April Books 2) The Salmon of Doubt

2) The Salmon of Doubt: Hitch-hiking the Galaxy One Last Time, by Douglas Adams (edited by Peter Guzzardi)

I bought this yesterday, along with F’s Dr Seuss book, and zoomed through it this morning. It’s a quick read, and though marketed as fiction in fact two-thirds of it consists of essays, shorter pieces and even sleeve notes for a recording of the Brandenburg Concertos, all scavenged off Adams’ various hard disks after his unexpected death in May 2001.

And it’s all good stuff, with perhaps the exception of a long and rambling speech made in Cambridge in 1998. The first chapters of Adams’ unfinished novel take up the last few dozen pages, and point to the usual mix of transcendental enigmas and sharp one-liners that substituted for content in his later books.

But the sad fact is that none of the fiction Adams wrote after 1980 was really much good. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency at first looks like an up-tick on the graph, but it was basically cannibalised out of two Doctor Who stories he wrote in the late 1970s. One of the later inferior novels ends with the sentence: “There was a point to this story, but it has temporarily escaped the chronicler’s mind” – and that could almost stand for his whole post-1981 fictional oeuvre.

He would have done better to expend energy on his non-fiction writing – which as this volume demonstrates was excellent – and on evangelising for the ecological and technological causes – working to preserve beautiful endangered species such as the ring-tailed lemur and the Apple Macintosh – which he made his own. Then, once he no longer felt a need to prove himself as equal to the task of producing another Hitch-Hiker’s Guide, he would probably have done so to everyone’s surprise, not least his own. But, alas, we shall never know.

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