The Scruffy Rube’s #CBR5 Review #40: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

Yadda Yadda Yadda: Main blog link is here

As the weather turns colder and the sports talk radio station turn their focus 100% towards pigskins, I can’t help but pop in audio-books to make my car ride go faster. Finding Douglas Adams’ classic surreal mystery in a box of my parent’s basement this summer was an unanticipated winner for me. All the silliness and sublime imagination of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is repurposed here to guide characters through a curious case of murder, betrayal, magical conjuring and a sofa stuck half way up a staircase.

As a reader, Adams knows precisely what he wants to emphasize in each line and phrase, and captures a great deal of the tonal elements that many other readers may miss. He occasionally blurs the distinctions between characters, and the rhythm of his jokes sometimes veers into “wry-observation-overload”. But the thrill of the chase, the glee of the literary allusions (turning Samuel Taylor Coleridge into a plot point must be an unparalleled feat of excellence in authorial nerdery), and the hilarity of his coy pause and punch-line syntax makes it a perfect companion through the snowy streets of commuter-ville USA.

 

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ElCicco #CBR5 review #23: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

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I started out reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest for review #23, but as wonderful as Kesey’s writing is, and as important as the topic is, I found it too depressing to continue. Some day I might go back to read more about the mental institution where patients are abused, but not now. I’ve read a lot of “serious” stuff so far this year and it was time for something fun. And so this week’s review is Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, a great start to summer reading.

I suppose I should be a little embarrassed not to have read it before. It’s one of those novels that a certain group of people — nerds, my tribe — read back in high. school. I enjoyed it immensely, which I think says something about the topic and quality of the writing. It doesn’t matter if you’re 13 or well into your forties, it’s fun to read. It’s a quirky blend of sci-fi, humor and social/political commentary. But mostly it’s just funny and full of quotes your nerdy friends have used before. Some of my personal favorites:

Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.

The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.

“Life,” said Marvin dolefully, “loathe it or ignore it, you can’t like it.”

The story starts with Arthur Dent trying to save his home from demolition. The local council has decided it needs to be removed in order to make room for a throughway. Before this can happen, however, a Vogon fleet destroys earth in order to make room for a galactic throughway. Arthur is rescued by his friend Ford Prefect, who is a traveling journalist for the The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and not an unemployed actor as Arthur had thought. After bumming a ride off the Vogon ship, through a series of improbabilities, Arthur and Ford meet up with Galactic President Zaphod Beeblebrox, his consort Trillian and the depressed robot Marvin, and they set off on an adventure to do something for some reason, although just what and why is a little sketchy. But the answer is 42. And the tale is fantastic fun. I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

Lisa Bee’s #CBR5 Review #15: Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams

Mostly HarmlessWhat’s with me and starting my reviews of a series partway through? In any case, after I devoured the first four novels in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series last summer, I started to get a bit saturated with the whole thing and had to take a break, until picking up the 5th addition, Mostly Harmless, now. To be honest, I’m not really sure where I last left off… But remembering the characters is really all you need for this one. Of course the plot ends up all in a mishmash once you get into it, but what else would you expect with the series at this point? And while it’s nice to revisit those familiar faces and the fun writing style of Adams, this novel is definitely not the greatest thing I have read, or even close to being the best of Adams’ work to date.

But if you are intrigued to know more about where this story might take you, and to hear my two-cents on it, a full review can be found on my blog.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #22: Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine

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The verdict’s in, and the jury says I was too quick to write off Douglas Adams’ non-fiction efforts as not worth the time. My concern that his unbridled wit would end up reigned in, hindered even looks utterly absurd in hindsight. Albeit not on par with his other, fictitious works,Last Chance to See still sees Adams in his usual affable, charming state.

He knows he’s hopelessly ill-equipped to handle the assignment he’s been given, because what about writing humorous science fiction qualifies one to travel the globe in search of some of the most endangered of the endangered species? Maybe the ones who sent him on this mission saw what I did reading the end result, a man who’s so adept a conversationalist that it hardly matters what the subject happens to be.

Adams is more at ease out of his element than many are in theirs, partly due to his unsurpassed ability to find humor in even the most mundane qualities of life. As eye-opening as his reflections on the endangered animals are, it’s the surrounding events which I found myself latching onto the most. It’s in them that he faces jut how out of his element he is and proceeds to have many a laugh at his own expense.

In an earlier review of mine for Adams’ The Salmon of Doubt, I expressed a desire to dine with the specters of him and Vonnegut, andLast Chance to See was almost enough to have me searching the phone book for a medium to make said dinner some sort of reality. While writing is an intensely personal art form, there tends to exist a certain amount of disconnect between the writer and his or her work, but not with Adams.

Whether he was writing fiction or non-fiction, Adams remained ever himself, the type of man you wish you could resurrect, shrink, and implant into your own thought processes, thus allowing for his unique brand of running commentary to serve as your personal perpetual amusement. And if some of his daunting intellect were to seep into your brain as well, even better.

To wrap up, if you find Adams’ style as welcoming and alluring as I do, you’d be doing yourself a disservice by skipping out on Last Chance to See.

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #19: The Salmon of Doubt by Douglas Adams

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There’s always a moment when you start to fall out of love, whether it’s with a person or an idea or a cause, even if it’s one you only narrate to yourself years after the event: a tiny thing, a wrong word, a false note, which means that things can never be quite the same again.

– Douglas Adams.

Until I happened upon the “order of service for his memorial” in the back, it didn’t register that, by reading this, I really would be “hitchhiking the galaxy one last time.” For the following couple minutes, I experienced something I never have before, not on account of a book. Though I would learn, through reading The Salmon of Doubt, that Adams published a few works of non-fiction I’d not been privy to, this was it as far as his fiction was concerned, a realization that brought me closer to tears than the written word ever had.

Now, as I write this, I feel that same sick, sinking feeling returning and it’s making it a challenge to find the proper words. Adams, as I’ve pointed out in past reviews, joins Stephen King and Kurt Vonnegut in what I lovingly refer to as my Holy Trinity. Together, that trio shaped me into the reader I am today. I pick up a book and, whether it’s a conscious act or not, I begin to draw comparisons between it and their work. I think of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens, for instance, as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy with an apocalyptic flair to it.

Of the three, though, Adams arguably has had the most profound impact. Without my sister introducing me to him by way of the “So Long and Thanks for All the Fish” number from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005), it’s doubtful my tastes would’ve evolved to where they are today. Watching the movie, and later reading the book, was a revelation, thrusting me wide-eyed into the arena which houses humor of the dry and British variety.

From there, I was turned on to movies such as Death at a Funeral(2007) and others of that ilk, and before long it’d become one of my favorite brands of humor. Along the way, I also believe, though I’m not sure, that I discovered Vonnegut thanks in part to Adams, who listed Vonnegut as one of his influences. The man who, in spite of his smoking habit, “the only honorable for of suicide” as he put it, outlived Adams by six years. It’s the darkest of ironies, yet one I could imagine both appreciating.

If there is an afterlife, it’s a safe bet that the two are bonding over their mutual surprise. Further, if I could call anyone from the afterlife to loiter in a restaurant with, hardly touching my food for fear of drowning out a moment with the pesky sound of chewing, Adams and Vonnegut would be who I’d chose, without question. The two of them would be sure to get along so swimmingly that I’d be content to merely listen, no bothersome questions, as are usually the status quo in this imaginary scenario, necessary.

Maybe I’d ask Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman along to chronicle our ghostly meet and greet. One day I’ll learn to lucid dream and this, not sex, is what I’ll dream of first. Because, between the uncertainty that there is an afterlife and the difficulty one would have convincing Pratchett and Gaiman to bear witness to and chronicle what must sound like drug-induced delusions, it happening for real is a mathematical impossibility. I’d sooner find Gaiman lounging in my falafel. Wait, I’ll be right back. I need to try out falafel and see if it has such magical properties.

I regret to inform you, dearest reader, it does not. Notice I use the singular, since splurging for the plural would be a bit overly ambitious of me, wouldn’t it? Continuing on, Adams could speak on any matter and have my attention, which is why I’m admittedly not the best judge of a book such as The Salmon of Doubt. Collected within its pages are all the odds and ends the publishers could find. With Adams, that translates to a lot of odds and not very many ends. That is to say, the pieces it contains are amusing yet also, even to a fan such as myself, aimless.

At one point during the proceedings, Adams mentions attempts to cover up that not every aspect of a story of his fit together snugly, and what’s on offer in The Salmon of Doubt are random bits that clearly have not received the same treatment. Many, one can tell, were culled from publications Adams contributed to, but that doesn’t make them anymore focused. From them, to the unfinished novel that gives this collection its name, everything is about what one would expect from a posthumous collection of a writer’s work. It aims to form a cohesive whole, but instead manages something with a distinctly cobbled-together feel.

This is no more apparent than in the capper of it all, the story that couldn’t decide which series it wanted to be a part of, Dirk Gently or The Hitchhiker’s Guide, the eponymous and unfinished novel The Salmon of Doubt. Pieced together from a number of different drafts written at varying stages of development, it shows. It’s said that the process mostly involved them cherry-picking the best bits and slapping them together in as coherent a fashion as was possible, and the end result is a story that seems to phase in and out as if it were Adams’ ghost itself.

One paragraph, it’ll have you lamenting what could’ve been, the next you wish it had gone the way of Stanley Kubrick’s A.I. and been taken from its embryonic state and given life by someone else’s trusted hands, such as the aforementioned duo of Pratchett and Gaiman. I understand that filling in the blanks of an unfinished story and going forward with the film adaptation of someone else’s story that the person in question never got to see through to the end are two vastly different situations, but you can’t deny it would make for a fascinating experiment.

What we’re given, however, is still worth reading for the Adams devotee. The Salmon of Doubt might not be Adams’ finest hour from a pure writing standpoint, yet it rewards its readers with a bittersweet look into Adams’ too brief life. Through his novels, one gets to know Adams, the author; through this book, one becomes familiar with Adams, the person.

If he and his work are of no interest to you, The Salmon of Doubt has little on offer for you. But if you’re like me and wish you had the power to summon his ghost over for dinner just to hear him talk, about anything really, this is likely as close as you’re going to get, so savor it.

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #07: The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams

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Over on Goodreads, there are a couple users with the gall to claim that The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul is superior to its predecessor. To them, I ask, in what way? Surely they’re not speaking of the quality of Adams’ prose, which was arguably at its best in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, nor the frequency with which laughs are had. And no one can honestly think its plot gels to a greater degree, the story seeming, by Adams’ standards, cobbled together, its many disparate elements never quite coming together, in addition to it having some rather inconsistent pacing.

Perhaps those fruitcakes didn’t take to the eponymous Dirk Gently, given most of The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul is devoted to Kate, Odin, and Thor, Dirk merely happening to be in the wrong place at the wrong time on occasion. If the above-mentioned were more compelling character studies, this would’ve been an acceptable arrangement; however, the thing is that Adams’ Norse gods sound woefully out of place, and not in the same sense as was seen in Thor. Though the idea of humans and gods sharing a world in a strange symbiotic relationship has legs, Adams’ at times appears to be running on fumes.

To be more specific, I think Adams became so enamored with the idea that he inadvertently put less effort into its realization, expecting perhaps to be able to skate by on the sheer strength of the idea alone. As a result, Odin and Thor sound as if they were ripped straight from a work of fan-fiction, then reappropriated to fit within the confines of this story. Of particular note is their inauthentic-sounding dialogue which makes it difficult to do as Adams wants us to and accept them as real.

More importantly, if I didn’t know otherwise, I’d say this was the unfinished manuscript, not the one contained within The Salmon of Doubt. It boggles the mind to think that the man who wrote this ending, which about collapses under the weight of the sheer volumes of exposition, is the same one who so skillfully wrapped up the much more intricate Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. The only reasonable explanation is it was an early draft that his editors never bothered to mess with because, well, he was Douglas Adams, bestselling author.

Early draft or not, however, The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul still retains all of Adams’ madcap wit, surmounting whatever issues there are to be found on the strength of his unsurpassed flair for the hysterical. The end result is a short read satisfying enough that any and all frustrations are immediately squashed, trivialized, and forgotten about.

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #03: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams

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“If everyone knew exactly what I was going to say, then there would be no point in my saying it, would there?”

– Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy stands as the only book I’ve ever owned multiple copies of, and would you believe, that being the case, that I went this long without giving Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency so much as a cursory glance? That’s up there with being an avid follower of Community, yet knowing nothing of Mystery Team, a movie that almost has the feel of a Community prequel to it.

Perhaps, subconsciously, I wanted to put off reading it, at least until I could stand it no longer. Adams lived to write so little, and I’d read most of it already, in about one sitting no less, thanks all to the youngest of my two older sisters, the same one who’d introduced me to Weird Al by way of “Albuquerque” all those years ago. One day, by chance, I’d walked in on her watching The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. More specifically, the big “So Long and Thanks for All the Fish” number it’s known for.

It wasn’t long after that before I came home from one of my regular trips to the public library with the book in tow, insistent that I read it first before daring to watch the movie due to a peculiar hang-up I have. See, if I watch the film first, I almost wonder what the point in reading the book is. Difference, and loads of them at that, are to be expected, yet that doesn’t impact my resolve. Not until the film is but a vague recollection is it safe for me to read the book.

That is, unless my hand is forced, as it was when I was required to readThe Shining for a course by the name of Gothic Imagination. The contrast between the two, film and book, is well documented, King himself going so far as to discredit Kubrick’s adaptation. Thus it was imperative that I do the reading for the sake of being properly informed; on top of that, my combined adoration of Kubrick and King made it so that I was more than willing to make an exception, if only for the purpose of satiating my undying curiosity.

Now, one might ask why it only bothers me reading the book after the film, when not much changes if the order is flipped. Whichever comes first, it takes much of the surprise out of the other. Yes, but I’d rather what I picture as I read to be the product of my own imagination, not someone else’s, which is a bit of a challenge. To this day, I can’t re-read the Harry Potter series without picturing Emma Watson as Hermione Granger, Rowling’s conflicting descriptions be damned. Hermione was no fashion model of a girl, not as Rowling intended; still, she’ll always be remembered as Hermione, most of all inside my head. While comparing notes, gauging how close your vision of a character was to someone else’s, is a fun exercise, I can’t say the same about seeing everything you read through the lens of the film.

Which is why I sought out the book as opposed to the film. Unfortunately, however, our local library didn’t have the entire series. There were stories missing, and it drove the completionist in me so far up a wall that everyone below looked like ants. My sister, though, seeming to realize how greatly it bothered me, bought me what’s calledThe Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy one Christmas, finally allowing me to finish what I’d started, which I wasted no time at all doing. Then came the film, one of the first building blocks of what would become a crush on Zooey Deschanel, as well as (man-)crushes on Martin Freeman and Sam Rockwell.

Years later, I would find a collector’s edition of the book that started it all at the Caliban Bookstore in Oakland, a place I’d surely be spending a lot of time in, and money at, if it weren’t for needing to take an hour-long bus ride to Pittsburgh, which costs $14 round-trip, in order to get there. Needless to say, once I relocate to Pittsburgh, I’ll need to invest in a proper bookcase to hold all my impulse buys. If only I’d left the place alone and never found out what I’d been missing all those years at Pitt, what I’d walked past many a time and thought nothing of.

Who would’ve thought that a single song could be the cause of so much? Isn’t it funny how fate works? In mysterious ways, it’s said, and I’d definitely agree. Without Douglas Adams acting as my gateway to Britain’s trademark humor, I doubt my tastes would be anything like they are today. He has become the benchmark. When I finished Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens the words I used to describe it were as follows. It’s like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, only more apocalyptic. For a while, I couldn’t watch anything with British humor without my thoughts pointing back towards Adams.

One series, just one, was enough to propel him into the company of King and Vonnegut, both of whom have written over twice as much. Part of me didn’t believe he deserved it, that he needed more in the way of longevity before he deserved to stand alongside giants such as those two, but I did my best to ignore it.

Except it didn’t stop me from worrying, mere seconds after orderingDirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency off of Amazon, that it would prove to be a mistake, that I’d wasted my money on a dud from a one-hit-wonder of sorts. I’d scanned the opening pages prior to checking out and they were nothing that would make me read on if not for Adams’ name being on the cover. That’s the thing about context, though; it matters a whole hell of a lot more than you’d think. Because those same opening pages came as a surprise of the most pleasant variety when my copy finally arrived in the mail, days before it was estimated to arrive, and seven hours before Amazon saw fit to send me a text alerting me of its delivery.

Adams’ comedic talents are so well-renowned and all-encompassing that it’s easy to miss the simple fact that he can write with the best of them. He’s never not concerned with enlightening his readers one way or another, yet in this case his efforts seem more transparent, and I mean that in the best way possible. The end result reminded me, appropriately enough, of Vonnegut’s finest and, ironically enough, ofGood Omens. Even in that rare instance in which a joke misses the mark, the deftness of the writing makes it so you barely notice.

Likewise, Adams weaves a complex and bizarre, yet strangely sensical narrative. There’s an internal consistency, so to speak, to the absurdity and, in the end, it reveals itself to not be absurd at all, but part of a grand design you’d simply been blind to, one that only Adams is capable of crafting in such perfect fashion. As a fellow writer, I stand in awe, knowing I’ll never be able to do what he does and that it would be a waste of time trying. Heck, the combined forces of Pratchett and Gaiman fell short of the mark with Good Omens. While one of the best books I’ve ever read, and not far behind Adams’ works if ranked by number, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is in an entirely different stratosphere occupied only by Adams’ other works and a lucky few, which include Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon and  Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions. Books, and authors, like this are members of an endangered species, so if you happen to spot one of them, cherish the sight.

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.