Book - Mostly Harmless, Entirely Genius

Douglas Adams

Mostly Harmless, Entirely Genius sees steven harris talking about Douglas Adams. But does he know where his towel is...

Where to even begin with Douglas Noel Adams without immediately gushing on about what a tremendous debt I feel I owe him as a writer? I did not meet him, we did not correspond but, despite formative years in which I read voraciously and wrote sporadically it was not until I discovered his Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy books that I first began to believe that writing is something anybody is allowed to do.

This may sound as though I am damning him with faint praise which is far from my intention. Adams's work is multilayered, entirely original, peopled with believable characters - alien, robotic and human - and frequently so hilarious it genuinely continues to make me laugh aloud despite the fact that I've read all five of the 'increasingly inaccurately named trilogy' dozens and dozens of times.

What I mean is, on the surface it all appears so effortless, the plot lines segue into and out of one another so apparently seamlessly that it made my teenage self believe this writing lark definitely could be a lark for me too.

Decades on and with only one completed, and thus far unpublished, novel to my name, I realise I may lack the very thing that made Adams so beloved and ensured he was truly mourned when he died in 2001: utter madcap genius. Not for nothing was he a huge fan and later a friend of the Pythons.

While the Dirk Gently novels also contained supremely twisting plots and ideas, it is always the Hitchhiker's books I return to the most for inspiration, for comfort reading or sometimes to remind me of a time in my life when everything was more innocent, more humorous and more likely to lead to encounters with aliens who have been posing as out of work actors from Guildford.

Ford Prefect, like Zaphod Beeblebrox, may get some of the pithiest dialogue but it is Arthur Dent who forever shines through. The essential and eternal everyman, as though Adams were writing late-twentieth century morality plays rather than rib-tickling science fiction.

As a teenager Ford interested me more. He was cool and from another world. But the more I delved, the more I saw myself in Arthur. I know for an absolute fact that should I find myself on a spaceship which operates using an infinite improbability drive I will indeed be far more interested in the chances of getting a proper cup of tea than I will be in how super clever such technology might be.

At twenty-two I began to shamelessly plagiarise Adams. All these years later I knowingly and more deftly steal the odd snippet. If only somebody had taken me aside all those years ago and said "Listen pal, the lesson to learn from this hoopy frood is not that you can imitate his style and expect people to love your work but that he HAS a style that is totally his own and you should work on developing one which is totally yours."

It's a painful admission to make for a chap who was such a fan of Doctor Who as a boy (as well as remaining one to this day) but I did not know who Douglas Adams was during his stint as script editor for the show. As I say, I came to him through the books, the first of which I did not read until Hitchhiker had already leapt from radio to television. I listened to and watched both when they came around again but had missed them entirely to begin with. Radios to me then were for sitting beside with a cassette recorder and taping the Top Forty on a Sunday evening. Or for crackling AM reception football commentaries in midweek. I don't believe my tiny little transistor radio ever found that the dial could be twiddled all the way to clever stations with proper comedy and stuff.

Discovering his Doctor Who association once I was his biggest fan (yes I was and I will fight all of you with a nuclear fist if you say I wasn't) only added to my appreciation of the chap. As did his narratologically asking of Arthur Dent 'Does he not, to put it in a nutshell, fuck?' in So Long And Thanks For All The Fish. If I tell you how many times I have tried to throw myself at the ground and miss you will know of course that I am as insane as I am in love with the work of Douglas Noel Adams.

Oh, and sorry to most of the Internet out there but I LIKED the movie. There, I've said it. The casting was perfect - those who grumped about Zooey Deschanel as Trillian really should go back to the first book and the first moment Arthur meets her. The bit about her 'little snub of a nose'. And, unless I'm very much mistaken, she's brunette in the books, unlike Sandra (used to be married to the Fifth Doctor Who) Dickinson in the TV shows with her bottle blond locks.

Clearly I'm biased but there's a simple way of checking whether my affection for his writing is warranted: read it. If you haven't yet done so you're in for a wild, whacked-out laugh-fest of a ride. Also, what the zarking photon have you been doing with your life not reading Douglas Adams? You can skip to the chapters with Marvin the Paranoid Android in, if you really must, but you'll be missing an awful lot of useful information, such as how to mix the perfect Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. Now, where did I put my other head?

Image - r7.