Douglas Adams, in a nutshell: a brief web- & bib-liography

by Phoebe Ayers, MLIS Day

One of the first pieces of science fiction that I read was The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Afterwards, I gave my copy to my young male cousins; their love for the work helped spur on their own lifetime love of reading. Our story is not unique; the Guide probably deserves a place in the reader's advisory hall of fame as a work that has entranced millions of lives.

The recent movie version of A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxyhas spurred interest in Douglas Adams, the creator of that "wholly remarkable book." Douglas Adams (who was fond of saying that to be born with the initials DNA in Cambridge, England in 1952, the year before Watson and Crick announced their discovery there, was a coincidence worthy of any he wrote about), died unexpectedly at the age of 49 in California, while working out. In between, he wrote the Guide, which sold 15 million copies, and four followup books (The Restaurant at the End of the Universe; Life, The Universe, and Everything; So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish; and Mostly Harmless, a late and some think not as brilliant addition (these five books are often published together, sometimes oddly as the Hitchhiker's Guide Trilogy). There are also two books featuring Dirk Gently, Holistic Detective (Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul); and a number of minor works, including The Meaning of Liff (with John Lloyd); Last Chance to See, which is about the plight of endangered animals and Adams' travels; and The Salmon of Doubt, which was assembled posthumously from files found on Adam's computer. It is unknown whether Adams intended this last work to be another Hitchhiker's book, another Dirk Gently book, or something else entirely, but the current published version includes a number of short essays, interviews and memorable quotes from Adams. It is a gentle, frequently hilarious look at the author who frustrated almost everyone he worked with by being unable to complete things on time.

Adams also worked on the scripts for radio shows, as well as the movie script for Hitchhiker's, and provided the idea for the PC game Starship Titanic. All in all, he was prolific, although fans were always hoping for more. There are a number of biographies of Adams; two recent ones, both published in 2003, are Wish You Were Here by Nick Webb and Hitchhiker: a Biography of Douglas Adams by M.J. Simpson. Also re-released in 2003 (apparently Douglas Adams' remembrance year) was Don't Panic: Douglas Adams and the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, an "official guide to the guide" by, of all people, Neil Gaiman. Even if you are not a huge fan of Adams' work, these biographies may be interesting for someone interested in Monty Python-era British comedy and cultural life; Adams was great friends with many of the comedic personalities of his day, including Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones.

Tributes to Adams abound online, but the first stop should be , the "official homepage," which offers a bibliography and a brief biography. However, this site is not nearly as complete or entertaining as the Wikipedia entry on Douglas Adams, which includes details on the Pink Floyd concert at which Adams played rhythm guitar and Adams' various minor works.

Our next stop should be, the website originally set up by Douglas Adams and now run by the BBC. This site - similar to everything2 or the Wikipedia - is an encyclopedic site of entries on "Life, the Universe and Everything" written by readers. While it is moderated by BBC editorial staff, it also retains the quirks of its reader/authors, who register and carry on in depth conversations. Envisioned by Adams as an online, real-life version of the Hitchhiker's Guide, h2g2 has been extraordinarily successful as one of the first of the growing trend of reader-written websites.

Although the Guide is far and away the best known of Adams' works, Dirk Gently also has his fans, including one who is turning Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency into an online comic strip . Dirk Gently's I-Ching calculator also exists online. Adams' work appears to inspire spinoffs and recreations; one of the best-known is the Hitchhiker's Guide Infocom game, which has been recreated (hooray!) online in Java here. Many pointless hours may be spent playing this nearly impossible parody of other Infocom games. (Your opening inventory is a) a splitting headache, and b) no tea).

Fan sites for Adams abound online. ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha is the "official" fan group, or at least one that has been around for a long time, and that has regular London pub meetings (not to mention t-shirts). Discussion boards can be found at Floor 42, which also has a guide to other fan sites and links around the world (Usenet groups, of course, abound). Some of these fans have far too much time on their hands, such as the individual who created The Hitchhiker's Guide Project, an encyclopedic cross-referencing of all the terms, places and characters in the Hitchhiker's series.

More can undoubtedly be found. However, a final note is that on May 25th, 2005, International Towel Day will be celebrated again. Feel free to participate, in remembrance of one quintessentially hoopy frood.


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Page last updated: May 12, 2004