Douglas Adams

The rock star of science fiction writers, Douglas Adams was best known for writing The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, a string of novels that lives in the hearts and minds of science fiction fans the world over. With more than 14 million copies in print at the time of his death in 2001, "The Guide" reminds everyone that a true traveler of the universe must constantly and consistently know where his towel is. Mr. Adams, in his speaking engagement at the University of Santa Barbara, told a story of the origin of the towel in his series. He stated that on a trip to the beach with friends he was always misplacing his towel. To him this was a representation of what an extremely disorganized mind must be like and something he wanted to relate to other people. He stated it was one of those things you put in a book thinking you would change it to something that would better resonate with others, but he never did; it resonated anyway. So much so that to this day, more than a decade after this great man's death, May 25th is known as International Towel Day.

The Hitchhikers Guide started as a radio series for BBC in 1978 before becoming a multi-format phenomenon, culminating in a trilogy of five books between 1979 and 1992: The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Life, the Universe and Everything, So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, and Mostly Harmless. Plotlines from the original radio series are evident in the first two novels, although events occur in a different order. Douglas Adams says that he was completely unprepared for the success of his Hitchhiker's series. According to the obituary written by Nicholas Wroe and published by The Guardian it was like being helicoptered to the top of Mount Everest or having an orgasm without the foreplay. The idea blossomed into hit television and stage shows, movies and definitely overshadowed this brilliant and multi-faceted man's life.

While The Hitchhikers Guide brought the world to his way of thinking, it was not Douglas Adam's only works. He has enchanted us with the Dirk Gently series as well, with the titles Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. The deliberate writing in these novels is indicative of Mr. Adams' style, showcasing small items as intricate to plotlines and a general interconnectedness of all things.

The Holistic approach to writing showed through in his real life with his travels to see the Eye-Eye and other endangered animals in a whirlwind tour of the world with his friend Mark Carwardine. He was most proud of this work. Mr. Adams' travelling buddy later said "we put a big map of the world on a wall, Douglas stuck a pin in everywhere he fancied going, I stuck a pin in where all the endangered animals were, and we made a journey out of every place that had two pins." This was to be a trip that expanded Douglas' mind and consciousness in a profound way. It gave birth to the book Last Chance to See and was some of his final talking points.

Mr. Adams was a radical Athiest, drawing praise from Richard Dawkins in the form of dedication to Mr. Dawkins book The God Delusion. Mr. Adams is quoted as saying "Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?" A dedicated Christian in his early life, around age 18 Mr. Adams began to seriously contemplate his belief system and apply logic to the religious tenets he had heretofore believed. This changed his way of thinking and upon discovering Richard Dawkins' writings on evolutionary biology in his early thirties, he became resolute in his atheism. According to Adams, "It was a concept of such stunning simplicity, but it gave rise, naturally, to all of the infinite and baffling complexity of life. The awe it inspired in me made the awe that people talk about in respect of religious experience seem, frankly, silly beside it. I'd take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day."

On May 11, 2001, at age 49, Douglas Adams suffered a fatal heart attack. He was interred at Highgate Cemetery in North London.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

"In the beginning the universe was created. This has made a lot of people angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move. You Decide. Come along on a zany journey to the low-rent neighborhood of the Cosmos with earthling Arthur Dent, sexy space cadet Trillian, that imperturbable alien Ford Prefect and Zaphod Beeblebrox, the two-headed, three-armed ex-head Honcho of All Creation. Don't forget to bring a towel, but don't bother to pack a lunch. You'll be dining at The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. The hilarious successor to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

Original Publication: Pan Books, 1980
This Edition: Pocket Books, October 1982
Cover Art: Unknown
Format: Paperback

Notes:

Adams was inspired to write this book when listening to the song "Grand Hotel" by British rock band Procol Harum. When giving an introduction to one of the band's performances in 1997 Adam's said "Now they had one very, very particular effect on my life. It was a song they did, which I expect some of you here will know, called "Grand Hotel." Whenever I'm writing I tend to have music on in the background, and on this particular occasion I had "Grand Hotel" on the record player. This song always used to interest me because while Keith Reid's lyrics were all about this sort of beautiful hotel - the silver, the chandeliers, all those kind of things, but then suddenly in the middle of the song there was this huge orchestral climax that came out of nowhere and didn't seem to be about anything. I kept wondering what was this huge thing happening in the background? And I eventually thought ... it sounds as if there ought to be some sort of floorshow going on. Something huge and extraordinary, like, well, like the end of the universe. And so that was where the idea for The Restaurant at the End of the Universe came from - from "Grand Hotel."

Review:


Life, The Universe and Everything

"Now join the end-of-the-world party, bring your pink towel and your jogging shoes and find out if potatoes is the answer. Join Arthur Dent, earthling, "jerk", kneebiter and time-traveler; sexy space cadet Trillian; mad alien Ford Prefect; unflappable Slartibartfast; two-headed, three-armed, ex-head hancho of theUniverse Zaphod Beeblebrox...you'll learn to fly."

Original Publication: Pan Books, August 1982
This Edition: Pocket Books, October 1983
Cover Art: Peter Cross
Format: Paperback

Notes:

The planet Krikkit was created for a Doctor Who film which was eventually scrapped. Adams imagined that Krikkitmen would represent people who refused to learn what science can tell us about the universe we inhabit. Life, the Universe and Everything was censored in its US edition. Several curse words were replaced with less objectionable choices.

Review:


So Long and Thanks for All the Fish

"Arthur Dent is out of his bathrobe, in love, and wondering why the dolphins said "So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish." Was the Earth really demolished? Why did all the dolphins disappear? What is God's final message to His creatures? Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, and the voivoid gang are off (by commercial airline) on a wacked-out quest to answer these truly unimportant questions. Don't Panic! The fourth book in the Hitchhiker Trilogy may not be the end, it's certainly not the beginning, but it is the looniest of the lot. Time"

Original Publication: Pan Books, November 1984
This Edition: Pocket Books, November 1985
Cover Art: Peter Cross
Format: Paperback

Notes:

Written in a different tone than the other books in the series, this installment features mainly Arthur Dent, his return to Earth and his romantic interlude with Fenchurch. Adams had a difficult time finishing this book and Soony Mehta, his editor, moved in with him to oversee the deadline. In an 1987 interview Adams said "But going home and having felt a bit disoriented, there was a certain amount of running for cover at that point, which is why I agreed to writing another Hitchhiker book -- simply because it was something I knew. The problem is that you can say no to something 99 times, and you only have to say yes once and you're committed. So, to be honest, I really shouldn't have written the fourth Hitchhiker book, and I felt that when I was writing it. I did the best I could, but it wasn't, you know, really from the heart. It was a real trial and struggle to write it." In honor of Adams, science fiction fans have adapted the phrase "so long and thanks for all the fish" as a humorous way of saying good-bye.

Review:


Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

"There is a long tradition of Great Detectives, and Dirk Gently does not belong to it. But his search for a missing cat uncovers a ghost, a time traveler, and the devastating secret of humankind!"

Original Publication: Heinemann, June 1987
This Edition: Pocket, May 1988
Cover Art: Alan and Bo Daniels
Format: Paperback

Notes:

Adams took on the writing of Dirk Gently in an effort to move beyond the Hitchhiker's series which had dominated his life for a decade. Several elements in Dirk Gently were derived from previous experiences in Adams' life or from previous writings. For instance, Professor Urban Chronotis or "Reg", was originally a character in the UK Doctor Who serial Shada. After the serial was cancelled, Adams removed all the trademarked elements for the writing of Dirk Gently. In addition, the couch gag which is so featured in the novel was based on an experience Adams had while attending St. John's College in which furniture ended up remaining in rooms for decades following a remodel that left the staircase too small to allow its movement.

Review:


Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

"There is a long tradition of Great Detectives, and Dirk Gently does not belong to it. But his search for a missing cat uncovers a ghost, a time traveler, and the devastating secret of humankind!"

Original Publication: Heinemann, June 1987
This Edition: Pocket, November 1987
Cover Art: Paul Bacon
Format: Paperback

Notes:

Review:


The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul

"When a passenger check-in desk at London's heathrow airport disappears in a ball of orange flame, the explosion is deemed an act of God. But which god, wonders holistic detective Dirk Gently? What god would be hanging around Heathrow trying to catch the 3:37 to Oslo? And what has this to do with Drik's latest - and late client, found only this morning with his head revolving atop the hit record "Hot Potato"? Amid hostile attentions of a stray eagle and the trauma of a very dirty refrigerator, super sleuth Dirk Gently will once again solve the mysteries of the universe.

Original Publication: Heinemann, October 1988
This Edition: Pocket, January 1990
Cover Art: Wilson McLean
Format: Paperback

Notes:

In a 1989 interview Adams describes The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul as a play on the Faust legend. In the legend a man sells his soul to the devil, while in Adams novel it turns out that the Norse God Odin has sold his soul to a man, specifically an a advertising executive and a lawyer, with hilarious consequences. He also speaks of the increase in pizza delivery in London after the publication of this Dirk Gently instalment and quips that he plans on featuring a very successful sushi restaurant near his home in the next "Gently" novel so that he will be able to obtain decent sushi. Of course, Adams being a huge Apple fan would like all to know that the original edition was written and typeset on an Apple Macintosh II and an Apple LaserWriter II NTX.

Review:


The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

"Seconds before Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out of work actor. Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker's Guide ("A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have") and a galaxy-full of fellow travellers: Zaphod Beeblebrox - the two headed, three armed ex-hippie and totally out-to-lunch president of the galaxy; Trillian, Zaphod's girlfriend (formally Tricia Mcmillian), whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once upon a time zone; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot; Veet Voojagig, a former graduate student who is obsessed with the disappearance of all the ballpoint pens he bought over the years. Where are these pens? Why are we born? Why do we die? Why do we spend so much time in between wearing digital watches? For all the answers stick your thumb to the stars. And don't forget to bring a towel!"

Original Publication: Pan Books, October 1979
This Edition: Ballantine, 1995
Cover Art: Unknown
Format: Paperback

Notes:

An adaptation of the first four parts of Adams' BBC radio series, The Hitchhiker's Guide sold 250,000 copies in its first three months of release. It won the "Golden Pan" Award in 1994 and is considered one of the greatest books of the century. In an story that is now nearly legend, Adams was inspired to write The Hitchhiker's Guide while hitchhiking in continental Europe. He had been drinking and while laying in a field admiring the stars it occurred to him that "someone should really write The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". To date this novel has been translated into more than 30 languages and has sold over 14 million copies.

Review:


Last Chance to See

Original Publication: Pan Books, 1991
This Edition: Ballantine, 1992
Cover Art: Unknown
Format: Paperback

Notes:

In a interview with Lyn Hughes of Wanderlust travel magazine Mark Carwardine spoke of the origins of the trip with Adams that led to Last Chance to See. He said, "I was working for the World Wildlife Fund at the time and we had a plan where we would take celebrities to see different WWF projects and I got the job of taking Douglas Adams somewhere and he chose a project in Madagascar to look for the aye-aye - I think because it was the animal that most looked like it was from outer space. So we spent around three weeks travelling around Madagascar and we were actually lucky enough to actually see an aye-aye. And we got on really well and had lots of laughs. Douglas actually got very interested in conservation, and we'd got on so well, that we sat down and thought "We'd better do some more!" So we hatched a plan to spend a year travelling around looking for more endangered species."

Review:


Mostly Harmless

"Its very easy to get a little disheartened when your planet has been blown up, the woman you love has vanished in a misunderstanding about the nature of space-time, the spaceship you are on crashes in flames on a remote and Bob-fearing planet and all you have to fall back on are a few simple sandwich-making skills. However, instead of being disheartened, Arthur Dent makes the terrible mistake of starting to enjoy life a bit and, immediately, all hell breaks loose. Hell takes a number of forms: there is the usual Ford Prefect form of hell, fresh hell in the form of an all-new version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy which behaves in an altogether more mysterious, sinister and airborn manner, and a totally unexpected hell that arrives in the form of a teenage girl who utterly startles Arthur Dent by being his daughter when he didn't even know he had one. Much as Arthur would love to stay in his rural sandwich-making idyll, he is forced to set off on his travels once again, this time on the back of a mysterious Perfectly Normal Beast. Can he save the Earth from total destruction throughout all dimensional probabilities? Can he save the Guide from a hostile alien takeover? Can he save the Grebulons from completely myopic junked-up idiocy? Can he save his daughter Random from herself? Of course not. He never even works out what is going on, exactly. Will you? Mostly Harmless: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Part Five: The book that gives a whole new meaning to the word trilogy."

Original Publication: Heinemann, 1992
This Edition: Harmony, 1992
Cover Art: Peter Cross
Format: Hardback

Notes:

In a 1996 interview with Daniel Conston, Adams spoke about the writing of Mostly Harmless. He said "A lot of people have not particularly liked Mostly Harmless, including myself. The problem with it was the year in which I wrote that book was just full of terrible problems at home. Professional problems, family problems, a sad death in the family. It was a really, really bloody year, and against the background of that, I had to write a funny book. I know I keep saying that I'll never do another, but I might well do another one at some point because I'd like to leave it all on a slightly more upbeat ending than Mostly Harmless was." Critics and fans alike responded poorly to the bleak ending of this novel, but Adams intent was to tie up the loose endings he had left in the previous installments. Adams passed away before he was able to undo the ending to Mostly Harmless but the official sequel And Another Thing written by Eoin Colfer reverses the ending and attempts to honor Adams wishes to restore the beloved characters.

Review:


The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide

Original Publication: Wings, 1996
This Edition: Wings, 1996
Cover Art: Peter Cross
Format: Hardback

Notes:

This volume contains all five Hitchhiker's Guide stories written prior to Adams' death. It also contains Young Zaphod Plays it Safe, a short story prequel to the series. At the end of the introduction to the Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide is also a list of instructions on "How to Leave the Planet".

Review:


The Salmon of Doubt

"Douglas Adams changed the face of science fiction (to a uniquely and irresistibly funny one) with his cosmically comic novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and its classic sequels. Sadly for his countless admirers, he hitched his own ride to the great beyond much too soon. But for anyone who ever laughed out loud at the absurdist adventures of Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect, chuckled knowingly at the daffy definitions detailed in The Meaning of Liff, or experienced the wonders of encountering endangered species in Last Chance to See, here's a wonderful opportunity to revel in the droll wit, off-the-wall humor, and keenly inquiring mind of Douglas Adams just one more time. Culled posthumously from Adam's fleet of beloved Macintosh computers, this selection of essays, articles, anecdotes and stories offers a fascinating and intimate portrait of the multifaceted artist - as a devout Beatles and Bach fan, radical atheist, enthusiastic technophile, crusading conservationist, and of course delightful wordsmith. Join him on an excursion to climb Kilimanjaro....dressed in a rhino costume; peek into the private life of Genghis Khan - warrior, conqueror, and world-class neurotic; root for the harried author's efforts to get a Hitchhiker movie off the ground in Hollywood; thrill of (and laugh at) the further exploits of private eye Dirk Gently and two-headed alien Zaphod Beeblebrox. In the immortal words of The Hitchhiker's Guide, "Don't Panic!" Though our friend Douglas Adams is gone, he's left us something very special to remember him by. Without a doubt."

Original Publication: Macmillan, May 2002
This Edition: Ballantine, August 2003
Cover Art: David Tran
Format: Trade Paperback

Notes:

This collection is a compilation of writings recovered from Adams' computer after his passing. It includes short stories, articles and of course the first few chapters of the never-finished third Dirk Gently novel. Reading The Salmon of Doubt can be a frustrating endeavor because not only does it bring to the forefront that there is no more Adams material to be had, it offers you a detective novel with no wrap up. The book ends with the order of service for Adams' memorial, held at St. Martin in the Fields.

Review:

I live firmly in the camp that believes there is not enough good to be said about Douglas Adams. He had unparalleled wit. He was a master wordsmith, crafting his sentences with a meticulous attention to hilarity and profound thought. I approached The Salmon of Doubt with high anticipation and a shadow of sadness knowing once read there would be no further new explorations of his work forthcoming. I let this volume sit on my shelf a good two months, savoring the idea of it and yet not willing to commit because of its...well its finality. I eventually could not resist any longer and pulled it down with glee. I was not disappointed.

This is a posthumously released collection of previously published and unpublished essays and interviews. It covers a wide range of subjects and concepts giving the reader a look at the depth of the man that Douglas Adams was. With him we explore life experiences, passions, opinions and finally the first few chapters of the unfinished Dirk Gently novel, The Salmon of Doubt. I can't say too much about this work as it is so varied in its content, only that any fan of Douglas Adams needs to pick it up and read it...then read it again.

In one of his essays Adams says "There's always a moment when you start to fall out of love, whether it's with a person or an idea or a cause, even if it's one you only narrate to yourself years after the event: a tiny thing, a wrong word, a false note, which means that things can never be quite the same again." While this is true with many, many things we face as we wander this planet of ours, muddling our way through relationships and life experiences, it has never been true for me with Adams. The more I learn of him, the more I adore him. The universe is a lesser place without him.

Original content 2013-2017 Paula's Reading Room. All rights reserved.