Sunday, May 6, 2007

Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time

The late Douglas Adams is forever emblazoned across the public consciousness as the comic genius behind The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy -- but Adams didn't really think of himself as a novelist. Initially a scriptwriter, for radio and later television, he also wrote a variety of short stories, essays, lectures, columns, commentaries, letters, rants and assorted other things that we, his fans, would ordinarily never have the opportunity to see.
Fortunately, friend and editor Peter Guzzardi was given access to the contents of Adams' assorted hard drives (Adams had a passion for technology, particularly Macintosh computers, bless him) which contained pretty much every word Adams had ever scribed. The Salmon of Doubt is a collection of material mined from that rich vein -- by the end, you'll feel like you were a favored penpal, graced with a rare insight into Adams' thoughts and character.
There are letters, from his 1965 fan mail to The Eagle, a science fiction magazine, to his 1999 snipe at a Disney executive who was ducking Adams' calls. There are interviews on subjects ranging from atheism to CD-ROM environments. There are columns on such diverse topics as short pants, the Beatles, favorite drinks and hangover cures. There are articles on not quite climbing a mountain dressed as a rhinoceros and not quite riding a manta ray. There are wonderful, insightful essays on technology and Mac computers.
There is also fiction, including two short stories tangentially related to his ongoing Hitchhiker's trilogy -- "The Private Life of Genghis Khan" and "Young Zaphod Plays It Safe" -- as well as a work in progress, The Salmon of Doubt. The latter was originally drafted as a new Dirk Gently novel but was threatening to recast itself as a Hitchhiker's book instead; the version here is culled from several drafts.
It is sadly truncated, ending after only 11 chapters, and we'll never know where Adams intended it to go. Nor will we know the plots of various stories still in his head, vaguely hinted at in interviews, as well as an undefined documentary he hoped would help get him through his daughter's adolescence.
Douglas Adams was a genius, and no book more than Salmon of Doubt reveals just how multifaceted his genius was.

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