Douglas Adams was fond of pointing out that his initials were DNA and that he was born in Cambridge in 1952, nine months before Crick and Watson's discovery. The creator of the cult phenomenon The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy and the equally intriguing Dirk Gently series died last summer while struggling with what was, even by his standards, a protracted case of writer's block. The author who once said of deadlines "I love the whooshing sound they make as they go by" had not published a new novel since 1992. Hence this posthumous miscellany, disinterred by editor Peter Guzzardi from Adams's Apple Macs.
Much of this book is taken up with what folks who don't do this stuff for a living often call "occasional writings": introductions, essays, speeches, short fiction, odd bits of journalism and even his first published piece – a letter to the boys' weekly Eagle, written when he was 12.
It is all arranged, in quintessential Adams fashion, in three sections entitled "life", "the universe" and "everything". Nevertheless, the titular centrepiece is 80 pages of what was at one point intended to be the third Dirk Gently novel, including more jokes about pizza and cats. Guzzardi has reconstructed it from an assortment of drafts, some dating back to 1993.
Part of the problem was that Adams was trying to write the wrong book. "A lot of the stuff which was originally in The Salmon Of Doubt," he eventually realised, "really wasn't working." Before he was so rudely interrupted, he had planned on "salvaging some of the ideas that I couldn't make work in a Dirk Gently framework and putting them in a Hitchhiker framework... and for old time's sake I may call it The Salmon Of Doubt."
Adams was essentially a satirist travelling under a farceur's colours. It should come as no surprise that his favourite authors included Kurt Vonnegut and PG Wodehouse. At his best, he aspired to combine the former's fatalist absurdism and the latter's linguistic arabesques, via their shared acuity about the vagaries of human behaviour.
He was passionate about science, the environment, computers, comedy and music; all of which interests are generously represented here. Like Orwell, with whom he had virtually nothing in common except an admiration for Wodehouse and a detestation of the deadly combination of small-mindedness and great power, he could be immensely didactic about the precise methodology of brewing the perfect cup of tea.
This collection, complete with foreword by Stephen Fry and epilogue by Richard Dawkins, will certainly please those who are already committed to Adams family values. If you have not read, or do not love, the five volumes of the "increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhiker trilogy" and the two extant Gentlys, then The Salmon of Doubt will seem like an excellent party to which you have not been invited.
Nevertheless, whether hymning Bach and The Beatles or Wodehouse and the Pythons, recounting the joys and frustrations of computer geekhood, observing endangered species or coining epigrams like they were going out of style, Adams demonstrates the wit, compassion, eccentricity and generosity of spirit which his admirers sorely miss.Reuse content