So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
First Edition (UK)
|Cover artist||Gary Day-Ellison|
|Series||The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy|
|Genre||Comedy, Science fiction novel|
|Publisher||Pan Books, UK; Harmony Books, US.|
|Media type||Paperback and hardcover|
|Pages||192, UK paperback; 224, US paperback|
|Preceded by||Life, the Universe and Everything|
|Followed by||Mostly Harmless|
So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish is the fourth book of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy written by Douglas Adams. Its title is the message left by the dolphins when they departed Planet Earth just before it was demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass, as described in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The phrase has since been adopted by some science fiction fans as a humorous way to say "goodbye" and a song of the same name was featured in the 2005 film adaptation of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
Arthur Dent has hitchhiked through the galaxy and is dropped off on a planet in a rainstorm. He realises that he appears to be in England on Earth, even though he saw it destroyed by the Vogons. While he has been gone for several years, it appears only a few months have passed on Earth. He manages to hitch a ride with a man named Russell, who is driving home his sister Fenchurch (Fenny for short). Russell explains that she had become delusional after worldwide mass hysteria over the "hallucinations with the big yellow spaceships" (Vogon ships). Arthur also learns that all the dolphins disappeared shortly after that event. Arthur becomes curious about Fenchurch, but they reach his home before he can ask more questions. Inside his still-standing home, Arthur finds a gift-wrapped bowl inscribed with the words "So Long and Thanks..." which he then uses for his Babel Fish. Arthur considers that Fenchurch is somehow connected to him and to the Earth's destruction, and finds that he still has the ability to fly whenever he lets his thoughts wander.
After putting his life in order, Arthur tries to find out more about Fenchurch. He catches her hitchhiking and he learns more about her. He obtains her phone number but loses it. He finds her home when he locates the cave he had lived in after crashing onto prehistoric Earth with the Golgafrinchans: her flat is built on the same spot. As they talk they find more circumstances connecting them. Fenchurch reveals that, moments before her hallucinations, she had an epiphany while sitting in a café about how to make everything right, but then blacked out. Ever since, she has not been able to recall it. After noticing that Fenchurch's feet do not touch the ground, Arthur teaches her how to fly and together they make love in the skies over London.
The two travel to California to see John Watson, an enigmatic scientist who purports to know the cause of the dolphins' disappearance and who eschewed his original name in favour of "Wonko the Sane" due to harbouring the belief that the entire world's population save himself has gone mad. Watson shows the couple a bowl with the words "So long and thanks for all the fish" inscribed on it that they all own and encourages them to listen to it. They learn from the bowl's audio message that the dolphins, aware of the Vogons, left Earth for an alternate dimension but not before replacing the destroyed Earth with a new version and transporting everything to it as a way of saving humans. Arthur explains to Fenchurch about hitchhiking across the galaxy, after which she insists that she wants to see it as well. They plan to hitchhike on the next passing spaceship.
Concurrent to these events, Ford Prefect discovers that during an update of the "Hitchhiker's Guide", his previous entry for Earth, "Mostly harmless", has been replaced with the volumes of text he wrote during his research. Recognising that something is strange, Ford begins to hitchhike across the galaxy to reach Earth, eventually using the ship of a giant robot to land in the centre of London and causing a panic. In the chaos, Ford meets up with Arthur and Fenchurch and together they commandeer the robot's ship. Arthur takes Fenchurch to the planet where God's Final Message to His Creation is written, and they happen across Marvin, who, because of previous events, is now approximately 37 times older than the known age of the universe and is barely able to continue. Marvin, with Arthur and Fenchurch's help, reads the Message ("We apologise for the inconvenience"), smiles, utters the final words "I think... I feel good about it," and dies happily.
Style and themes
The novel has a very different tone to the previous books in the series. This is partly because it is a romance, and partly because the book bounces around in time more erratically than its predecessors. Adams even injects a humorous sub-plot. Perhaps most notably, there is very little space-travel: Arthur leaves the new Earth only in the final chapters. The different tone also reflects the rushed nature of the writing; Adams' editor Sonny Mehta moved in with the author to ensure that the book met its (extended) deadline. As a result, Adams later stated that he was not entirely happy with the book, which includes several jarring authorial intrusions, which fellow author and Adams' biographer Neil Gaiman described as "patronising and unfair".
The book also reflects a significant shift in Adams' view of computers. In the previous books, computers had been portrayed quite negatively, reflecting Adams' views on the subject at the time. However, between the writing of Life, The Universe and Everything and So Long and Thanks for all the Fish, his attitude toward technology changed considerably. Having been taken along to a computer fair, he became enamored of the first model of the Macintosh, the start of a long love-affair with the brand (he claimed to have bought two of the first three Macs in the UK — the other being bought by his friend Stephen Fry). In So Long And Thanks For All The Fish, Arthur Dent purchases an Apple computer for the purpose of star mapping in to order pinpoint the location of the cave he lived in on prehistoric Earth, and although Adams briefly mocks Arthur's methodology (noting that Arthur really has no idea how to go about such a task), the computer itself is not disparaged, and even somehow produces the correct result. In a later essay, Adams noted that some people had accused him of being a "turncoat" because of this change in his attitudes. 
Literary significance and reception
Betsy Shorb reviewing for the School Library Journal said that "the humor is still off-the-wall but more gentle than the other books. The plot is more straight forward and slightly less bizarre than its predecessors".
There have been three audiobook recordings of the novel. The first was an abridged edition, recorded in the mid-1980s by Stephen Moore, best known for playing the voice of Marvin the Paranoid Android in the radio series, LP adaptations and in the TV series. In 1990, Adams himself recorded an unabridged edition, later re-released by New Millennium Audio in the United States and available from BBC Audiobooks in the United Kingdom. In 2006, actor Martin Freeman, who had played Arthur Dent in the 2005 movie, recorded a new unabridged edition of the audiobook.
- Gaiman, Neil. Don't Panic: The Official Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Companion.
- "Turncoat" (October 2000) in The Salmon of Doubt, Pan Macmillan Ltd, 2003
- Pober, Stacy (1 July 1993). "Audio reviews". Library Journal 118 (12): 148. ISSN 0363-0277.
- Shorb, Betsy (February 1985). "So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish (Book).". School Library Journal 31 (6): 90. ISSN 0362-8930.
- Mikkelson, Barbara & David P. "The Stolen Biscuits" at Snopes.com: Urban Legends Reference Pages.
- "Thanks for the fish" (video). Retrieved 20 April 2013.