.
As a hitchhiker you will usually be miles away from any centre of civilisation as you make feverish notes on some local building, custom or recreational intoxicant. This isolation will, of course, leave you at a disadvantage as the tiny scratch on your leg suddenly develops into swollen, hallucinogenic death. Sounds like fun, but really - it isn't.
The hitchhiker lifestyle will also result in any phone call to a travel insurance company ending with a short burst of sarcastic laughter before they hang up. So, with no medical cover of any kind, it is vitally important to equip yourself with the lifesaving basics that will keep you on the right side of the infinite for a little while longer.
Firstly, go to an electronics store and buy a blue laser pointer (the light is blue, not the casing – this is very important). Blue laser light has many strange and useful properties, such as making other beings believe you are highly organised, a policeman, or are equipped with a sniper rifle – any and all of which will keep most trouble away, or at least ensure you spend the night in a nice warm cell out of harms way once you have been arrested for impersonating law enforcement.
Blue light is also the cure for most of the galaxy's stranger illnesses.
After evolution had settled down a bit and stopped having fun building amoeba new, elegant forms of life soon filled every lukewarm pool with their multicellular wriggling. After billions of years these little life forms have remained largely unchanged but, importantly, they had become 'refined'. Basking in the hard, unfiltered light of their sun, the subtle genetic tricks, learned over the eons, had made these tiny creatures the most efficient killing and reproducing engines imaginable. These days they can be found on every surface and door handle, in the food you eat, floating in the very air itself ready to pounce and devour you. Or so the advertisers would have you believe.
If you are lucky enough to survive this bug-infested onslaught, long enough to grow up and read a book (such as this one) you will quickly discover that the warnings of advertisers can be quickly overcome by listening to your mother. Remember (she'll say) to always:

  • Wash your hands.
  • Cover your mouth when you sneeze.
  • Make sure your food is cooked all the way through.
  • Take your vitamins.
  • Don't drink from puddles.
  • Don’t run naked through a rose bush without a tetanus shot.

For all other cases, where some unidentified lurgi has taken up residence in your sinuses and invited all its friends, blue light is the answer.
Certain frequencies of blue light trigger self-destructive reactions in diseased cells and also trigger your own cells to produce interesting anti-bodies. These will behave exactly like an irate neighbour who will pound on your door at 3am and tell you to turn the bloody noise down.
Very loud pulsing music, while not to everyone’s taste, can also help with your cure. Viruses are a simple bunch and want to be left alone to divide and conquer. If the country they are conquering (you – or at least your sinuses) is just too loud, the virus will usually give up and go elsewhere to grumble about how quiet things used to be in their primordial pool.
Of course, the other major method to beat most infections is alcohol. Drinking it is good. This is well understood. Gargling it, especially the stronger varieties, is better. A mouthwash of Old Janx Spirit for example will make every virus in your head explode through sheer joy. (The actual explanation of this is Catastrophic Reverse Osmosis, which is far too dry to be discussed here.) The recognised method is the so called "Two Hats" approach. Buy a bottle of spirits. Find a friend in a hat to drink it with (a photograph of a hat will also do in a pinch). Drink the spirits. When you can see two hats – go to bed. You may have effectively poisoned yourself, but you have also made life extremely unpleasant for the virus who has to get on with dividing in your alcoholic soup of a bloodstream.
This is why all hitchhikers – when falling ill with some local flu – will insist they are taken immediately, to a nightclub where the drinks are fiendishly strong and the pulsing music and ultraviolet light will do the rest. That's the one good thing about hangovers – they really let you know you’re alive.

Entry Ends.


Friday, 24 February 2012


Entry: Furniture.

In the beginning, somewhere amongst all the endless nothing, something twisted, snapped, went “ping” and soon afterwards became a universe.
There are of course many theories surrounding this event - with some of the more far-fetched examples providing lucrative careers for retired physicists who can now spend their lives arguing vehemently on the documentary channels.
In order to keep the ratings up, even the most preposterous and downright unhinged theories get an airing and are treated seriously for several minutes until the retired physicists step in to frame and shoot the whole idea to pieces.
That hasn’t stopped some of the ideas gaining traction amongst conspiracy theorists whose justification for perpetuating these daft thoughts is their slogan of “It’s a truth THEY don’t want you to know”.
Fortunately, the weak signals emanating from their basement transmitters aren’t powerful enough for this drivel to reach anybody. That is what public service broadcasting is for.
The one idea that refuses to go away, despite repeated violent de-bunkings by the major religions, is F-Space.
F-Space was first postulated by a happy soul named Jano who had struggled to find a matching pair of shoes in the bottom of her wardrobe and failed. She complained loudly and at length that it should be impossible to lose anything in six square feet of wardrobe floor-space.
Apparently complaining about it wasn’t enough, so she did the math.
She, like all readers of this book, knew full well that trees are the modulating force that binds the filament pathways of space-time together (See our entry on “Traffic Wardens” for conclusive proof of this). Consequently, the very idea of making furniture out of wood must alter the very fabric of existence.
Jano, being a practical sort, then decided to test her hypothesis. Taking a gravity wave displacement detector, two perfect mirrors and the biggest screwdriver she could find she locked herself in her garage and conducted a series of fiendish experiments on a self-assembly blanket box that yielded some surprising results.
In order to truly observe the effects of furniture construction that create F-Space it is vitally important to consider the following:

Try not to buy cheap items made of compressed glue, hair, concrete and unrecyclable soft drinks bottles.
Don’t be tempted by the veneer even if it does say “Hyper-Walnut Effect”.
Anything else except solid wood won’t work.
Never use nails or screws if at all possible.

Jano experimented with the box, stacking the components on the floor, putting them together in the wrong order, replacing chipboard with real wood and tinkering with various thicknesses of veneer (eventually discovering Planck Veneer, the thinnest substance in the universe that single-handedly revitalised the flagging "wood effect wardrobe" industry).
She then went one step further and published her results. Her paper “The Universe – Is it just storage for lost matter?” was witheringly reviewed and scoffed at in the few academic circles that could be bothered, but that didn’t stop the Zeranim, a race of cargo cult galactic nomads, from using it as the basis for their major religion.
The Zeranim, long used to searching the universe for useful flotsam, ordained several of their best scavengers and entrusted them with the sacred task of scouring all of space and time for something they referred to only as “The Exit”.
When asked what this mysterious object might look like these serious beings would explain in slow, measured tones that if the universe was merely storage for some higher entity, then the portal into that domain would appear to be the back of a pair of wardrobe doors.
However, the laughter soon faded away to be replaced with disbelieving curiosity when the Zeranim announced that they had found it. A mighty spaceship, covered in the mystic symbols of the F-Space Cult, was soon dispatched to the coordinates and beamed back images of two huge doors floating in space. Tantalizingly they were slightly ajar.
An airlock opened and a lone priest floated out towards the Exit, approaching with extreme care and propelled along by nervous little puffs from his methane jets.
He floated closer until he was within several meters of the object and lifted his visor to see what was on the other side.
His final words and the haunting image of a giant hand slamming the Exit shut from the other side are the stuff of legend.

“My God! It’s full of shoes!”

Entry Ends.