Onyx reviews: The Salmon of Doubt
by Douglas Adams
When Douglas Adams died unexpectedly last year at 49, the earth's comedic
axis tilted noticeably. Adams' primary creation, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the
Galaxy, a trilogy spanning five books, is as oft quoted as Monty Python's The
Holy Grail. His sense of humor was particularly British, slightly askew and
addictive for those who knew his books.
His entire body of work is comprised of fewer than ten books, but his influence
on the genre of comedic adventure is long-lasting. The Hitchhiker's Guide alone
had numerous incarnations—as a novel, a radio drama, a computer adventure
game, a BBC TV series in the Dr. Who style and was destined to be a feature
After his death, his friends and family scanned his hard drives and backup disks
to see what remained of his unpublished work. This is a cautionary note to
writers! If you don't want something to come out posthumously, take care.
The Salmon of Doubt is a collection of letters, essays, speeches, short works of
fiction, newspaper columns and the opening chapters of his long-awaited third
Dirk Gently novel, for which the collection is titled. This closing piece is,
perhaps, the book's weakest entry. Adams had been struggling with the book for a
decade and had reached the point where he realized it really wanted to be
another Hitchhiker novel instead. The cobbled-together fragments from several
different drafts are almost completely devoid of Adams' trademark wit.
The rest of the collection, though, provides rare insight. They reveal him to be
a deep thinker on numerous social and popular issues. His favorite work was the
non-fiction book Last Chance to See, in which he journeyed to exotic locales to
explore the plights of animals on the brink of extinction. An unabashed atheist,
one of the essays is an exploration of the taboo of challenging religious
He waxes philosophical on such diverse subjects as his oversized nose, the
Beatles, scotch, the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto, why Americans can't make a
decent cup of tea, P.G. Wodehouse and the existence of an artificial God. One
letter is directed at a Hollywood producer who had been studiously avoiding
Adams' calls and letters concerning yet another attempt to film Hitchhiker. It
closes with a page and a half of contact information, including the phone number
for his supermarket and the names of several restaurants he might conceivably be
at. He comments, "If you manage not to reach me, I shall know you're trying
not to, very, very hard indeed." The letter—classic Adams—worked.
Also included are two rare works of fiction, "The Private Life of Genghis
Khan" and "Young Zaphod Plays it Safe," featuring one of the more
colorful characters from the Hitchhiker series.
Adams was a notorious procrastinator. On more than one occasion, editors lured
him to a hotel room to guide him through the completion of a novel. Everything
captured his interest, luring him from deadlines. He was likely to decamp to
Australia to compare a new generation of personal submarines with manta rays or
to hike Mount Kilimanjaro dressed like a rhinoceros.
Readers will come away from The Salmon of Doubt mourning the loss of not only a
comedic genius but also an observer and commentator concerned about the future
of our planet. Perhaps he never intended for these pieces to be published, but
they provide a more complete image of the man who had everyone convinced that
the answer to the question of life, the universe and everything was: 42.
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