Douglas Adams possessed one of the keenest wits of his generation and, quite possibly, this century. Though they’re occasionally dismissed as works of silly humor, the books in Adams’ Hitchhikers’ Guide trilogy (or series) are deceptively packed with Adams’ thoughts on society and conservation. My strongest memory of this overlap appears in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, as Zaphod, Arthur, Trillian, and the gang are presented with a cow that has been bred to want to be eaten. As the cow points out the most tender and succulent parts of itself, I realized, while laughing, that Adams’ was saying something about genetic optimization in industrialized food production. And it went further, by making an animal that wants to be eaten, then you’ve taken out the moral dilemma of eating the animal. It’s a big doggone parable wrapped up as a comedy sketch.
This is all to say, he had a mind that was worth exploring, and this is where Neil Gaiman, one of today’s most gifted storytellers comes in. Gaiman collects and coalesces a plethora of printed and recorded materials to create a historical record which is less like a traditional biography than it is an extended conversation with the author himself.
Oh, and then there’s all the wonderful trivia you’ll pick up along the way. Do you remember which of the Hitchhikers’ books Douglas Adams’ hated? The one he was depressed and worried that he was no longer writing in his own voice while producing? Do you know which television show, currently experiencing its own revival, in which Douglas was involved?
It’s all here, including insight into many of the author’s thoughts as his own journey through The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Universe spread out before him. Further separating this from so many other biographies out there is how very readable this is. I found that once I got going, I would lose track of time and the number of pages I had run through.
Among my favorite bits in this book, is the section on the Hitchhikers’ computer game. Do you remember that game? If you need a refresher, you can play it here: The Hitchhikers’ Guide computer game. Anyway, I remember it as one of the more frustrating experiences of my early computer gaming years. Mind you, by the time I found it, this game had already been out for a while, so there was plenty of help to be found when I was ready to turn to it. But that first experience of trying to go through it blind…well, I could have used a towel. So it was interesting to read that Doug found this to be among one of the most rewarding and interesting additions to The Hitchhikers’ Guide universe.
Of course, he had to come around to this. His initial outlook on the computer age was a little bleak. In the book, Gaiman writes (”Games with Computers,” page 147):
“In a 1982 interview he revealed that he considered computers to be, if not intrinsically malevolent, then useless — either HACKTARs or EDDIEs. He had just moved into the Islington flat, and had found it impossible to convince the various utility companies’ computers that he had in fact moved. ‘Dealing with the American Express computer’, he told the reporter, ‘has been beyond Kafka’s worst nightmare.’”
Gaiman then recounts the path not only of the game’s development, but of Douglas’s own development from computer skeptic to computer enthusiast. It’s things like that, the entertaining look behind the curtains, that pulled me in to this book. Gaiman writes fluidly, but knows when to step out of the way and allow Douglas Adams the spotlight. And even though we’re now closing in on ten years since his passing—Douglas Adams died in 2001—it seems he’s still more than able to command your attention with his thoughts and musings.
This is the fifth edition and has been revised to include information on the latest movie and about Eoin Colfer’s new book, the sixth part of the Hitchhikers’ Guide trilogy, And Another Thing…, though this is mostly contained to the closing chapter. And be sure to check out the appendices for all kinds of entertaining oddities, tidbits, and miscellaneous writings that you may not have seen before.
So if you’re a fan of Doug, his Hitchhikers’ Guide series, Dirk Gently, or want to know more about Doug’s other interests, such as animals and computers, then you should head right out and find this one somewhere. You won’t be disappointed, you’ll probably read a few things you never knew before, and you’ll almost certainly be entertained. It’s a trip through Doug’s head and his life, and who wouldn’t enjoy that kind of trip?
Just please, for the love of the all-knowing mice, bring a towel.