Story: Author (and SFX Magazine co-founder) M.J. Simpson references a wealth of interviews with “Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” author Douglas Adams – and his friends and associates – to paint a fairly complete picture of his life as a science fiction icon, creative thinker, advocate for the popularization of science and technology, and staunch avoider of deadlines.
Review: “Hitchhiker” is a book that Adams fans probably love or loathe…depending largely upon whether this is the first biography they’ve read of their hero. Years and years ago I was extolling the virtues of Neil Gaiman’s “Don’t Panic”, which, to be fair, is only partly a biography but is also a history of the Hitchhiker’s Guide franchise. However, considering that Adams was intimately involved with Hitchhiker’s Guide up to the time of his death, it seems unlikely that anyone could really tell one story without having to tell the other.
The problem here is that “Don’t Panic” only brought us up to the period during which Dirk Gently was Adams’ big new thing and another Hitchhiker’s Guide novel seemed unlikely (at least until “Mostly Harmless” came about). “Hitchhiker” obviously approaches things from a post-mortem point of view, though it might be more interesting still to have it revised one more time in the wake of 2005’s big-screen iteration of the Guide and the posthumous BBC radio series revival. As it is, the publication of the posthumous compilation “The Salmon Of Doubt” is the most recent development.
“Don’t Panic” is also hysterically funny, while “Hitchhiker” tends to be much dryer, with most of the humor arriving in the form of various quotes Adams gave through the years. “Don’t Panic” was more or less a valentine to its subject, whereas Simpson pauses on several occasions in “Hitchhiker” to criticize Adams when it comes to his legendary avoidance of deadlines, his somewhat lax business practices (frequently leaving Big Decision up to others who just as frequently seemed to have their own agendas when it came to Adams’ money), and even some facets of Adams’ personal life. “Hitchhiker” leaves no doubt that its author thinks that Adams was brilliant, but there’s often a tone of slight exasperation regarding what Adams did or didn’t do with that brilliance.
At the same time, “Hitchhiker” also delves more deeply into several key points of Adams’ career that “Don’t Panic” merely glossed over, revealing hitherto unknown details of messy dealmaking when it came to the LP adaptations of the radio series, the film rights, and countless projects for which Adams was wooed, hired and paid, and yet wound up doing very little work. “Hitchhiker” does some glossing over of its own, however, in its coverage of a career phase that has fascinated many a fan: Adams’ brief tenure as writer and script editor on Tom Baker-era Doctor Who. Maybe the author had a blind spot for Who, or didn’t want to bog the book down with a lot of discussion of that show, but it’s still part of the story.
Author: M.J. Simpson