Story: The writings of the late Douglas Adams (of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy fame) are gathered into four categories. “Life” collects essays by (and interviews with) Adams on the subject of his life, career, and reactions to seemingly everyday happenings; “The Universe” widens the scope to include Adams’ love affair with technology, computers, science and conservation; “Everything” covers everything else (including the author’s fascination with religion and evolution), and “The Salmon Of Doubt” collects the best drafts of the Dirk Gently novel Adams left unfinished at the time of his death.
Review: I think it goes without saying that Douglas Adams left us far, far too soon. I’ve been taking a crash course in bittersweet reminders lately as I’ve alternated between this book and the 3-CD Douglas Adams At The BBC set, which also chronicles his many interviews and early radio work. It’s brought back forcefully my feeling that Adams will go down not just as one of the 20th century’s most influential writers, but in time will be recognized as one of its foremost speculative thinkers as well.
Structurally, while I rolled my eyes at first at the recurrence of “life, the universe and everything” as a means of dividing up the book’s contents, it actually works pretty well. Adams’ nonfictional essays are a marvel to behold – he was a frequent flyer in the U.K. edition of Wired as well as in several newspapers there as well, and also in the pages of MacWorld. It’s amusing to watch him evolve from a wide-eyed newcomer’s fascination to Apple’s “computer for the rest of us” to a more cynical, jaded view of the Mac as a computer that’s just as needlessly complicated as the rest of them. Adams predicts the wireless revolution as a killer app, and it’s sad that he didn’t get to see it rise to the level that it has achieved just four years after his death. (For what it’s worth, I read “Salmon” in e-book form on, and am writing this review on, a palmtop PC which I will use to e-mail the review to myself, all without being connected to anything, even electricity. Fittingly enough, this is the same palmtop I take with me everywhere whose cover/lid says “Don’t Panic” in large, friendly letters.)
Douglas Adams writing on the subject of religion, evolution and the future of technology is as eye-opening and invigorating as any fiction he’s ever written. He resisted the label of “futurist” while also simultaneously more than earning that label. I can’t say I completely agree with him on everything, but at the same time, he communicated these ideas, some of them mind-boggling, with ease and grace, and I’m convinced that his premature death robbed us of a popularizer of science who could have rivaled Carl Sagan with his reach. It’s so easy to say of the departed that their best was yet to come, but in this case, I can’t help but feel that the phrase was achingly accurate in Adams’ case.
“The Salmon Of Doubt” itself, several chapters of an unfinished third Dirk Gently novel, is a fascinating work-in-progress which just starts to fire on all cylinders just as it reaches its end. And in that regard, it’s a metaphor for its creator. (Ironically, one of the works reprinted in the earlier sections of the book is Adams’ introduction for an unfinished work by his own favorite author, P.G. Wodehouse.) I didn’t pick up “The Salmon Of Doubt” for a long time because my instinct was that it smelled of a posthumously-slapped-together, selected-at-the-mercy-of-an-editor compilation that wouldn’t even come close to the brilliance of Adams’ earlier works. And on the contrary, it’s a posthumously-slapped-together, selected-at-the-mercy-of-an-editor compilation which reveals that there was more genius there than even a devoted fan of Adams’ work such as myself had seen yet. Highly recommended.
Author: Douglas Adams
Editor: Peter Guzzardi
Publisher: Harmony Press