May 11, 2011

Three Things to Think About: Douglas Adams

1. Douglas Adams died ten years ago today at the age of 49. Considering how productive many writers are late into their lives, it clear that the genre was robbed of one it's best much, much too soon. If you haven't read any of Adams' brilliant work, please do so. It's indescribably good.

2. He was 27 when he wrote A Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. That's about my age. I feel profoundly unproductive.

3. Is there a more perfect passage than the improbable appearance of a whale and a bowl of petunias in all of science fiction?
"Another thing that got forgotten was the fact that against all probability a sperm whale had suddenly been called into existence several miles above the surface of an alien planet.

And since this is not a naturally tenable position for a whale, this poor innocent creature had very little time to come to terms with its identity as a whale before it then had to come to terms with not being a whale any more.

This is a complete record of its thoughts from the moment it began its life till the moment it ended it.

Ah ... ! What's happening? it thought.

Er, excuse me, who am I?


Why am I here? What's my purpose in life?

What do I mean by who am I?

Calm down, get a grip now ... oh! this is an interesting sensation, what is it? It's a sort of ... yawning, tingling sensation in my ... my ... well I suppose I'd better start finding names for things if I want to make any headway in what for the sake of what I shall call an argument I shall call the world, so let's call it my stomach.

Good. Ooooh, it's getting quite strong. And hey, what's about this whistling roaring sound going past what I'm suddenly going to call my head? Perhaps I can call that ... wind! Is that a good name? It'll do ... perhaps I can find a better name for it later when I've found out what it's for. It must be something very important because there certainly seems to be a hell of a lot of it. Hey! What's this thing? This ... let's call it a tail - yeah, tail. Hey! I can can really thrash it about pretty good can't I? Wow! Wow! That feels great! Doesn't seem to achieve very much but I'll probably find out what it's for later on. Now - have I built up any coherent picture of things yet?


Never mind, hey, this is really exciting, so much to find out about, so much to look forward to, I'm quite dizzy with anticipation ...

Or is it the wind?

There really is a lot of that now isn't it?

And wow! Hey! What's this thing suddenly coming towards me very fast? Very very fast. So big and flat and round, it needs a big wide sounding name like ... ow ... ound ... round ... ground! That's it! That's a good name - ground!

I wonder if it will be friends with me?

And the rest, after a sudden wet thud, was silence.

Curiously enough, the only thing that went through the mind of the bowl of petunias as it fell was Oh no, not again. Many people have speculated that if we knew exactly why the bowl of petunias had thought that we would know a lot more about the nature of the universe than we do now."

Excerpted from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 18.

42. Sigh...

Douglas Adams continues to be sorely missed. Thanks again for all the fish!


  1. I still hold up the prologue to H2G2 as one of the best.

    I haven't read all of his books, the Dirk Gentry novels falling to the wayside since I have never even lain eyes on them, but I loved the Hitchhiker trilogy... or the first four books, at least. Even Adams wasn't too enthused about the fifth. If you haven't read Salmon of Doubt, I'd say give it a go. It is interesting to see how some events in Adams' life were put into the books.

    My fiancee hasn't read any of the books, so it was fun sitting down and watching the recent film with her the other day. That film, I saw it on the day of its release, and I want to hate it and want to love it, but can't bring myself to do either. Instead, I just sit there and chuckle at the things they get right, point out the things they didn't, and just sort of sigh at the stuff they threw in.

  2. What's also so great about this passage is Douglas Adams' pitch perfect explanation in "Life, the Universe, and Everything" of WHY the bowl of petunias said "Oh no, not again." It may be retconning, but it's the most brilliant retcon of all time.


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