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Douglas Adams

New Page - 30 July 2003

Douglas Adams is the well known author of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  And until his untimely death a few years ago, he was considered one of the truly witty and brilliant writers in the avant garde of strange and bewildering minds.  Those who have read all five books of his Hitchhiker's trilogy, along with the Dirk Gentry holistic detective agency books, may suspect they know Mr. Adams, but until they've read his The Salmon of Doubt [Harmony Books, New York, 2002], they've only scratched the surface.  Some of the choicer bits -- and which tell you more about Douglas Adams -- include [with page numbers in brackets]:

 [xxvii]  “The fact that I think Bach was mistaken [with regards to religion] doesn’t alter the fact that I think the B minor Mass is one of the great pinnacles of human achievement.  It still absolutely moves me to tears to hear it.  I find the whole business of religion profoundly interesting.  But it does mystify me that otherwise intelligent people take it seriously.”

[xxxv]  “...a daunting blend of perfectionism and a terror of failing in his quest to put, as he like to phrase it, ‘a hundred thousand words in a cunning order.”

[4]  “I only knew that the Beatles were the most exciting thing in the universe.  It wasn’t always an easy view to live with.  First you had to fight the Stones fans, which was tricky because they fought dirty and had their knuckles nearer the ground.”

[10]  “There’s only ever been one good answer to that question ‘Why?’ and perhaps we should have that in the alphabet as well.  There’s room for it.  ‘Why?’ doesn’t have to be the last word, it isn’t even the last letter.  How would it be if the alphabet ended, ‘V W X Why? Z,’ but ‘V W X Why not?’”

[11]  “Incidentally, am I alone in finding the expression ‘it turns out’ to be incredibly useful?  It allows you to make swift, succinct, and authoritative connections between otherwise randomly unconnected statements without the trouble of explaining what your source or authority actually is.  It’s great.  It’s hugely better than its predecessors ‘I read somewhere that...’ or the craven ‘they say that...’ because it suggests not only that whatever flimsy bit of urban mythology you are passing on is actually based on brand new, ground breaking research, but that it’s research in which you yourself were intimately involved.  But again, with no actual authority anywhere in sight.”

[32]  “First of all, realize that it’s very hard, and that writing is a grueling and lonely business and, unless you are extremely lucky, badly paid as well.  You had better really, really, really want to do it.  Next, you have to write something.  Unless you are committed to novel writing exclusively, I suggest that you start out writing for radio.  It’s still a relatively easy medium to get into because it pays so badly.  But it is a great medium for writers because it relies so much on the imagination.”

[34-35]  “One particularly niggling piece of Unfinished Business, it occurred to me the other day in the middle of a singing session with my five-year-old daughter, is the lyrics to ‘Do-Re-Mi,’ from The Sound of Music.  It doesn’t exactly rank as a global crisis, but nevertheless it brings me up short anytime I hear it, and it shouldn’t be that difficult to sort it out.

            “But it is.


            “Each line of the lyric takes the names of a note from the solfa scale, and gives it meaning: ‘Do (doe), a deer, a female deer; Re (ray), a drop of golden sun,’ etc.  All well and good so far.  ‘Mi (me), a name I call myself; Fa (far), a long, long way to run.’  Fine.  I’m not saying this is Keats, exactly, but it’s a perfectly good conceit and it’s working consistently.  And here we go into the home stretch.  ‘So (sew), a needle pulling thread.’  Yes, good.  ‘La, a note to follow so...’  What?  Excuse me? ‘La, a note to follow so...’  What kind of lame excuse for a line is that?

            “Well, it’s obvious what kind of line it is.  It’s a placeholder.  A placeholder is what a writer puts in when he can’t think of the right line or idea just at the moment, but he’d better put in something and come back and fix it later.  So, I imagine that Oscar Hammerstein just bunged in a ‘a note to follow so’ and thought he’d have another look at it in the morning.

            “Only when he came to have another look at it in the morning, he couldn’t come up with anything better.  Or the next morning.  Come on, he must have thought, this is simple.  Isn’t it?  ‘La... a something, something... what?’

            “One can imagine rehearsals looming.  Recording dates.  Maybe he’d be able to fix it on the day.  Maybe one of the cast would come up with the answer.  But no.  No one manages to fix it.  And gradually a lame placeholder of a line became locked in place and is now formally part of the song, part of the movie, and so on.

            “How difficult can it be?  How about this for a suggestion?  ‘La, a..., a...’ -- well, I  can’t think of one at the moment, but I think that if the whole world pulls together on this, we can crack it.  And I think we shouldn’t let the century end with such a major popular song in such an embarrassing state of disarray.”

[41]  “Easter Island is, of course, the most remote place on earth, famous for being farther from anywhere than anywhere else is.  Which is why it is odd that I ended up there completely by accident and only for about an hour.  I learned a very important lesson from this, which was -- read your ticket.”

[44]  “If you were to name a place that ‘looks like it’s just been dropped from outer space,’ where would you think of?”  “Fjordland in South Island, New Zealand.  An impossible jumble of mountains, waterfalls, lakes, and ice -- the most extraordinary place I think I’ve ever seen.”

[64]  “You should read Jorge Luis Borges’ short story ‘Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote.’  It’s only six pages long, and you’ll be wanting to drop me a postcard to thank me for pointing it out to you.”

[65]  “What [P. G.] Wodehouse writes is pure word music.  It matters not one whit that he writes endless variations on a theme of pig kidnappings, lofty butlers, and ludicrous impostures.  He is the greatest musician of the English language, and exploring variations of familiar material is what musicians do all day.  In fact, what it’s about seems to me to be wonderfully irrelevant.  Beauty doesn’t have to be about anything.”

[66-67]  Some of Wodehouse’s quotes include:  ‘Ice formed on the butler’s upper slopes’, OR ‘...like so many substantial Americans, he had married young and kept on marrying, springing from blonde to blonde like the chamois of the Alps leaping from crag to crag.’ OR ‘He spun round with a sort of guilty bound, like an adagio dancer surprised while watering the cat’s milk.” 

[71-72]  “Conservation is a continually evolving business, and we have begun to realize that just wading into Africa and telling the local people that they mustn’t do to their wild life what we’ve done to ours, and that we are there to make sure they don’t, is an attitude that, to say the least, needs a little refining.”

[91-04]  “I couldn’t for the life of me see any way in which a computer could be of any use in the life or work of a writer.  However, I did feel the first tiniest inklings of a feeling that would go on to give a whole new meaning to the words, ‘disposable income’.”  “So we began to develop it as a super-typewriter.  With a long and increasingly incomprehensible feature list.  Users of Microsoft Word will know what I’m talking about.”  “And now we have the World Wide Web (the only thing I know of whose shortened form -- www -- takes three times longer to say that what it’s short for.”  The www is better than a brochure, because a brochure limits us.  It’s job “is to persuade people to buy what you have to sell, and do it by being glossy and seductive as possible and only telling people what you want them to know.  You can’t interrogate a brochure.  Most corporate websites are like that.”  It doesn’t answer questions.  It doesn’t tell you other people’s experiences.  Amazon, on the other hand, is “awash with shared information.  The more information is there, the more people go there...”  “Of course, [Amazon is] not afraid of open debate because, unlike BMW [and British Airways], they are not responsible for the product they sell.  It will take BMW and British Airways a long time and a big deep breath to realise that they are part of the community they sell to.”  But even Amazon does not account for information of people looking to buy something, not finding it, and then not buying.  There is no market research of buyable new products.

[95]  “I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:

            1.  Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.

            2.  Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.

            3.  Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”

[102]  “Oddly, the industry that is the primary engine of this incredible pace of change -- the computer industry -- turns  out to be rather bad at predicting the future itself.  There are two things in particular that it failed to foresee:  one was the coming of the Inter Net, which, in an astonishingly short time, has become what the computer industry is now all about; the other was the fact that the century would end.”

[106]  “My PowerBook is fresh out of power (funny notion, to name the thing after its only major shortcoming; it’s rather like Greenland in that respect).”

[108-110]  “It’s an odd feeling, actually typing qwerty as a word; try it and you’ll see what I mean.”  “Qwerty, as we know, was originally designed to slow down typists so the keys wouldn’t jam.  It’s deliberately inefficient.  However, all attempts to replace it with some thing more efficient, like the Dvorak keyboard, have failed.  People know qwerty already, and they don’t have any pressing incentive to change.  Dvorak et al, may be better, but qwerty is, or has been till now, good enough.  ‘If it ain’t busted, don’t fix it’ is a very sound principle and remains so despite the fact that I have slavishly ignored it all my life.”

[115]  “We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works.  How do you recognize something that is still technology?  A good clue is if it comes with a manual.”

[116-117]  “Almost everything to do with the Net involves spotting the things we can now leave out of the problem, and location -- or distance -- is one of them.  Wandering around the Web is like living in a world in which every doorway is actually one of those science fiction devices that deposit you in a completely different part of the world when you walk through them.  In fact, it isn’t like it, it is it.”

[133]  “David Deutsch, who is an advocate of the multiple-universe view of the universe, [has written a book] called The Fabric of Reality, [in which he] explores the notion of a quantum multiple-universe view of the universe.  This came from the famous wave/particle dichotomy about the behavior of light -- that you couldn’t measure it as a wave when it behaves as a wave, or as a particle when it behaves as a particle.  How does this come to be?  David Deutsch points out that 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 claims to be predicated on the notion that the universe behaves as if there were a multiplicity of universes, but it rather strains our credulity to think that there actually would be.”  “This goes straight back to Galileo and the Vatican.  In fact, what the Vatican said to Galileo was, ‘We don’t dispute your readings, we just dispute the explanations you put on them.  It’s all very well for you to say that the planets sort of do that as they go round and it is as if we were a planet and those planets were all going round the sun; it’s all right to say it’s as if that were happening, but you’re not allowed to say that’s what is happening, because we have a total lockhold on universal truth and also it simply strains our personal credulity.  Just so, I think that the idea that there are multiple universes currently strains our credulity, but it may well be that it’s imply one more strain that we have to learn to live with, just as we’ve had to learn to live with a whole bunch of them in the past.”

[158-159]  “Having been an English literary graduate, I’ve been trying to avoid the idea of doing art ever since.  I think the idea of art kills creativity.”  You can easily do something which is not considered art, “because nobody will take it seriously, and therefore you can sneak under the fence with lots of good stuff.”  “Before 1962, everybody thought pop music was sort of...  Nobody would have ever remotely called it art, and then somebody comes along and is just so incredibly creative with it, just because they love it to bits and think it’s the greatest fun you can possibly have.  And within a few years, you’ve got Sgt. Pepper’s and so on, and everybody’s calling it art.  I think media are at their most interesting before anybody’s thought of calling them art, when people still think they’re just a load of junk.”

[227-228]  After the Norse Thunder God, Thor, inadvertently destroyed a portion of Dirk Gentry’s home, there was “Devastation.  And also the insurance problem from hell.  The insurance companies involved had all claimed that this was, by any reasonable standards, an act of God.  But, Dirk had argued, which god?  Britain was constitutionally a Christian monotheistic state, and therefore any “act of God” defined in a legal document must refer to the Anglican chap in the stained glass and not to some polytheistic thug from Norway.  And so on.”  “If the insurance company failed to pay up -- which seemed increasingly likely in light of the strategy that insurance companies had adopted in recent years, of merely advertising their services rather than actually providing them...”

[230-231]  “Dirk stood up and took a deep breath.  What the hell was going on?  He felt that his whole world was spinning very slowly in what was, as far as he could judge, an anticlockwise direction.  That prompted a vague recollection that the last time he had drunk any tequila, it had made his world spin slowly in a clockwise direction.  That was obviously what he needed if he was going to be able to think about this clearly..”

[233]  “He was constantly reminded of how startlingly different a place the world was when viewed from a point only three feet to the left.”

[235]  “A breezy Californian in the sort of Hawaiian shirt that could serve, if needed, as a distress signal was standing in the bright sunshine and answering questions.”

[236]  “‘NASA,’ said the Californian genially, ‘is talking shit.  They don’t know.  If we don’t know, they sure as hell don’t know.  Here as Similarity Engines we have the most massively powerful parallel computers on Earth, so when I say we don’t know, I know what I’m talking about.  We know that we don’t know, and we know why we don’t know.  NASA doesn’t even know that.”

[237]  “Life, he was fond of telling himself, was like an ocean.  You can either grind your way across it like a motorboat or you can follow the winds and the currents -- in other words, go sailing.”

[243]  “Solutions nearly always come from the direction you least expect, which means there’s no point trying to look in that direction because it won’t be coming from there.”

[244-246]  “In the past, people would stare into the fire for hours when they wanted to think.  Or stare at the sea.  The endless dancing shapes and patterns would reach far deeper into our minds than we could manage by reason and logic.  You see, logic can only proceed from the premises and assumptions we already make, so we just drive round and round in little circles like little clockwork cars.  We need dancing shapes to lift us and carry us, but they’re harder to find these days.  You can’t stare into a radiator.  You can’t stare in the sea.  Well, you can, but it’s covered with plastic bottles and used condoms, so you just sit there getting cross.  All we have to stare into is the white noise.  The stuff we sometimes call information, but which is really just a babble rising in the air.”  “Logic comes afterwards.  It’s how we retrace our steps.  It’s being wise after the event.  Before the event you have to be very silly.”  “Have I mentioned that I believe in the fundamental connectedness of all things?  I think I have.”

[247]  “The following morning the weather was so foul it hardly deserved the name, and Dirk decided to call it Stanley instead.  Stanley wasn’t a good downpour.  Nothing wrong with a good downpour for clearing the air.  Stanley was the sort of thing you needed a good downpour to clear the air of.  Stanley was muggy, close, and oppressive, like some one large and sweaty pressed up against you in a tube train.  Stanley didn’t rain, but every so often he dribbled on you.  Dirk stood outside in the Stanley.”

[248]  “He even consulted his own horoscope in one of the papers, the one written by a disreputable friend of his who toiled unscrupulously under the name of The Great Zaganza.  First he glanced at some of the entries under other birth signs, just to get a feel for the kind of mood the GZ was in.  Mellow, it seemed, at first sight.  ‘Your ability to take the long view will help you through some of the minor difficulties you experience when Mercury...’, ‘Past weeks have strained your patience, but new possibilities will now start to emerge as the sun...’, ‘Beware of allowing others to take advantage of your good nature.  Resolve will be especially called for when...’.  Boring, humdrum stuff.  He read his own horoscope.  ‘Today you will meet a three-ton rhinoceros called Desmond.’” 

[250]  “‘The only time you ever actually see the cabbie is when a fare says something to him.  And when a fare says something to a cabbie in a drama, you know what it invariably is?’  ‘Follow that cab?’ ‘Exactly my point.  So if what you see on the telly is to be believed all cabbies ever do,’ continued the cabbie, ‘is follow other cabbies.’ ‘Which leaves me in a very strange position, as being the one cabbie that never gets asked to follow another cabbie.  Which leads me to the unmistakable conclusion that I must be the cabbie all the other cabbies are following...’”

[286]  “These are life’s little learning experiences.  You know what a learning experience is?  A learning experience is one of those things that says, ‘You know that thing you just did?  Don’t do that.’”

[291]  “I love deadlines.  I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”


Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy         Bozo-Sattva        The Fool's Journey

Curiosity         Abraham         Wisdom         Synthesis

Or forward to:

Babylon 5     

Desiderata         Love N' Death         They Went Thataway


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