Douglas Adams, 1952-2001 British writer, broadcaster, and environmentalist Wrote episodes of Doctor Who before HG2G; also portions of the last episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus Also wrote non-fiction on science, technology, and endangered species Published 7 complete SF novels, three short stories, one collaborative work, and one incomplete one
The “Trilogy of Five” The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979) The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980) Life, the Universe, and Everything (1982) So Long and Thanks for All the Fish (1984) Mostly Harmless (1992) Plus the short story Young Zaphod Plays it Safe (1986)
Adams on Writing Science Fiction “I didn’t mean to [write SF]. I just exaggerate a lot.” “I never set out to parody SF, but to use the trappings of SF to look at other things.” “I’m not a parodist - parody is one of the easier forms of writing, and it’s one that’s too easy to slip into when you aren’t trying hard enough.” “No matter how good the ideas are, a lot of [SF] is terribly badly written.”
Adams’ Use of Humour and Satire Genre conventions Themes - especially paradoxes Narrative techniques Anecdotal writing style Self-referential humour (including references to his earlier work in both comedy and ‘serious’ SF) How ‘traditional’ is it? How ‘New Wave’? Is it both or neither? Ironic post-apocalyptic narrative Satire as reflection on the ‘state of the genre’
Multimedia Interpretations The original radio plays (became the first two books) The 1981 BBC miniseries (based mostly on the radio play but incorporates material from the first two books) The 2005 movie (based on the first book but incorporates material from the other four) The second series of radio plays (based on the last three books) The 1984 computer game (based mostly on the first book) Graphic novels and photoillustrated editions Stage productions Recordings and audiobooks Adams’ Online Encyclopedia, H2G2 Eoin Colfer’s And Another Thing (2009)
From the introduction to the anthology of all 5 books: “The history of HG2G is…so complicated that every time I tell it I contradict myself, and whenever I do get it right I’m misquoted.” “The Guide has appeared in so many forms - books, radio, a television series, records, and…a major motion picture - each time with a different storyline that even its most acute followers have become baffled at times.” Adams considered the radio play to be his favourite version, but was interested in varying the story to fit each medium it was in
Adams on Multimedia “When radio came out, everyone said books will disappear. When television came out, everyone said that radio will disappear. It was the same when movies came out. People find new ways of enjoying themselves. There's something about the experience of a book which nothing else will ever replace….but it doesn't mean anything else has got to be thrown out.” “Moving something from one medium to another is very interesting…like carrying a picture or a piece of clothing from one bit of lighting to another. Suddenly it looks very different. What interests me…is the way in which…different media interrelate – you can hand things off from one to another, you can exploit each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”
The Guide Expository narrative device Self-referential commentary HG2G vs. Encyclopedia Galactica (reference to Isaac Asimov’s Foundation) Master narrative / ‘sacred’ text, yet originally created for mundane purposes (inspired by a real travelogue of Europe) Inaccuracies / discrepancies / need for constant updating Seeming irrelevancy of entries – but are they really? “In case of major discrepancy it’s always reality that’s got it wrong”
42 Is there an answer to everything? If we found the answer, or the question, would we know we did? Can one book give us all the answers? What’s more important: the question or the answer?
The Babelfish Parody of “universal translator” convention (also now the name of a universal translation website) Removal of barriers to communication - more of a problem than it solves? Babelfish and the existence (or not) of God?
Adams and God “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it?” Adams’ “evangelical atheism” vs. his fascination with religions e.g. philosophers’ objection to Deep Thought; Babelfish debate; planet factory and creationism; Viltvodel VI subplot in the film Is Adams satirizing God, or organized religion?
Adams and Animals Adams’ environmentalist work Relative intelligence of humans and animals, esp. dolphins and mice Who’s really the more intelligent species, and why? Paradoxical role of Earth and humans: “mostly harmless”, yet a key part of the search for the meaning of life
Adams and Technology Early advocate of hypertext; one of the first people in UK to own a Mac; H2G2 website as precursor/alternative to Wikipedia Space travel AI and androids Technology often causes as many problems as it solves “Given the destruction caused by the randomness in the universe, why do we also have to deal with the phone company?” Significance of seemingly mundane items (towels, digital watches)
Improbable Fictional Worlds Improbability Drive as parody of both physics and possible-worlds theory Adams called the sum total of all possible worlds “The Whole Sort of General Mish Mash” Different versions of the story as counterpart worlds; use of counterpart worlds in the story itself “We talk about one universe but the universe I live in…is revealed to my own senses…and the universe you live in is absolutely subjective to you.”
Adams’ Use of Social Satire References to the socioeconomic and political conditions of Britain in the 1970s; possible relation to the British “alternative comedy” movement British establishment’s obsession with paperwork and bureaucracy Representations of corporate/consumer culture: e.g. Magrathean planet factory; Sirius Cybernetics Corp.; Answer to Everything as profit motive Mr. Prosser and Vogons as parallel characters (also suggested by Prosser’s ancestry?) Depiction of Vogon society in later adaptations Role of art: planetary formations; poetry as weapon of mass destruction
Zaphod as Adams’ satirical representation of politicians Extra head and limb relating to his character? Changing nature of his motives in different versions: Money? Fame? Power? Just because?
Explanations of Ford’s name: mistaking the dominant lifeform; footnote on his “real” name “Mostly harmless” - commentary on editors? Deliberate understatement? Arthur’s search for the perfect cup of tea vs. Ford’s search for the perfect party Arthur and Ford as ironic observers and guides to each other as well as to the reader Possible origin of Arthur’s name: The Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven (1601) - HG2G as ironic spiritual biography?
Arthur as “everyman” character vs. Trillian as misunderstood genius (relating to Ford’s opinion of astrophysicists?) Trillian as challenge to gender stereotypes in “traditional” SF while still fitting into them
Adams on the Nature of Life, the Universe, and Everything From a 1998 Lecture at Cambridge http://www.douglasadams.se/stuff/sand.html http://www.douglasadams.se/stuff/sand.html On life: “a collection that includes a fruit fly and Richard Dawkins and the Great Barrier Reef is an awkward set of objects to try and compare. When we try and figure out what the rules are that we are looking for, trying to find a rule that’s self-evidently true, that turns out to be very, very hard.” “in the absence of an intentional creator, you cannot say what life is, because it simply depends on what set of definitions you include in your overall definition. Without a god, life is only a matter of opinion.”
On God: “Man the maker looks at his world and says ‘So who made this then?’ Who made this? — you can see why it’s a treacherous question. Early man thinks, ‘Well, because there’s only one sort of being I know about who makes things, whoever made all this must therefore be a much bigger, much more powerful and necessarily invisible, one of me and because I tend to be the strong one who does all the stuff, he’s probably male’. And so we have the idea of a god. Then, because when we make things we do it with the intention of doing something with them, early man asks himself, ‘If he made it, what did he make it for?’ Now the real trap springs, because early man is thinking, ‘This world fits me very well. Here are all these things that support me and feed me and look after me; yes, this world fits me nicely’ and he reaches the inescapable conclusion that whoever made it, made it for him.” The “puddle” analogy: we perceive the world as being made for us, but were we made for it instead?
“as we become more and more scientifically literate, it’s worth remembering that the fictions with which we previously populated our world may have some function that it’s worth trying to understand and preserve the essential components of, rather than throwing out the baby with the bath water; because even though we may not accept the reasons given for them being here in the first place, it may well be that there are good practical reasons for them, or something like them, to be there.” e.g. the monetary system, which nowadays is based on mutual agreement more than on physical objects Purpose of fictional worlds (worldviews, etc.) is to help us explain things in the actual world we don’t yet understand
On the universe: “if you imagine that our Universe is simply one layer and that there is an infinite multiplicity of universes spreading out on either side, not only does it solve the problem, but the problem simply goes away. This is exactly how you expect light to behave under those circumstances. Quantum mechanics has claims to be predicated on the notion that the Universe behaves as if there was a multiplicity of universes, but it rather strains our credulity to think that there actually would be.” “One way or another, this is a deeply misleading Universe. Wherever we look it’s beginning to be extremely alarming and extremely upsetting to our sense of who we are—great, strapping, physical people living in a Universe that exists almost entirely for us—that it just isn’t the case.”
Why Deep Thought? “The computer...enables us to see how life works. Now that is an extraordinarily important point because it becomes self-evident that life, that all forms of complexity, do not flow downwards, they flow upwards and there’s a whole grammar that anybody who is used to using computers is now familiar with, which means that evolution is no longer a particular thing, because anybody who’s ever looked at the way a computer program works, knows that very, very simple iterative pieces of code, each line of which is tremendously straightforward, give rise to enormously complex phenomena in a computer.”
Adams and Other Writers Influenced more by New Wave (incl. Lem and Dick) than by “traditional” SF, when influenced by SF at all Themes shared by Adams and Lem: consequences of extraterrestrial contact; role of academic/expository discourse; observation and description of otherworldly phenomena; extensive uses of wordplay Themes shared by Adams and Dick: role of AI and animals, esp. in relation to humans; roles of corporate/consumer culture; post-apocalyptic narratives; playful responses to SF and to the actual world