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The death of Douglas Adams at the age of just 49 was - as this book shows - a tragic loss to the world of humorous, but thought-provoking writing. If Death had any sense of irony, Adams would have died at the age of 42. That has least, would have given us one last joke from his most famous creation. Instead, his death in 2001 merely left a hole which to this day not really been filled.
The Salmon of Doubt provides a few tantalising glimpses of what might have been. It collects together a number of items which friends, relatives and editors retrieved from Adams' (many) computers and includes ten chapters of what would have become the third Dirk Gently novel.
The collection really is a mish-mash of musings on a whole range of topics (although many are relating to technology, atheism and animals - three causes for which Adams was something of a spokesman). They offer some interesting insights into Adams' ideas and outlook, although the somewhat random nature of both subject matter and purpose sometimes frustrates. Some are lengthy speeches, transcriptions of previously published interviews or articles Adams wrote. Others are mere musings, scraps of passing thought consisting of just a few short sentences but which nevertheless capture something of the man's wit.
What shines through all of them is the intelligence of Adams as a writer and observer of human life and an ability to view life in a pleasingly skewed way. Adams' pieces have that rare ability to make you think seriously about something one minute and have you rolling around the floor with laughter the next. He is the master of using just the right word or phrase in just the right place at just the right time, so that seemingly innocent and dull events suddenly become very funny. There were a number of times when The Salmon of Doubt had me shamelessly laughing out loud in public.
Similarly, whilst you might not necessarily agree with all of Adams' ideas, he outlines his beliefs in a clear and intelligent fashion, documenting just why he believes what he does. He will make you think about and examine your own opinions even if, ultimately, you do not accept his conclusions. Then he will make you laugh again.
The Salmon of Doubt gets into the mind of Douglas Adams in a way which few of his previous books ever did. It gives the reader a peak into how his mind worked (oddly and very rapidly) and how he enjoyed the creative process of writing a book (he didn't!). It's a very personal book, giving lots of insights into the author and somehow, that seems a very fitting tribute for "his" last book.
The most tantalising and tragic aspect is the final section, which contains ten chapters of what would have been the third Dirk Gently novel, reconstructed from several different drafts. On the evidence of what we have here, this would have been the usual combination of an interesting, off-the-wall, baffling plot combined with daft situations and lots of humorous observations on human nature. Even though the manuscript only exists in unfinished draft form with huge chunk forever trapped in the mind of the author, the version we have here was still good enough to make laugh out loud repeatedly.
It is a shame that there's not a bit more structure to the book. It's arranged into sections entitled (of course) Life, The Universe, And Everything, although these are fairly arbitrary headings and there doesn't appear to be any particular logic to what appears in what section. It's ordered neither chronologically, nor by subject (grouping, for example, all items on religion or technology together). The apparently random nature of things does sometimes make you feel as though you are pinging around the author's mind. In fairness, though, it also gives the book a great feeling of serendipity and you never quite know what you are going to come across next.
This is clearly not a book for Adams newcomers and anyone who tries to start with The Salmon of Doubt will wonder what on earth they have picked up. If you want a more typical Adams book, read the five books in the Hitch-hiker's trilogy instead (yes, that statement is correct!*) instead. For fans, however, this is an oddly fitting tribute to a fondly remembered author and gives us a glimpse of what the future might have held had Adams not died at such a tragically young age.
The Salmon of Doubt
Pan, New Edition, 2003
* Sort of. There is now a sixth hitch-hiker's book, but that wasn't written by Adams so I'm ignoring it for the purposes of this review.
© Copyright SWSt 2012
Douglas Adams is most famous for his trilogy-in-five-parts, The Hitchhiker novels/radio play/ TV adaptation, which was finally made into a film after his early death. (I'm sure he would have smiled to know that, after all the trials and tribulations, it was made at last, although it is highly unlikely that he would have approved of the final product.) His last, unfinished, hilariously comic novel is reproduced here alongside various fiction and non-fiction pieces, so although the title of the book is the same as the title of the incomplete novel, there is much more to this collection than one draft of a promising new novel.
The book opens with an editor's note from Peter Guzzardi who simply explains how the book came into being. This is followed by a prologue which outlines Adams' life story and then summarises his history in an almost CV-like format. Neither of these is particularly interesting, although they do offer a clear overview, which is their intended aim. Personally I found the quotations from Adams most interesting as they demonstrated his usual good humoured approach to life: he likened trying to get his film made to "trying to grill a steak by having a succession of people coming into the room and breathing on it".
The editor's note and prologue are followed by a foreword (I know, I know, you're wondering when the book begins,) written by Stephen Fry who laments Adams' passing and suggests that this collection will help to 'put off the full melancholy of his sudden departure'. This is moving and it is interesting to get a more personal viewpoint than is otherwise offered, but it's definitely time to get into the true purpose of the book: Adams' writings. The book contains three sections: Life, The Universe, And Everything, followed by an epilogue.
'Life' and 'The Universe' contain a diverse collection of fiction and non-fiction garnered from Adams' beloved Applemac and reproduced herein in what appears to be chronological order. From his first ever published piece (a creative letter from his twelve year old self to the Editor at the Eagle) and his complaints about short trousers, the letter Y (no other question gets a whole letter of the alphabet named after it), his baffling nose, insurance companies and Frank the Vandal, to his interview with American Atheists and speech on the possibility of an artificial God, this book is a true goldmine. It is impossible to choose a favourite, but 'Young Zaphod plays it Safe' (a short story concerning a major character from the Hitchhiker novels at an earlier age,) is brilliant and not something that you need to have read the other novels in order to appreciate. The true story 'Cookies' made me laugh out loud as it revealed a very typical English reticence and refusal to 'cause trouble' or 'make a scene'. There are snippets from interviews in which Adams reveals his plans for Dirk Gently and the Hitchhiker's film and debates in which he elaborates on his scientific beliefs. These vary in length from a page to several pages and are great to read in little bits so you can savour them like rich chocolates.
'And Everything' gives us eleven chapters of 'The Salmon of Doubt', patched together by Adams' editor and intended to be the beginning of the third Dirk Gently novel (following 'Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency' and 'The Long, Dark Teatime of the Soul'). His titles hint at the wonderfully surreal nature of his writing and this story is no exception. The best way to sum this up is to steal wholesale from the fax that has been reproduced in which Adams outlines the novel to his agent.
"Dirk Gently, hired by someone he never meets, to do a job that is never specified, starts following people at random. His investigations lead him to Los Angeles, through the nasal membranes of a rhinoceros, to a distant future dominated by estate agents and heavily armed kangaroos. Jokes, lightly poached fish, and the emergent properties of complex systems form the background to Dirk Gently's most baffling and incomprehensible case."
This is clearly not your standard detective fare, which becomes even more obvious in chapter two when Dirk is asked to investigate where half a cat has vanished to. The front half is fine; the back half is missing. Vanished. On the plus side, the cat does not appear to be affected, but the owner is a bit puzzled. Much of the humour arises from the calm manner in which characters respond to totally surreal conversations and situations.
You don't need to have read the first two novels in order to enjoy or understand this one, though I thoroughly recommend them both in their own right. Of course, 'understand' might not be the best word - as there is no conclusion in sight (the other two novels had roughly triple the amount of chapters). I was left somewhat bewildered at points, but this never affected my enjoyment. However, if you are someone who needs a nice, tied-up ending, I warn you now that you will not find one here.
The book closes after excerpts from another interview and an epilogue by Richard Dawkins, lamenting Adams' loss. In this way, it is very similar in tone and style to the Foreword and really adds nothing new, though of course it is sad.
Though a must for all serious fans, this collection is also fantastic fun for those who enjoy a sense of humour that occasionally dips into the surreal. The comic tone is akin to Bill Bryson, with a definitely odd edge and a strong sci-fi streak.
In a word: fantastic. Well-worth the £6.99 R.R.P
(The title is a reference to Adams' propensity to miss deadlines: he commented once that he 'loved dealines'; he loved 'the whoosing sound' they make as they go by.)
From the beginning with an enthusiastic note from the Editor you can see that the "Salmon of Doubt" is a book that has been collected by fans of Adams's work, for fans. I must admit to being sceptical of the foreword by Stephen Fry and was surprised to learn this intelligent, yet ultimately irritating Actor come Presenter was a close friend to Adams. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised that Fry writes a superb introduction and indeed tribute to Adams's work from his "Hotel room in Peru". His tribute is inspired and obviously sincere. Fry writes of a confident yet irritating man who required great patience to be around. He talks of his genius and progression from wannabe Monty Python star at Cambridge to the man of the "perfect metaphor". The foreword is both an insightful look into Adams's psyche and, in a tale of reverence provides almost a mini-eulogy to the man.
"The Salmon of Doubt" is a book that both excited and surprised me. Published posthumously following the unexpected death of Douglas Adams I and presumably many others expected it to be another instalment of "The Hitchhikers Guide To the Galaxy". This, the longest trilogy in the history of the Universe, is the work he remains famous for Worldwide. Unfortunately, within these pages you will not find Marvin the paranoid android; neither will you find Arthur Dent. Certainly this is a masterstroke and a little devious by the publishers to advertise the book with the sub-title "Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time" and at first you may feel cheated.
However, do not discount this book as a cash-in on a great mans name. You may not find what you were expecting but what you will find is an eclectic mix of Adams writings, many of which have never been published before. You will find musings and notes, interviews and snippets and the Holy Grail itself. A short story revolving round a young Zaphod Beeblebrox the two headed alien infamous in the Hitchhiker's series.
The whole collection reads like a tribute to the man's genius and is presented in an almost autobiographical style. For every story or anecdote there is an interview or letter to his publisher. This book is as good as it gets to getting inside the mind of the mad genius himself. His frustration at the "constipation" in his attempts to get Hitchhikers made into a Hollywood film are plain to see in letters to Disney and colleagues as to the lack of progress being made. There are several interviews regarding his proclaimed atheism and it is fascinating to hear the background to his beliefs from a strict religious upbringing to the staunch non-believer he eventually became.
However, all of this is merely the tip of the iceberg.
I could tell you a little bit about each part of this scrapbook of musings and writings but I have no doubt that would spoil the excitement when it came to reading it. What I will say is that this book is a must have for fans of Adams be it from any of the several forms of Hitchhikers (radio, computer game, book etc) or those who have come to him on the back of his "Dirk Gently" books.
Incidentally, the main reason many will buy this book will be because of the eight chapters of the, never to be completed Dirk Gently novel "Salmon of Doubt". Now I have never been a fan of the eccentric detective but I have to admit the explanation of the creative process to writing this novel is fascinating. The eight chapters included show a great deal of promise with flashes of wit, humour and even laugh out loud moments inconsistent in Adams's publishings since Hitchhikers was first created. Again I refuse to spoil your enjoyment of this; the final publishing of Adams's greatness but needless to say it involves half a cat, a God of Thunder and a Tornado Jet.
In summary, this book is as eclectic a collection as the late great man was himself. Let us be upstanding for Douglas Adams and his "Salmon of Doubt". Undoubtedly "Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time".
Available in paperback for £6.99
Those of you who are Douglas Adams fans will know that this book is a collection of writings and interviews with the author and also the first eleven chapters of the book that he was writing at the time that he died in May 2001. I'm not sure how you go about reviewing a book like this but I’m going to have a go anyway because it may inspire people to buy a copy. I have been a fan of Douglas Adams since I first picked up a copy of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy when I was about 10. From the first page I was completely riveted. I remember sitting watching the $64,000 Dollar Question (a quiz show for those that can't remember or don't watch television) when I was about 11 and one of the contestants chose the Hitchhikers books as his specialist subject. My family were utterly amazed when I sat there and answered every single question correctly. I think I even amazed myself. But by then I had read the books several times each. Anyway onto the book itself. The first three quarters of the book is devoted to numerous interviews and articles that Douglas wrote. These are fantastic as they give a wonderful insight into what kind of man he was. Though I have been a fan of his books for many years I knew very little about the person behind them, this book gives an insight into him. He comes across as the type of person who would try anything once and enjoyed life immensely. Some of these articles are quite bizarre and range from his first ever published writing (a letter to a comic when he was twelve) to his attempts to ride a mantra ray and explore the Barrier Reef. Some are very comical, others informative but there are a few that give a profound sense of loss. In a couple of the interviews he explains that he had lots of ideas for another hitchhikers book. Sadly that book will now never exist. As well as giving an idea of the kind of man that Douglas Adams was the book also paints an interesting portrait of Do
uglas Adams the writer. It is clear from many of the interviews that writing did not come easily to Douglas Adams and that it took a lot of sweat and tears to create the wonderful stories that he wrote. In an interview entitled "Interview with the Onion A.V. Club" Douglas says of hitchhikers "I'm pleased with the way it reads. I feel it flows nicely. It feels as if it were easy to write, and I know how difficult that was to achieve". I agree that those books are lovely to read and do not appear that they would have been difficult to write, it is interesting to know exactly how much work went into them. Anyway I'm sure you want to know about the chapters from the new book. This was to be a Dirk Gently and according to the Editors Note, what has been published has been stitched together from a number of different works in progress. I really enjoyed the eleven chapters of this story but it was weird reading. I have never picked up a book before with the knowledge that I will never know how the story ends. It's kind of hard to read something knowing that you will never finish it and that it will end abruptly. It does appear to be a little disjointed in places (though this is to be expected). Still as I say what there is is good and is a credit to the memory of Douglas Adams. It is of course entirely possible that had the book been completed that it would have beared no likeness at all to what has been published, but we will never know. There is not much more that I can say about this book. Fans of Douglas Adams will each interpret it in their own way and that is entirely how it should be. For those who are looking for an introduction to his work, I would not recommend this as a starting point. It is a wonderful read and incredibly enlightening but the Hitchhikers or Dirk Gently books are a much more fitting introduction.
The Salmon of Doubt is the late Douglas Adams' third comic novel about holistic detective Dirk Gently. Ten tantalising chapters of this unfinished project are padded to book size with about 50 short Adams pieces, mostly non-fiction.