What’s the Biggest Deus Ex Machina Never Used?


Speculative Fiction always has crazy ways to get out of a jam, but sometimes an obvious out is presented, then never mentioned again. Chekhov’s unloaded, gun, so to speak. What are some major plot devices that were left in the box?

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a series of unfortunate and improbable events, but Arthur Dent and his friends (almost always) survive – no matter how unbelievable it might be. More importantly, the Babel fish can save everyone in the universe, but chooses not to.

Previously, I mentioned Zaphod’s amazingly contrived escape from certain death at the hands (er, mouths?) of the Haggunenons, however, an even more ridiculous escape was made for the entire crew when they had to escape the total existence failure of Earth (and, mindbogglingly, every alternate Earth that could possibly exist in any possible universe).

See, the problem occurred when Douglas Adams wrote the depressingly final Mostly Harmless, in which all of the cast were stranded on a redeux Earth, only to have it destroyed through the machinations of the Vogons, in a way, according to Adams, that would also destroy the cast and crew on every possible alternate Earth.

This was a bit of a downer, and Adams said as much. He often said he had a plan to “fix it,” but sadly died before he could ever put pen to paper on the subject. His widow latter hired Eoin Colfer to continue the series, and his book has its own interesting take on how they survived (long story short, the Guide Mark V saved them because Random told it to. See? She was useful after all.), but the strangest and silliest “exit” was written by Adams’ friends for the Quintessential Phase of the radio series.

Their plan was so insane, it can only exist in this universe, which is, as had been previously established, also insane. Just as before, the Vogons orchestrated the ends of all possible Earths, but- well, I’ll let the Book explain:

“Another ability evolved by the Babel fish is its tactic for self-preservation. Only one other aquatic creature in the Universe has developed the Babel fish’s capcity for Continuous Probability Transference in the picosecond before unavoidable destruction. Thus, as Earth’s Plural Zone folds itself away like a card table after a particularly energetic hand of snap, the Babel fishes, their hosts and any cetaceans in the vicinity simultaneously flick into existence in any alternative layers of reality they can inhabit along the Probability Curve. In the case of Arthur Dent, this leads to several probable realities.”

In other words, when the Babel fish knows it is about to die within a picosecond, it transports itself and its host through alternate realities (apparently preserving them from the alien weapon in the process), until finally depositing itself and its host somewhere safe – in this case, Milliways, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

Even Arthur thinks this turn of events is inconceivable.

“If the Babel fish is so versatile, how come it’s never saved my life – our lives – before?”

With a shrug, Ford replies:

“You didn’t die before.”

This story was originally published on the Kinja blog of Kevin Garcia on Feb. 21st, 2015, expanded from a thread post at io9.

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