Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Salmon Of Doubt, Douglas Adams

Title: The Salmon Of Doubt
Author: Douglas Adams
Rating: Great!

I really, really, really, really miss Douglas Adams. Damn it I miss him. One of my domains - - is named after an obscure line from The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, and simply put, his books were a formative influence on me. The man was funny, he could write, and he had his whole life ahead of him when he unexpectedly died of a heart attack in 2001. Given he was born in 1952, you can see he died far too soon.

Despite being a fan, there are many things I don't know about him. As a result some of The Salmon Of Doubt was particularly welcome. It's a collection of essays, articles, interviews, and early drafts of the first few chapters of an unfinished book that were all extracted from his hard disk after he died.

There are hilarious stories here about his youth that make me feel like my childhood wasn't all that far out of line. There are introductions to various books and instructions on how to make tea. There are articles written for various magazines - mostly about software or the Macintosh - and descriptions of his radical atheism (his own title for it). There are analogies - like the story of the puddle thinking about how amazingly well it fits into the depression in the ground it is in, how that depression must have been made for it to fit into, all while it is evaporating. And there are stories, like the cookie story, which you simply must read, though I originally heard him tell it live on some TV program years ago. From all of this one gets the sense that Adams had an ability to connect with people - both in his writing and in person.

The chapters of the unfinished book are wonderful, and as a result of reading them I'm going to have to reread Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency next, despite the 50+ books in my TBR pile.

I wish he'd had the chance to finish The Salmon Of Doubt along with all the other things he should have written in his life.

One of the last things in the book was written by Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist. (Adams mentions Dawkins frequently, and credits Dawkins's The Blind Watchmaker with causing him to understand evolution. Dawkins credits Adams with introducing him to his wife. The two were clearly good friends.) The piece is a lament over the loss of Adams, and despite the fact that it was written nearly seven years ago now, it still strikes home. Yes, I cried a bit while reading it.

Douglas Adams was a genius, plain and simple. In this book you get to see his human side, and I strongly recommend it. It's not as great a work as The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, but it tells you about the man and his passions.