"The Galaxy" is our home galaxy, the Milky Way, though it is referred to exclusively as "the Galaxy" in the series. Apart from a very brief moment during the first radio series, when the main characters were transported outside the galactic plane into a battle with Haggunenons, and a moment when one of Arthur's careless remarks is sent inadvertently through a wormhole into "a distant galaxy", the Galaxy provides the setting for the entire series. It is home to thousands of sentient races, some of whom have achieved interstellar capability, creating a vast network of trade, military and political links. To the technologically advanced inhabitants of the Galaxy, a small, insignificant world such as Earth is considered invariably primitive and backward. The Galaxy appears, at least nominally, to be a single state, with a unified government "run" by an appointed President. Its immensely powerful and monumentally callous civil service is run out of the Megabrantis Cluster, mainly by the Vogons.
A "former Galactic Empire" is mentioned in several adaptations of the series. By the time set in the Hitchhiker's series, the government of the Galaxy is referred to as the "Imperial Galactic Government", though it is further explained that the term 'Imperial' is now something of an anachronism. In the television adaptation of the series, the name Imperatala Galacticon is used in one graphic as an alternate name for the previous Galactic Empire.
In the novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and the fit the third of the radio series, the empire is described as being known five million years ago for its richness, wildness and lack of taxes. People were described as daring "to boldly split infinitives that no man had split before". However, the craving for luxury custom-made planets among the Galaxy's mercantile elite led to the planet Magrathea gaining control of most of its wealth, which led to a financial Dark Age.
In the novel The Restaurant at the End of the Universe and fit the twelfth of the radio series, it is established that by the present day setting of the various series, the real imperial rule has been long since abolished. It is explained that when the last Galactic Emperor was just about to die, he was put under a stasis field of static electricity, keeping his body perpetually alive in a coma. Over time, all the emperor's heirs died and governance of the state shifted from a monarchy to a democracy called the Galactic Federation (with a flag depicting five columns composed of various materials). The galactic assembly of the imperial advisors switched from privy council to administration and the head of the council became President of the Galaxy.
Thus it is further explained that since the shift to democracy brought an end to the previous absolutism, this meant there was a chance the head of state wasn't just not in full power but not in power at all; and so the President of the Galaxy became an extreme figurehead; a celebrity, but someone who could reasonably be in power. Thus the president and the entire executive branch's purpose is not to wield power but to draw attention away from it. Only a handful of people know this fact, and only six of them know who actually wields power.
The current President of the Galaxy when the series begins is Zaphod Beeblebrox. Zaphod, along with Yooden Vranx, Roosta and Zarniwoop, found out how little power the president wields, and set out on a complex journey to find the real ruler of both the Imperial Galactic Government and in fact the entire Universe. Their mission, which ends in the novel The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, culminates in the discovery that power is actually wielded more or less entirely by a man in a shack. He expresses no interest in actually ruling the Universe, instead choosing to enjoy the company of his pet cat (known as "the Lord") and being fascinated with simple things such as a pencil and paper. This behaviour, so reasoned the old imperial government, allowed him to not be distracted by desire or eagerness and made him a perfect ruler. Zarniwoop is somewhat frustrated upon discovering the truth.
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Famous quotes containing the word galaxy:
“for it is not so much to know the self
as to know it as it is known
by galaxy and cedar cone,
as if birth had never found it
and death could never end it:”
—Archie Randolph Ammons (b. 1926)