On the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series

Lunching at the Eschaton

Douglas Adams and the End of the Universe in Science Fiction
By Stephen Baxter

In one of the most memorable and comic sequences in the

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy saga, Douglas Adams visits the end

of the universe to open a restaurant: “If the lady and gentlemen would care to take drinks before dinner . . . the Universe will explode later for your pleasure” [1] (chapter fourteen).

But Adams was not the first science fictional visitor to the “eschaton,”the end of everything–nor will he be the last. And The Restaurant at the End of the Universe helped shape a tradition of end-of-everything fiction that continues to this day.

The science of eschatology was born in the nineteenth century with the notion of entropy, inflicted on us in 1850 by Rudolf Clausius. The dread Second Law of Thermodynamics dictates that global entropy must increase to a maximum–that is, energy sources such as stars must gradually run down, and the free energy available for life must then necessarily dwindle. The far future of the universe and humankind, increasingly starved of energy by this “Heat Death,” looked bleak indeed.

In 1895 H. G. Wells memorably explored this dismal new prospect in The Time Machine [2]. The Time Traveller, having escaped the Morlocks, journeys into the future, “drawn on by the mystery of the earth’s fate,” until he reaches a time thirty million years hence, when a swollen sun has obliterated all traces of man and his works. Life is gone, apart from a green slime on the rocks, and “a black object flopping about” on a sandbank.

Later, writers such as  …

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