Space is big. And in space’s mind-bogglingly vastness is a small blue/green planet on which lives Arthur Dent shortly before said blue/green planet is destroyed by an intergalactic construction fleet clearing the way for a hyperspace bypass. Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, whose radio version is its first, best, and truest form, is a series of absurd and often tangled events following Arthur Dent around the galaxy as he attempts to find a new normal post-Earth. (It turns out his true calling is inventing the sandwich on an alien world.) The plot, which takes place over five seasons, is so twisty-turny, if you don’t pay attention, you’ll miss out on a doubling back that retells an entire season of events that we had thought occurred one way but was in fact a warping of reality as seen through the Total Perspective Vortex. It’s almost as if Adams didn’t know where it was all going, and in fact he probably didn’t. But this does not detract from the hilarity and sharp satire that H2G2 is best known for. By the time you get to the fifth series, Mostly Harmless, you will find that it gets very bleak. Luckily, the radio adaptation, recorded after the death of Adams, adds on a bit of anti-bleakness after the final credits, which did not appear in the novel. After Douglas Adams’ passing, Dirk Maggs adapted the final stories from the novels, and Maggs never misses the target on any of his work, so the later seasons are just as good as the first ones.
Arthur Dent is played by Simon Jones, who Adams claimed he based Dent on. Jones also played Arthur in the TV version. (I interviewed him once.) Geoffrey McGivern played Ford Prefect, Arthur’s alien guide and pal. Susan Sheridan played Trillion, who uses Arthur’s sperm at the sperm bank to give birth to their child, Random Dent. Mark Wing-Davey plays Zaphod Beeblebrox, as he does also in the TV version. (I think I saw him walking around near NYU once, where he is a teacher.) And of course, Stephen Moore plays the depressed android Marvin (as well as on TV). The voice of the book was originally Peter Jones and later replaced by William Franklyn after Peter Jones’ death. In fact, many characters were recast between the early seasons and later seasons. For example, Slartibartfast, who is Arthur’s guide into Magrathea, was played by Richard Vernon and later replaced by Richard Griffiths. Bill Wallis as bureaucratic villain Jeltz was replaced by Toby Longworth.
All five seasons are available on audio CD and in download form on Audible.com. There are alternative versions, if you are interested. Audible has a recording of Douglas Adams reading his favorite bits, and there are multiple live show adaptations with much of the same cast. There’s even a version in German.