Books, Reviews, Television

Douglas Adams Appreciation Post

Despite having named my blog after a quote from him, it has suddenly occurred to me that I never talk about Douglas Adams on here. This is a horrid shame, because Douglas Adams’ writing is a foundational element of my personality. After reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, my mother once said to me that reading his writing was like listening to me talk, and I am 99% sure that is not a coincidence. I read those books so many times in middle school that some of the scenes feel like real-life memories to me. Basically, Douglas Adams is really, really great, you guys.

That said, most people don’t know any of his work outside of The Guide (of which there are four different versions, in four different mediums, with conflicting plot resolutions all written by Adams himself). Up until very recently, didn’t know about some of these things. And so, in the interest of public enlightenment, I’ve compiled a list of 5 works by Douglas Adams that people don’t know about but ought to. Enjoy.

1. Dirk Gently’s Hollistic Detective Agency

…and its sequel, The Long, Dark Tea-Time of the Soul.  These books have all the unexpected nonsense that made Adams famous, with a little bit less of the suddenly-it-all-makes-sense aspect. Essentially, Dirk is a detective who solves cases by literally doing whatever whim seizes hold of him. For example: when he leaves the house to drive somewhere, he attempts to get there by simply following the first car he sees to wherever it is going. Usually it is going to the plot, which is never where Dirk intended to go, but he takes it pretty much in stride as the world falls apart around him. Norse gods feature in these books. Airports also come up. At one point, a sofa gets impossibly stuck in a staircase. If you ever wished there were more Hitchhiker’s to read, this series is a pretty good consolation prize. Also there was a BBC TV show based on it in 2010.

2. Hyperland (1990)

This is a very recent discovery of mine, and I mourn the years I spent not knowing about it. Back in the 90s, Adams took a foray into educational television, and Hyperland was one such adventure. He teamed up with Tom Baker to make BBC an educational scifi drama expounding on the history and grand, magnificent future of computer technology, with particular focus on hypertext. I watched it cold sober, and it delivered on every level: quippy writing from Adams, delightedly over-the-top acting from Baker, old-school macintosh graphics, lots of enthusing about technologies that are woefully unimpressive to today’s viewer–every second is gold, all by itself. But it would also be a fantastic choice for a quick drunk cinematic adventure, so by all means, pour yourself a glass and watch it here.

3. Out of the Trees (1975)

If you like Douglas Adams, there is a good chance you also like Monty Python. There seems to be a lot of fanbase overlap there, myself included. Have you ever wondered what a Python sketch might have looked like if Douglas Adams helped write it? Because Out of the Trees is basically that, plus linguistics. There is only one episode, but it was a proposed comedy TV show written by Douglas Adams and Graham Chapman, written after Monty Python’s Flying Circus but before The Guide.  It’s not as brilliant as either of their more famous works, but it’s amusing in its own way. You can watch it here.

4. Starship Titanic (1998)

Though best known for his novels, Adams was actually far more prolific as a script writer, primarily for radio but also for other things. Starship Titanic was one of those “other things”–a plot originally developed for a video game, in which the player must fix the starship, which has undergone “Spontaneous Massive Existence Failure.” Terry Jones and John Cleese (who as you know are also Pythons) did voice work for it. The original hype website for it still exists. I haven’t played the game myself, as I have been unable to locate it in any playable means, but everything I’ve heard about it sounds hilarious and super 90s, so if you find a mirror of it online or something similar, please do let me know. In the meantime, I have read the book that was written based on the game’s plot, with permission from Adams, by Terry Jones. He reportedly wrote it while entirely in the nude. It says that in the author’s introduction. He’s very proud of this fact.

And before you ask, no, there’s no connection to that one episode of Doctor Who.

5. Last Chance to See (1990)

While the other items on this list are quite humorous, in that classic Adams absurdist style, Last Chance to See is an entirely different animal. It’s a documentary of sorts–a novel and accompanying radio series that Adams wrote as a personal account of his trip accompanying his friend Mark Carwardine on a quest to see nine endangered animals in their natural habitats, and raise awareness about the need for conservation. Adams was only 49 when he died, but reading this book leads me to believe that had he lived longer, this is the sort of content he would have focused on more and more as he aged. The usual levity and conversational style is there, but it’s clear from the beginning that Adams takes conservation very seriously, and cares a lot about the animals he is visiting. Even without the animal information, the book is worth reading just to see the serious side of an author famous for being absurd. In my research for this post, I have also discovered that there is a follow-up BBC documentary TV show called Last Chance to See (2009), starring Stephen Fry alongside Carwardine, that checks in on the animals originally visited to see how they’re doing 20 years later.

Nonsensically yours,
M.M. Jordahl

“Don’t panic.” –The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

3 thoughts on “Douglas Adams Appreciation Post”

  1. Oh man, my dad read me HHGG when I was a kid and I tracked down all the others books in the series myself. Some years later I got a copy of The Salmon of Doubt, which is a collection of short stories, essays, speeches, and little biographical things written by Adams and published posthumously. If you can dig up a copy somewhere, I hugely recommend it – it’s got more excerpts from his adventures in conservation (which, it looks like, was one of his biggest motivators toward the end of his life), an essay rhapsodizing about how much he loves the Beatles, a story about him swimming with manta rays, a chapter of an unpublished Dirk Gently story, a speech he gave explaining his atheism…. Man, that guy was just tremendous. :D

    1. Oh, you’d recommend the Salmon of Doubt? I know about it, but I’ve been told by other Adams fans not to read it, due to it being kind of terrible. Perhaps it’s time I formed my own opinion on it.

      1. Some parts of it are certainly better than others, and I did last read it when I was in high school, but I remember liking it a lot! Granted, I am no kind of hardcore Adams fan, but he has a story about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in a rhino costume. I mean. How could that be bad.

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