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RIP Douglas Noel Adams

Douglas Adams at the American Atheists\' interview (black and white image)

May 11th 2001. A day when the world lost one of the greatest writers ever. Yes. It’s the day Douglas Noel Adams (aka DNA) died of a heart attack, age 49. He might not have been Infinitely Prolonged like Wowbagger, but he certainly achieved immortality through his creative works which have gone on to influence so many new generation writers like Neil Gaiman and Samit Basu. His nuggets of wisdom shine on. RAmen.

Wretched, isn’t it?

– Marvin the Paranoid Android

Coming to his works themselves, one of their best characteristics (for me) is that apart from their stupendously funny take on the Whole Sort Of General Mish Mash, they are all inconsistent with each other. Now that’s generally considered to be a bad thing, with everyone from Harry Potter fans to Lord of the Rings fans crying about ‘discrepancies’. For The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy however, it is this same inconsistency that makes it more fun. It has been made into so MANY avatars that if they were all kept the same, it would become a tad boring. And ‘a tad boring’ is EXACTLY what Douglas Adams wasn’t.

Getting a movie made in Hollywood is like trying to grill a steak by having a succession of people coming into the room and breathing on it.

– Douglas Adams, on getting a movie made in Hollywood. After all, the h2g2 movie spent so many years in development hell!

Some stuff you might not have known about Douglas Adams:

  • Douglas Adams was an atheist, a ‘radical atheist’ according to him. He said he used to be an agnostic earlier, but after reading The Blind Watchmaker and The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, he made God vanish in a puff of logic. Richard Dawkins is a biologist well-known for his support of the theory of evolution and atheism. Read his books – they really ARE quite good. Apart from the two mentioned earlier, another nice book by him is The God Delusion. Richard Dawkins was a good friend of DNA, and it was through Adams that Dawkins met his future wife (thanks to Ashwan for pointing out an error in this one!). Richard Dawkins was also a speaker at one of the first Douglas Adams Memorial Lectures. Fans of South Park would also have noticed Dawkins in the episodes Go God Go and Go God Go XII. Note to self: I *must* attend THAT at least once in my life. Think of it as my Mecca.
  • Douglas Adams was also quite interested with music. He played the guitar, left-handed, and had quite a collection of left-handed guitars. Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd was his good friends. In fact, Pink Floyd even let Douglas Adams play with them at one of their concerts – as a ‘birthday gift’ on his 42nd birthday. In the h2g2 book series, the band Disaster Area was based on Pink Floyd (because of their extravagant concerts). Also, Michael Nesmith of the band The Monkees was also a good friend of DNA, and was supposed to be the producer of the h2g2 movie (initially).
  • Douglas Adams was a big fan of Apple. He is said to be the first guy to buy a Mac in England, with Stephen Fry (the ‘voice of the Hitchhiker’s Guide’) being the second person to buy a Mac. There’s a veiled attack at Microsoft (“overhyped bloatware”), in the Quandary Phase when Ford Prefect (referring to Sirius Cybernetics Corporation) says:

    You know how I hate those smug Sirius Cybernetics salesmen, who sell computer operating systems which crash more often than aircars built on the Friday shift.

  • ‘Ford Prefect’ is actually the name of a car, released in England in 1970s. In the h2g2 movie, Mos Def is shown trying to shake hands with a car (he thought “cars were the dominant life-form on this planet”) – that car is an actual Ford Prefect.
  • DNA was a big environmentalist too. He supported Diane Fossey’s Gorilla Fund, and also the ‘Save The Rhino’ campaign. He even dressed up once as a rhino to raise awareness for this cause.
  • h2g2‘ is an actual user-edited encylopedia. One of the first, in fact.
  • Although he died in 2001, DNA appears in the 2005 Tertiary Phase radio series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy made by BBC. He plays the character of Agrajag, who claims that he gets killed in all his incarnations by Arthur Dent. This was done by digitally editing a recording Douglas Adams made for an audiobook of h2g2. His first words as Agrajag in the radio series were: “Bet you weren’t expecting to see ME again, were you?”. He also makes a cameo appearance in the last ever episode, again as an incarnation of Agrajag (who, again, gets killed because of Arthur Dent).
  • Other ‘quirky’ appearances in the h2g2 radio series include:
    • Christian Slater (remember that guy from John Woo’s Broken Arrow?), as Wonko the Sane. He was a good actor, and I thought he’d been crushed under a truck in Alabama before hearing him on the radio series.
    • Bruce Hyman, the producer of the new BBC h2g2 radio series, makes a cameo as a dying Arthur Phillip Deodat – again, an incarnation of Agrajag.
    • Fred Trueman and Henry Blofeld, BBC cricket commentators also appear as themselves in the Tertiary phase – in two episodes. And boy are they funny in the second episode of the Tertiary phase as commentators at an Ashes match at Lord’s. “Fred my dear old thing, what on EARTH is that?”. Indeed. The second appearance is a cameo explaining the rules of Brockian Ultra Cricket.
    • Sir Patrick Moore, British astronomer comes in the Quintessential Phase, talking of “high-level talks between Xaxisian diplomats and some iguanas”.
    • Geoffrey Perkins, producer of the first two radio series’, makes an appearance in the Quandary Phase as Arthur Dent’s boss at BBC. Yes, Arthur Dent works at BBC.

Douglas Adams playing at a Pink Floyd concert

May he rest in peace. It’s only this year I’m writing about this because I finally feel that I’ve spread a good level of awareness among peers in my school (and others too) – and that was needed because otherwise this post would have been lost to the audience. Sure, it took a bit of over-the-top promotion of forty two, but I did get the point across. I think.

13 replies on “RIP Douglas Noel Adams”

since my BITS was yesterday, commemorating the end of my exams, I went out shopping, and bought The Ultimate Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy!! Finally, now I would be able to understand your subtle jokes!!

I miss him, do you know that Dawkins dedicated The God Delusion to him? Calling him his tallest and funniest convert? It’s sad what happened to him, after all H2G2 is far more creative than harry potter or their likes, plus it makes you laugh your guts out. He was a genius no doubt about that, I mean who has the imagination to come up with Marvin? You need to have some brains to do that. I am in awe of him.

You know what I really, really like about him except for the fact that he was an atheist and the champion of all things I consider precious? He loved Apple and saw Bill Gates as what he truly is;

“The idea that Bill Gates has appeared like a knight in shining armor to lead all customers out of a mire of technological chaos neatly ignores the fact that it was he who, by peddling second-rate technology, led them into it in the first place.”

“I wrote an ad for Apple Computer: ‘Macintosh – We might not get everything right, but at least we knew the century was going to end.'”

I miss him, the world needs people like him today more than ever, I mean who would give a better commentary on the war in Iraq than this guy? You know what? I really want to attend those lectures, I wish I had the money to go.

@Achyuth: Muhahaha, welcome to the Dark Side of the Force.

@Anuj: Yeah, I’ve read The God Delusion. :) Yes, I wish I could attend the memorial lectures too. That guy has such an amazingly frank and true take on everything! What are you doing for Towel Day? ;)

That was quite a knowledgeable post on DNA, Ankur. Many interesting nuggets from his life Thanks for that!

it was through Dawkins that Adams met his future wife.

It’s the other way around actually. Dawkins met his second wife, Lalla Ward, through Douglas Adams.

Incidentally, the movie version is such a goddamn travesty. I hated it. Even the campy TV series from the 80s was better (and truer to the radio series and books.)

DC comics also brought out a comic book version which while quite crap on its own is still miles better than the movie.

@Ashwan: Oops! Made a boo boo on that wife one. Meant that, but wrote the other way round by mistake. Thanks for pointing out! :) I never try to compare the book to the radio etc etc, because that’s what I like about them – they’re all different. Even the game is different, so well, I don’t consider it that way. The movie, yes, I didn’t like it the first time I saw it too; but since then, I have seen LOADS of time, and I like it now! Especially some one-liners, which have me ROFL. IMO, the DC Comic sucks, but it’s far worse than the movie.
So…you’re a South Park fan too, right?

Sure they’re all different but in a good way. The game still stuck to the same humour as the radio series and books. Mostly because it was all Adams’ work.

I think the new radio series is also quite bad. Especially the end which I shall not reveal here. Suffice it to say that they tampered with Adams’ original ideas.

The movie suffers for exactly the same reason.

@Ashwan: Most of the radio and the movie WAS Adams’ work. If you’re talking of the Viltvoodle VI bit, Humma Kavula, the POV Gun, Questular Rontok and the Arthur-Trillian romance, all of them were penned down by Adams.

Similarly, Adams has also said that after writing Mostly Harmless he found the ending very depressing, and wanted to write a sixth book to amend that. Sadly, he died before that happened. He didn’t write the specific ending in the radio series, but it was something the writers of the new series thought Adams would have wanted.

I rather the think the new series is better actually. I really don’t like the Secondary Phase that much, among the ‘original’ series.

Ankur, we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one.

All we have is the word of the filmmaker’s that those ideas were indeed Adams’. I didn’t see any notes written in his hand, did you? Also since 3 years passed between his death and the start of production, I have my doubts.

And as you’ve already pointed out he didn’t write the specific ending in the radio series and I don’t it’s one he would have liked since he never intended to bring the characters back to life. (Or did you not read Salmon of Doubt?)

@Ashwan: On the contrary, I would like to rather believe the filmmakers, simply because of the fact that a series like h2g2 has a BIG fan following – and they would be far more scared about disappointing them. Yes, the final movie script wasn’t written by Douglas which is why it doesn’t gel together on the whole, but I do think the idea was his. Just that the final scriptwriters three years later didn’t weren’t as witty as him. The movie doesn’t work as a full unit, and has the cheap production which is quite evident. However, if you look beyond that, it’s mostly situational humor – and good ones at that. I love the PJs.

No, I haven’t read the Salmon of Doubt, not fully, that is. I *have* read snatches of it (have its ebook), but I haven’t read any bit about him not wanting to bring characters back to life. However, I *have* read interviews where he stated that the fifth book was far too depressing as he had had a lousy year, and want to write a sixth book which would end the series on a happier note. Personally, I like the news series’ ending. h2g2 was never about coherence between its different versions – and I would find it quite boring to go through the SAME story in different formats. I would place the episodes in the last three phases at par with Primary Phase. Secondary Phase sucks big time.

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