Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of Douglas Adams’ death.
I don’t honestly remember the first time I heard The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. I suppose I must have been around 10 or 11. In fact, I probably saw the TV show first. Even at that age I enjoyed Monty Python and Spike Milligan‘s Q, so this didn’t seem too much on a limb for my taste. I do remember, however, being lent the two albums that sprung from the show by Paul Williams when I guess I was around 13 and having what could only be described as an epiphany. To me, SF was arid, ponderous stuff like Asimov’s Foundation novels (don’t get me started: I love Asimov’s non-fiction writing, but his novels drain me of the will to live). But this was different; it softened me up for Terry Pratchett‘s work later on. and it got me to read some PG Wodehouse. Thanks, Douglas, I owe you a debt for that.
Because of his notorious difficulties with writing, Douglas Adams left us with rather less material than he might have done. But God, what he left was good. Today, thirty years after first seeing and hearing h2g2, I still retain a fondness for it that is probably irrational. H2G2 contained a lot of rather insightful observation and social commentary on the modern world, masquerading as a series of gags, which I suppose was its great quality. Even today, I think there are vast tracts of the radio show and book I can repeat from memory, but it still doesn’t diminish my occasional wish to go back and read it again anyway.
However good I thought h2g2 was, however, was as nothing to the love I developed for Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, which not only cannibalizes two of his own Doctor Who scripts (Shada and City of Death), but manages to be witty, interesting and profound; he manages to sneak a rather good, serious short essay on the representation of data a good twenty years before it became a hot topic on the web. It’s a book that seriously made me think about the way I looked at the world, and it influences me deeply, even now, in my career entangled in the World Wide Web. Here’s to, “the fundamental interconnectedness of all things”.
Then add the fact that, as much as many laud Stephen Fry as a tech commentator (which, in my own qualified sense, I do too), Fry himself would be the first to admit that he’s only filling a gaping Douglas-sized hole. And Douglas would never have made the mistake of not knowing how GPS worked, as Fry did on an episode of QI. Adams’ own writing and work like Hyperland and Last Chance To See were insightful, prescient and influential. I hope in years to come we’ll see him in the same way as we look at HG Wells or Aldous Huxley today, just with better gags.