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Simon of Space: Ford Prefect as a robot butler

When it comes to gallivanting through space there’s just nothing like a good robe. Sure it may seem a bit silly in certain public realms, but what planet doesn’t appreciate a man in a perfectly comfortable terry cloth with a nice long belt for dipping in the porcelain at every way station? Simon of Space is a particularly Dentian character in several aspects, but his story is all his own and it’s one in which I found myself fully engrossed.

The plot begins simple enough. Simon is a soaps-level amnesia patient directly tackling the age-old question, if you’re completely disassembled at the atomic level, shot across the galaxy, and reassembled from different atoms entirely, are you the same person? Author Chester Burton “Cheeseburger” Brown skirts the main issue of the question, whether or not humans have a soul and exactly what constitutes said soul, for the more readily observable problem of the conscience. Is a person still the same person when the majority of his consciousness has been wiped clean? From there the plot takes a great number of twists and turns, but the essential question remains at the forefront in one form or another.

You would think a man waking up in the hospital to find he’s forgotten everything down to how to go to the toilet would be more than mildly curious about the things he’s forgotten, but Simon’s the sort of fellow whose past is more interested in finding him than he it. This allows us to get to know this grand universe Cheeseburger has created and the societal tension that lies within.

Fortunately Simon takes up a companion early on whose robot is exceptionally knowledgeable and particularly helpful when its help is unavoidable. The trio travel between the worlds, some flush with the new technologies, some not so much, and gain and lose party members whom often ask tough question about the nature of society and eventually the topic comes around to a race of super humans created millennium ago before the Earth that was got used up and humans began a massive colonization effort. This race of superior beings is at the crux of most of society’s conflict. They were created by a scientist using something that was later dubbed the “secret mathematic.” I imagine it works somewhere along the lines of Bistro Math because instead of operating within the realm of current physics it holds the power to create. It’s like the magic typewriter trope which allows anything imagined by the author to become reality. Thus the Human Executives were born with a single purpose in mind. To ensure humanity reaches its full potential through social Darwinism. The essential conflict comes when people decide they don’t need or want a race of allegedly superior beings corralling them like cattle for some grand social experiment. This is not the main conflict of the novel’s plot mind you. It is to great a question for one story arc and I’m fairly certain it is the main of Cheeseburger’s work in this universe.

So in this fascinating backdrop of interstellar political and social conflict we are witness to a fascinatingly complex tale that stretches beyond the sci-fi it pays homage to. As much as I enjoy Douglas Adams‘ work, he was never big on preserving the integrity of his universe and rarely delved into the depths reached by a man whose nom de plume is an international symbol for cheap obesity. Not only does Simon wear a robe and have an affinity for a nice cuppa, he also meets robots who consistently urge him not to panic. In a way not made clear until the nearer towards the end of the novel, he even shares similarities with Zaphod Beeblebrox.  But I don’t want to ruin anything for you so we’ll leave that alone.

If you’d like to hear my thoughts on the actual plot line I’d be very interested in entering a philosophical debate with you on what makes a man a man and whether his past has a right to his future if he’s forgotten the whole thing entirely.

Oh, and one last thing. I recommend reading this before Felix and the Frontier. It’s not essential that you do, but I think I would have enjoyed Felix more had  I first read Simon. It carries more gravity in context.

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