Last week one of my favorite books, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy celebrated its 42nd birthday. For fans of the book, the significance of this anniversary needs no explanation. (If you are unaware of the reference, stop reading this blog post and pick up a copy of the novel—go ahead, I won’t be offended; Come back after you’ve read it). Douglas Adams birthday was a few days ago, and, either of those days would have been the perfect time to write about my love for the series, Adams work in general, and its influence on me as a writer. Since I do not have a time machine, and, therefore, cannot travel back a few days and willant ont have written the post then, I must rely on one of Adam’s most famous quotes about writing to justify my subject matter today.
“I love deadlines,” Adams said. “I like the wooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
As such, here is my tribute to Mr. Adams and his work, as well its far-reaching and multi variegated influence on my life and work. What follows are 42 random thoughts from the infinite improbability drive known as my brain.
- I first read The Hitchhiker’ Guide To The Galaxy as a freshman in college. More than anything else that happened to me that year, it would prove to be the most important thing that happened to me that school year.
- Many of the friends that I met that year were hoopy froods, though I will admit that only a few really knew were their towels were.
- I met my wife in the summer following that school year, so I will not get into trouble with her for the above statement. The following year was her freshman year of college.
- At the time, she had never read The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.
- I soon corrected that gap in her education. It is now one of her favorite books as well.
- In Columbia, where I went to college, a group called the philolexian society holds a bad poetry competition. The competition is officially a tribute to the poet Joyce Kilmer, a former Columbia philolexian who duped the literary world by writing what he believed was bad poetry. Kilmer created a pseudonym, as well as a whole backstory about his fictional persona who was supposed to be homeless man living in a water tower on the roof a New York City apartment building.
- The bad poetry contest, despite being named for Kilmer, was widely known to be inspired by the Vogon bad poetry in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.
- I had a friend—a big Douglas Adams fan—who was a philolexian. She asked me to enter the contest because she knew I was majoring in writing.
- That same friend once met Douglas Adams and asked him to sign a towel. This is the most brilliant author signing story I’ve ever heard.
- Adams thought it was brilliant as well, and my friend parlayed his admiration for the gesture into an internship at Adams company, where she worked on—and appeared as a character in—the text-based video game for Starship Titanic.
- My entries into the bad poetry contest were well-received, but they did not win. I was much better at writing funny parodies of famous poetry than writing really bad poetry.
- One of my ideas for the bad poetry contest, a parody of Macbeth, is something that I kept and continued to work on.
- A more-fully developed version, which focused more on the comedy and less on the poetry, ended up being chosen as a winner in last years Serious Flash Fiction contest.
- You can purchase a copy of the winners anthology here. I believe my Macbeth parody is the second funniest piece in the anthology.
- After the Hitchhiker’s Guide, I wanted more books in that vein. The recommendation which followed (from my friend the philolexian) was Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.
- I would not have read either of them had I not first read Douglas Adams.
- I have read more words by Terry Pratchett than by any other author, and often cite him as a major influence on my work.
- I have heard Neil Gaiman, another major influence, read live six times.
- I met him during a signing after the first time. I told him how much I admired his writing, and the Stardust was the kind of book I wished I’d written. He responded by saying he wrote it because he wanted to read a book like that and that nobody had written it.
- This was highly encouraging to me as a young writer. It really boosted my confidence.
- Because of the last few thoughts,and because they kept publishing books after Adams had stopped, I often listed Pratchett and Gaiman as two of my greatest influences when the subject came up. I would cite them before Adams, and often leave Adams off the list entirely. This was a mistake.
- A few years ago, I re-read the Dirk Gently books in anticipation of the show which was soon to air on BBC America. Upon reading that book, I realized that my writing—at least my comedic writing–was actually more heavily influenced by Adams than by virtually any other author, Pratchett and Gaiman included.
- Much like them, I was writing with Adams voice in the back of my head. Re-reading it, it was clear as day, even if I had forgotten whose voice I was actually listening to.
- My story “Darkness My Old Friend” which originally appeared on Hawk and Young’s blog was compared (by Young, of Hawk and Young) to both Pratchett and Adams. It is the nicest thing anyone has ever published about my writing. (Really! Click the link and scroll down to his thoughts about the story.
- He also compared it to Asimov, but that is the subject of another blog post.
- Reading Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency also reminded me of my love for Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who figures prominently in the novel.
- Since that time, I have had more poetry than prose published. My poetry tends to be formal, metered and rhyming, influenced by the Romantics, Coleridge chief among them.
- Recently, however, I have been writing a lot more satire in the Douglas Adams vein.
- Current events have made it such that most comfortable way I can respond to the world I see around me is through humor.
- Unless I, like Arthur Dent, could ask whatever god is running things to step outside for a fight, only to watch him plunge thousands of feet to his demise.
- I often wonder how Adams would respond to today’s world.
- He would have a field day with social media and so-called-smart phones, I’m sure.
- On second thought, we tried that whole incompetent celebrity president thing and it didn’t work out so well.
- On third thought, Zaphod Beeblebrox was kept isolated from the important aspects of government in The Hitchhiker’s Guide. He is not allowed to govern as he would only screw things up and get in the way.
- Besides, we shouldn’t be using satire as a model for how we run our society. Maybe that’s how our section of the galaxy became so unfashionable.
- I would, however, vote for a hooloovoo over anyone running right now.
- And I have spent an inordinate amount of time searching for the perfect sandwich knife.
- And I’ve used the babel-fish prove of the non-existence of god as part of a lesson on Kierkegaard for high school students
- I am experiencing a lot of fear and trembling right now over the state of the world–so much so, that I might make Marvin look like an optimist.
- But I suspect if Douglas Adams was still alive, he would look at the state of the world, and react much like the oft-overlooked bowl of petunias that accompanies the whale on its descent toward the planet Magrathea: “Oh no, not again.”
- He would probably tell us to keep calm, wash our hands, and above all, “Don’t Panic!”
- Thank you for reading. So long and thanks for all the fish.
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