Douglas Adams – An Appreciation

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I need to be.”

(Douglas Adams, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish)

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There is a little known fact about me that you may or may not know. When most people think of me as a writer, they think of someone who was and still is inspired by authors like Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Clive Barker, Asimov, Tolkien and Robert Jordan (not Brandon Sanderson). Why? Because for years, I have been claiming that they were the authors who most directly inspired me to write.

And they did. They still do, even now. But I’d be lying if I said that they were the only authors who have inspired me. Among the others, in no particular order are Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Michael Crichton, Anne Rice, Sam Shepard, Tony Kushner, Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac, T. S. Eliot et al. I could continue but in truth? I have no desire to fill this entire blog entry with a list of influences that I may or may not ever measure up to. Note that I said “may.” Anything is possible, right? What can I say? I dream big.

But one author is conspicuously absent from the above list. That author? The late, great Douglas Adams who’s Hitchhiker’s Guide, five book trilogy (yes, I said “five book trilogy”) remains one of my all time favorites. While I find it hard to believe that anyone is unaware of what the f*ck I’m talking about, here’s a quick primer for those of you that don’t: Arthur Dent, the main character,  is an Englishman who is one of two human beings to survive the destruction of the Earth (the second and only other survivor, Tricia McMillian–“Trillian” in the books–travels around the universe with Slartibartfast, a once designer of luxury planets). He escapes with the assistance of Ford Prefect, an alien from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse who is a researcher for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The Guide is just that: An instruction manual for how to get around the universe on a budget (hint: Make sure you have a good towel). Arthur and Ford go on a myriad of adventures across the universe and through time which I will not itemize herein. If you’d like to know more about them, Marvin the Paranoid Android, Zaphod Beelbebrox, Deep Thought, 42, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe and the time hopping, Chesterfield couch et al, check out the books or ask me for mine. I’d be happy to lend them to you.

I first read the books in college at the urging of my friend Pat (booyakasha, Vato. Respect), and have since read them multiple times, most recently to my firstborn, Cara. It was a part of our nightly routine when she was still a toddler: “Ba Ba,” book(s) and bed. Sadly, Adams passed away in 2001, way before his time and yesterday, 3/11/13 would have been his 61st birthday (shout out to Google for their terrific, Google Doodle honoring him). Last evening, in honor of it, I picked up my dog-eared copy of  Life, the Universe and Everything (Book Three) and started reading. I was immediately re-immersed in the universe that I loved and continue to love so much now, almost two decades after I first read about it.

Too this day, I’ve been unable to determine whether the Hitchhiker’s Guide is a product of Adams’ insanity or genius. If you’ve read any portion of it you understand why. So many of his ideas are so “out there” that it’s hard for me to believe that a sane, or non-substance induced mind could have come up with them. I mean really, I’ve always considered myself pseudo-mad and I can’t come up with anything like what he did. The Impossibility Drive? The SEP (“Someone Else’s Problem”)? Not even when I used to drink heavily and smoke ‘da Chiba. The phrase “often imitated, never duplicated” applies perfectly to him… was, in fact, used by fellow author Neil Gaiman to describe him in the Forward to The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The answer to what it really is is irrelevant. Regardless of what Adams’ original motive for writing the Hitchhiker’s Guide was… whether he actually conceived of the idea one night, drunk in a field while hitchhiking across Europe or he came up with it on the spur of the moment to meet a contractual obligation to the BBC, it has affected and continues to affect others too this day. Everyone has their own reasons.

As for mine? His style of writing–cloaking the problems of the world, nay the universe in absurdity–is something that I’ve tried to do, to an obviously lesser affect in everything from these blog entries to their precursors (“Mental Flatulence”) to their precursors (“Dissertations”). I adapt it to my own, personal issues on my side of the proverbial wormhole of existence, as well. “The world is full of Sh*theads?” “The Feminine Bane of my Early Existence?” I never would have come up with those ideas were it not for The Hitchhiker’s Guide. Adams taught me to not necessarily laugh at the same things that once upon a time (’cause all good stories begin as such) vexed me, but to look at them with a degree of jaded humor. The time I did BLANK to BLANK? I used to obsess over it. After I read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, though? Well sh*t, guys. I guess if Adams could make light of the destruction of the Earth to make way for a hyperspace bypass–an obvious allegory of how infrastructure has replaced and continues to replace all things pure and traditional in our world–then I could make light of my one or two, misguided attempts to forge a relationship with a woman that really had no interest in me, or a “Biological” that had moved on with his life at mine, my sister’s and my mother’s expense. In short? Douglas Adams not only affected my writing, he affected my mentality. And for that–the ability to laugh at the things that used to bother me–I am eternally grateful.

I’m not entirely sure why I felt the need to write this blog entry, today, save for an inherent desire to express my thoughts on, in my opinion, one of the greatest authors of the 20th Century in lieu of what would have been his 61st Birthday. I guess I figure that over the next few months–if everything goes according to plan–I’m going to be writing a lot about an idea that is very un-Hitchhiker’s Guide-like in both its tone and its scope. I originally conceived of ENDWORLD – A Novel before I’d ever read a word of Book One, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Even now, after its most recent rewrite, ENDWORLD is more King meets Asimov meets Jordan in its tone and scope than Adams. If I ever get to the point that I’m ready to put it out there… out here for you guys to read it, I intend to market it as such to my “Targeted Audience.” But the last thing that I want if I ever do achieve my big, big dream of being not just a published, but a successful author is to be pigeonholed as purely a genre writer. I’d love to write something Hitchhiker’s Guide-like one day. And while I would never aspire to the same heights as Douglas Adams achieved… while I never could achieve the same balance of comedy, satire and narrative flow that he did, I’d very much like to try.

That said, I’m done, albeit somewhat more prematurely than normal. What can I say? Not every blog entry is going to be a rambling rumination on my own personal life, the universe and everything. In closing, I’d like to thank not only Douglas Adams, but Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, Slartibartfast, Trillian, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Marvin the Paranoid Android and all of the other personalities that inhabit the universe portrayed in the Hitchhiker’s Guide. Reading about them again last night was like reacquainting myself with my old friends. I’d also like to thank my Vato, Pat for lending me his copy of The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy so many, many years ago. My mind hasn’t been the same since. In closing, I’m not going to take the easy way out and say “DON’T PANIC.” Nor am I going to finish with “so long, and thanks for all the fish” though admittedly? Both would work. No. Instead, I’m going to close as I opened: With one of my favorite quotes. This one is actually from the Adams penned Preface to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It may be one of, if not the best observances of humanity and the human condition ever. Enjoy!

“Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans. And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, one girl sitting on her own in a small cafe in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything. Sadly, however, before she could get to a phone to tell anyone about it, a terribly stupid catastrophe occurred, and the idea was lost forever. This is not her story. But it is the story of that terrible stupid catastrophe and some of its consequences.”

(Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

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