Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Writing Challenge - Day 1 - Let the Games Begin

Today is day one of the writing challenge I issued to myself for the month of July. Today I present a review of an audio book I recently finished.

Audio book review: Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking One Last Time by Douglas Adams

The Salmon of Doubt was released in May of 2002 one year after Douglas Adam’s passing. It is a collection of interviews, short stories, articles, and speeches of/by Douglas as well as the beginnings of Douglas’ next book. Those elevenish chapters are presented as the next Dirk Gently book. However, as many of the interviews point out, Douglas wasn’t sure what the finished product was going to be. He did mention that some of the ideas felt more like a Hitchhiker’s Guide book. He was looking in that direction as he felt that he ended that series on a down note and wanted it to really go out on a high note.

The audio book is narrated by Simon Jones who is probably best known as playing Arthur Dent in both the entire Hitchhiker’s Guide radio series and the television series. He also had a cameo as the holographic message from the planet Magrathea to the spaceship Heart of Gold in the Hitchhiker’s Guide movie. His voice is forever associated with Douglas Adams' in my mind and it is fitting that he would narrate this final chapter in a wonderful career.

The audio book is a fascinating listen. Given the number of interviews there is certainly going to be repeated information, but they string them out far enough between other bits that it doesn’t become too redundant. Putting aside the novella for a minute, there are two pieces that really stuck out in this book. The first was his interview with an magazine written by and for athiests. The second is the transcription of a speech Douglas gave to a group of scientists at Cambridge discussing, or more accurately debating himself, about whether or not there is an artificial god.

I find it interesting that whether or not I agree with him, Douglas provides a comprehensive argument in his speech that is littered with insightful humor. That same personality shines through as he answers the interviewers questions. He answers are never demeaning to those he disagrees with. I find this to be in sharp contrast to Richard Dawkins, whom Douglas counted as a friend, and his seeming arrogance when comes to espousing similar views.

This is not totally unexpected though. In all of his fiction books Douglas hit the right notes with intelligent insight, humor, and humility. It only makes sense that those qualities were in play in all of Douglas' life.

Beyond those pieces the Dirk Gently novella provides a satisfying, if brief, end to a wonderful career. Unfortunately the story gets as far as setting up the plot, the characters, and then abruptly ends. It had the potential to be a great Dirk Gently book based on what he had written. Above the Title Productions, who have produced three Hitchhiker’s radio series and two Dirk Gently radio series for BBC4, has been commissioned to produce a radio series based on this incomplete script. Hopefully it will live up to the foundation that has been provided.

If you are a fan of Douglas Adams this is worth picking up. If you aren’t, start with the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and work your way here. And don’t forget your towel.

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Random quote overheard today: "Is that Cobra Commander?" --some guy on a call in a cubicle near mine.