The Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Bureaucracy

Serendipity is often exhilarating, sometimes mildly humorous and mostly harmless.

I was reading the official House of Commons Hansard transcripts from Wednesday when I accidentally came across this gem of a Member’s Statement from David de Burgh Graham, the Liberal MP from Laurentides-Labelle.


It is, of course, a mashup of comic science fiction gems from the late Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, read into the record on the anniversary of the great writer's death, hinging on "42" being that series' answer to the ultimate and ultimately misunderstood question of life, the universe and everything.

Many of these comic gems became memes before memes or even the Internet existed (a temporally-distorted irony that the late author would have certainly appreciated). Speaking of memes, the MP’s statement, if it is noted at all beyond quirky blogs such as mine, will be listed as yet another example of the particular brand of nerd chic Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is intent on making his.

Lest we forget, there was …

And more recently…

But there is an even deeper irony to the 42nd Parliament’s plaque being associated with Adams’ best-known work, an irony any journalist who has had to deal with federal bureaucrats will understand, and one the Honourable Member likely did not intend.

I refer to Adams’ depiction of the Vogons, which remains one of the best satirical descriptions of the bureaucratic caste in the history of science fiction. I quote from the first book of the five-book “inaccurately named trilogy”:

They are one of the most unpleasant races in the Galaxy – not actually evil, but bad-tempered, bureaucratic, officious and callous. They wouldn't even lift a finger to save their own grandmothers from the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal without orders signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public inquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters.

I could go on (for the Adams uninitiate, the passage that includes the words “Evolution?.... Who needs it?” is particularly delicious). Suffice it to say that, from my own grossly insufficient survey of the topic, Adams’ Vogons are the second-best SF satire on bureaucracy ever written, surpassed only by the eponymous members of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s Tale of the Troika. And the Strugatskys had, one might say, the unfair advantage of living under recent history’s ultimate bureaucratic monstrosity, the Soviet Union.

Kudos, then, to the Honourable Member for granting posthumous Parliamentary privilege to a great science fiction satirist lost, alas, too soon to a cruel malfunction of life’s infinite improbability drive.

Mr. Graham has earned his entry in the guide.

Speaking of lost too soon, I leave you with this now ineffably sad piece of brilliant Adams description, from book four of the trilogy, So long, and thanks for all the fish:

If you took a couple of David Bowies and stuck one of the David Bowies on the top of the other David Bowie, then attached another David Bowie to the end of each of the arms of the upper of the first two David Bowies and wrapped the whole business up in a dirty beach robe you would then have something which didn't exactly look like John Watson, but which those who knew him would find hauntingly familiar."

We apologise for the inconvenience.