Adams, Douglas 1952–2001

views updated

Adams, Douglas 1952–2001

(Douglas Noel Adams)

PERSONAL: Born March 11, 1952, in Cambridge, England; died of an apparent heart attack, May 11, 2001, in Santa Barbara, CA; son of Christopher Douglas (a management consultant) and Janet (a nurse; maiden name, Donovan, present surname, Thrift) Adams; married Jane Elizabeth Belson, 1991; children: Polly Jane Rocket. Education: St. John's College, Cambridge, B.A. (with honors), 1974, M.A. Hobbies and other interests: Purchasing equipment for recreations he would like to take up, playing acoustic guitar, scuba diving, fiddling with computers.

CAREER: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), London, producer and scriptwriter for "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" radio and television series, beginning 1978, script editor for television series "Doctor Who," 1978–80; writer, 1978–2001.

MEMBER: Cambridge Footlights Club, which also produced Monthy Python's John Cleese, Eric Idle, and Graham Chapman.

AWARDS, HONORS: Best Books for Young Adults List, American Library Association (ALA), 1980, for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was voted "one of the nation's 21 best-loved novels" by the British public as part of the BBC's The Big Read, 2003.



The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Pan Books (London, England), 1979, Harmony (New York, NY), 1980.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Pan Books (London, England), 1980, Harmony (New York, NY), 1982.

Life, the Universe and Everything, Harmony (New York, NY), 1982.

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, Pan Books (London, England), 1984, Harmony (New York, NY), 1985.

The Hitchhiker's Trilogy (omnibus volume), Harmony (New York, NY), 1984.

The Original Hitchhiker's Radio Scripts, edited with an introduction by Geoffrey Perkins, Harmony (New York, NY), 1985.

The Hitchhiker's Quartet (omnibus volume), Harmony (New York, NY), 1986.

More Than Complete Hitchhiker's Guide, Longmeadow Press (New York, NY), 1987, revised edition published as the More Than Complete Hitchhiker's Guide Fifty-one Point Eighty, 1989, unabridged edition, 1994.

Mostly Harmless, Crown (New York, NY), 1992.

The Illustrated Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Crown (New York, NY), 1994.

The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide, unabridged and complete version, Wings Books (New York, NY), 1996.

(Creator and author of introduction) Terry Jones, Douglas Adams's Starship Titanic: A Novel, Harmony Books (New York, NY), 1997.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: The Authorized Collection, adapted by John Carnell, illustrated by Steve Leialoha, DC Comics, 1997.

Neil Richards, Douglas Adams's Starship Titanic: The Official Strategy Game, Three Rivers Press, 1998.

The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchiking the Galaxy One Last Time, Harmony Books (New York, NY), 2002.

Also author of scripts for the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" radio and television programs, BBC-TV, and "Dr. Who" episodes (1978–1980); author, with Steve Meretzky, of interactive computer program.


(With others) Not 1982: Not the Nine o'Clock News Rip-Off Annual, Faber (London, England), 1981.

(With John Lloyd) The Meaning of Liff, Pan Books (London, England), 1983, Harmony (New York, NY), 1984.

(Editor, with Peter Fincham) The Utterly Utterly Merry Comic Relief Christmas Book, Fontana (London, England), 1986.

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (novel), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1987.

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (novel), Heinemann, 1988, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1989.

(With Mark Carwardine) Last Chance to See (nonfiction), Crown (New York, NY), 1990.

(With Lloyd) The Deeper Meaning of Liff: A Dictionary of Things There Aren't Words for Yet—but There Ought to Be, Crown (New York, NY), 1990.

Two Complete Novels (Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul), Wings Books, 1994.

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency: Two Complete Novels (contains Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul), Random House (New York, NY), 1995.

Contributor to The Great Ape Project: Equality Beyond Humanity, edited by Peter Singer, St. Martin's, 1993, and Tales from the Jungle: A Rainforest Reader, edited by Daniel R. Katz and Miles Chapin, Crown (New York, NY), 1995. Also author of episodes of "Doctor Who" for BBC-TV; coauthor of interactive computer program, "Bureaucracy" and CD-Rom game, "Starship Titanic."

ADAPTATIONS: Hitchhiker's Guide has been produced as a stage play, Liverpool (1979); producer Ivan Reitman holds the movie rights to the Hitchhiker trilogy; a film version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is to be written by Karey Kirkpatrick and directed by Jay Roach. The screenplay will be based on a draft by Douglas, who was working on it at the time of his death and will be credited as an executive producer. A BBC radio broadcast of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Life, the Universe, and Everything, and So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish is planned for 2004.

The film version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy opened on April 29, 2005. The film was written by Adams and Karey Kirkpatrick, directed by Garth Jenning, and released by Touchstone Pictures and Spyglass Entertainment.

SIDELIGHTS: When Douglas Adams first dreamed up the cosmic satire The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, he had no idea his radio series would become so popular as to inspire several novels, a television series, and even an interactive computer game. As the author once commented: "I never set out to be a novelist, because I thought I was just a scriptwriter. When I was asked by Pan Books to turn my radio scripts of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy into a book, I thought that there were two ways of doing it. I could either do the normal script-novelization hack job, which involves going through the script putting 'he said' or 'she said' (and in the case of my books, 'it said' as well) at the end of each line, or I could have a go at doing it properly. I decided to see if I could do it properly." Adams's first attempt at a novel proved immensely successful, garnering favorable reviews and selling 100,000 copies in its first month alone.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, as well as its sequels, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe; Life, the Universe and Everything; So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish; and Mostly Harmless, is "inspired lunacy that leaves hardly a science fictional cliché alive," as Washington Post Book World contributor Lisa Tuttle described it. The novels chronicle in stream-of-consciousness style the adventures of Arthur Dent, a hapless and continually bewildered Englishman, wearing his dressing gown throughout the adventures, and his friend Ford Prefect, an alien who has been posing as an unemployed actor for fifteen years. When Ford warns Arthur that Earth is minutes away from demolition to make room for an interstellar bypass, the two hitch a ride on a space vehicle, narrowly escaping the calamity. Traveling through the galaxy with the aid of a computer travel guide, Prefect and Dent encounter a motley array of characters, including Marvin, a terminally depressed robot; Zaphod Beeblebrox, the three-armed, two-headed president of the galaxy; and Slartibartfast, a planet designer whose specialty is fjords.

Many reviewers praised the Hitchhiker series for a sense of humor uncommon to most science fiction, and some have likened it to Alice's bewildering travels through Wonderland. Noting that "humorous science fiction novels have notoriously limited audiences," Gerald Jonas of the New York Times Book Review declared that Hitchhiker's Guide "is a delightful exception." The second Hitchhiker volume similarly impressed Washington Post Book World's Ron Goulart: "Adams has a gift for sending up the sacred precepts of sf and those who took his vastly successful The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy to their hearts will want to perform similar acts with this sequel." As Richard Brown explained in the London Times, "much of the comedy arises from a variety of pseudo-high-tech mis-information"; countering the traditional idea of science as benefactor, Adams portrays science as the embodiment of Murphy's Law—anything that can malfunction, will. Thus while he faults Hitchhiker for a "sometimes damagingly sophomoric" tone, John Clute of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction nevertheless remarked that "there is enough joy throughout, enough tooth to the zaniness, and enough rude knowingness about media-hype versions of science fiction, to make Hitchhiker one of the genre's rare genuinely funny books." Richard Dawkins commented in his "Lament," that he had been surprised to learn how deeply read in science Adams was: "You can't understand many of the jokes in Hitchhiker if you don't know a lot of advanced science."

Although the plots of the Hitchhiker novels are science fictional, Adams asserted, "I'm not a science fiction writer, but a comedy writer who happens to be using the conventions of science fiction for this particular thing." Critics have likewise observed a wider scope in the author's satire. As London Times reviewer Philip Howard stated, "Adams has fun with the trendy manners of our time, from worship of the motor car to jogging, and from the pedantry of committee meetings, Point of Order Madam Chairperson, to religious enthusiasm and, engagingly, Sci-Fi itself." Citing Adams's "surreal, comic creativity,"Listener contributor Peter Kemp saw "hints from Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear" in the Hitchhiker books: "There are logical extensions of mad premises, grotesque creatures with crazily evocative names, chattering objects, moments of satiric farce, and picturesquely absurd landscapes." Others have compared him to Jonathan Swift and Kurt Vonnegut. "Adams tries to make fun of almost every possible concern of humans from their quest for knowledge and power to their obsession with prolonging life," Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook contributor Michael Adams observed. As a result, his humor targets not only science fiction clichés, but "bureaucracies, bad poets, literary critics, scientific theories, nightclub entertainers, religion, philosophy, labor unions, economists, tax laws, clichés … structural linguists, rock 'n' roll, sentimentality, cricket commentators, and Paul McCartney's wealth."

While they are noted for their humor and satire, "it is not just the comic techniques that make Adams's novels worth reading," Robert Reilly asserted in Twentieth-Century Science Fiction Writers. "The characters, who may at first appear as mere parodies of science-fiction stereotypes, grow throughout the series into fairly well-rounded comic persons." Michael Adams concurred with this assessment, noting that "one of Adams's main virtues is his gift for characterization. The adventures of Arthur and his friends are entertaining not only for all the last-second escapes from disaster but for how the characters respond to the whims of fate." The author explained to James Brown of the Los Angeles Times that many of Hitchhiker's characters, including the protagonist, are based on people Adams knows. "Arthur Dent is to a certain extent autobiographical," the novelist said. "He moves from one astonishing event to another without fully comprehending what's going on. He's the Everyman character—an ordinary person caught up in some extraordinary events."

While critics and the author alike found the fourth novel of the Hitchhiker "trilogy" an overextension of the series—the humorist told the Bloomsbury Review that "that book was a mistake"—critics praised the fifth novel, Mostly Harmless. Carolyn Cushman said in Locus, "This time, Adams sinks his teeth into a basic hu-man problem looking for a purpose in life and uses it as a theme, giving Mostly Harmless a coherence lacking in the other novels in the series. And it's funny to boot." A reviewer for Analog Science Fiction and Fact called it "a hit of bubbly seltzer in a dour, dour world…. Adams's cockeyed logic is bound to make you smile."

After the fourth Hitchhiker novel, Adams discovered another venue for his satire. Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency introduces a time-machine, a spaceship, an Electric Monk, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge's ghost in solving the murder of a computer executive. Featuring Dirk Gently, a detective who unravels mysteries (usually missing cat cases) by examining the "interconnectedness of all things," the novel is full of coincidence and humor. While "the plot is inventive and often surprising," Chicago Tribune writer Christopher Farley found that "at points there is just too much of it." Douglas E. Winter similarly faulted the novel, commenting in the Washington Post that the excess of events overshadows the characters: "Missing are the outrageous characterizations that charmed the 'Hitchhiker' books; indeed, save for the quirky Dirk himself, Adams's cast is a wan and almost antiseptic assortment sent over by Central Casting."

In contrast, Toronto Globe and Mail reviewer H.J. Kirchhoff maintained that Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency "is Adams's best novel. That is, his characters are more fully delineated than in the Hitchhiker books, the settings more credible and the plot more … well, linear." And Farley admitted that "in the end, Adams succeeds because he is flat-out funny. It will make you laugh, and that's the bottom line, even if his line isn't necessarily the shortest distance between two points." "Following a tradition which stretches from Laurence Sterne to P.G. Wodehouse," John Nicholson similarly concluded in the London Times, "what signifies most here is the quality of the writing, the asides and allusions, and—above all—the jokes. Mr. Adams scores very high on all counts."

Dirk Gently returns in The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul,"a clever and funny novel about an English detective, an American girl in a bad mood and a Norse god who sells his soul to an advertising executive," as Cathleen Schine summarized in the New York Times Book Review. After failing to prevent the murder of his only client, Dirk turns his attention to a mysterious explosion at an airport check-in counter; the two seemingly unrelated events, as the "holistic" detective knows, have some connection. Along the way, "with a skewed imagination and ironic wit, Douglas Adams romps through modern life's paranoias and absurdities," Jess Bravin remarked in the Chicago Tribune. The author's "humor, crisp and intelligent, and his prose—elegant, absurdly literal-minded understatements or elegant, absurdly literal-minded overstatements—are a pleasure to read," Schine claimed.

Nevertheless, the critic believed that "in spite of all the nimble plots, the skillful writing and the underlying wit of his work, Mr. Adams is a bit banal." Marc Conly, however, found that the author's "social awareness and the accuracy of his barbs keep the narrative of The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul from becoming too frothy," as he wrote in the Bloomsbury Review."Douglas Adams is a dismayed idealist in jester's clothing. His portrayal of modern society, and his unrelenting dissection of the modern style of self-centeredness, make us think, make us laugh, and make us look forward to his next book." "Adams is concerned less with the intricacies of detective novels than with the promulgation of ideas," Bravin similarly contended. With Tea-Time, the critic concluded, "Adams affirms his standing as one of England's top exporters of irreverence."

The Deeper Meaning of Liff: A Dictionary of Things There Aren't Words for Yet—but There Ought to Be takes "geographical names with no current meaning and matches them with objects, feelings, actions for which no word exists," wrote a reviewer for the London Observer, explaining the content of the "funny, highly perceptive book." However, in his review for The Spectator, Richard Ingrams said, "The book might have passed muster as a cheap paperback, but as a hardback, it seems unduly pretentious."

With zoologist Mark Carwardine, Adams traveled to Indonesia, Zaire, New Zealand, China, and Mauritius to research Last Chance to See. The book covers people, places, and animals the pair saw on their journeys. All the animals are endangered in some way. Atlantic reviewer Jack Beatty asserted that "Last Chance makes us care about some hard-pressed animals…. It renders this service to nature not through the instrumentalities of science but through those of humanism—rhetoric, irony, cadence, and wit." Commented Beth Levine in the New York Times Book Review, "Don't expect any great insights here, but Last Chance to See is enjoyable and accessible, and its details on the heroic efforts being made to save these animals are inspirational."

Adams found it very difficult to write and had once to be confined to a hotel room by his publisher to make him finish a novel. "I would never sit down and write for pleasure because it's too much like hard work," he told the Times of London, so the pleasure his work continues to give thousands of readers is the more admirable. He had moved to Santa Barbara, California, and was working on the script for a movie, when he died unexpectedly. Unfinished written work and other papers, essays, and speeches have been collected in The Salmon of Doubt.



Bestsellers 89, Issue 3, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI),1989.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 27, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984.

Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1983, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984.

Gaiman, Neil, Don't Panic: The Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe Companion, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1988.

Richards, Neil, Douglas Adams Starship Titanic: The Official Strategy Guide, Three Rivers Press (New York, NY), 1998.

Twentieth-Century Science Fiction Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1986.


Analog Science Fiction and Fact, September, 1993, p. 164.

Atlantic, March, 1991, p. 131.

Bangkok Post, May 23, 2001.

Bloomsbury Review, December, 1982; May-June, 1989, Marc Conly, interview with Adams.

Booklist, April 15, 2002, p. 1386.

Chicago Tribune, October 28, 1982; March 13, 1985; March 17, 1985; August 25, 1987; March 31, 1989.

Chicago Tribune Book World, October 12, 1980.

Fantasy Review, April, 1985.

Globe and Mail (Toronto), April 4, 1987; June 27, 1987.

GQ 61, December, 1991, Carolina Upcher, interview with Adams.

Greenman Review, August 2, 2002.

Guardian, July 23, 1992, p. 33.

Illustrated London News, September, 1982.

Interzone 66, December, 1992, Stan Nicholls, interview with Adams.

Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2002, p. 508.

Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, July, 1999, p. 5.

Listener, December 18-25, 1980, June 25, 1987.

Locus, October, 1992, p. 37.

London Times, June 18, 1987.

London Times Literary Supplement, September 24, 1982.

Los Angeles Times, April 19, 1985; June 13, 1987; March 17, 1989, May 13, 2001, p. B12.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 7, 1980; February 3, 1985; February 3, 1991, p. 4.

Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, February, 1982.

New Scientist, August 18, 2001, p. 47.

Newsweek, November 15, 1982; April 13, 1998.

New York Times, April 9, 1998; May 15, 2001.

New York Times Book Review, January 25, 1981; March 12, 1989; March 17, 1991, p. 22; November 1, 1992.

Observer, December 2, 1990, p. 64; August 12, 2001, p. 15; May 12, 2002.

People, January 10, 1983; May 20, 1991, p. 79.

Publishers Weekly, January 14, 1983, Jennifer Crichton, interview with Adams, p. 47; February 1, 1991, Michele Field, interview with Adams, p. 62; April 15, 2002, p. 43.

Quadrant, September, 2002, p. 84.

Religious Studies Review, January, 1999, p. 99.

Science Fiction Studies, March, 1988, p. 61.

Spectator, December 15, 1990, p. 35.

Times (London, England), February 7, 1981; September 9, 1982; December 13, 1984; June 18, 1987; November 5, 1988.

Times Literary Supplement, September 24, 1982; May 24, 2002, p. 23.

VOYA, April, 1993, p. 33.

Washington Post, July 23, 1987; March 16, 1989.

Washington Post Book World, November 23, 1980; December 27, 1981; March 24, 1991, p. 4.


BBC-H2G2-Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, (December 2, 2003).

Douglas Adams Home Page, (December 2, 2003).

Floor 42 (fansite), (December 2, 2003).

Guardian, (December 2, 2003), review of The Salmon of Doubt.



Los Angeles Times, May 13, 2001, p. B12. 37

New York Times, May 15, 2001, pp. A21, A23, and E-1.

Times (London, England), May 14, 2001.

Washington Post, May 13, 2001, p. C8.



About this article

Adams, Douglas 1952–2001

Updated About content Print Article