Happy Birthday, Douglas Adams.
Today we mark the coming of a truly formidable mind. As certainly all of you know, Douglas Adams was a novelist, satirist, screen-write, and I’m told quite the MMA fighter (I made that last one up). His seminal series, A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, is a must-read classic of both the humor and sci-fi genres. His genius touched print, radio, television, and the silver-screen. He was a towering figure among the British people, who’s humorous insights and razor-sharp wit spoke truth to power and advanced the causes of rationality and environmentalism at every opportunity. He is among a cabal of my personal heroes who passed before I had the chance to meet them, such as Gene Roddenberry, Jim Henson, Carl Sagan, Christopher Hitchens, and which ever clone of George Lucas was responsible for the first three Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies.
But even among these great men, Douglas Adams stands above them in my own life, because the man done me wrong.
Lemme explain. No, that would take too long. Let me summarize. You see, I started reading Hitchhiker’s Guide at a most inopportune time. After watching the excellent movie adaptation, I picked up the book to see where the story went. It took me a couple of years of bouncing around between different books before I finally finished the whole five-book trilogy. For any of you who haven’t had the pleasure, I won’t spoil anything, except to say that the fifth book ends in a place that is about as bleak and hopeless for the characters as it’s possible to be. To say it was an unsatisfying way to end a series would be like saying that the Committee of Public Safety maybe went just a teensy bit overboard with the Guillotine.
Upon turning that last page of Hitchhiker’s, and with the knowledge that the author, through an epically poor sense of timing, was not going to be available to fix this lapse in good judgement, I, like so many angry nerds before me, started to put pen to paper to correct this egregious assault on decency and the proper order of the universe. That’s right, the first piece of fiction I ever wrote was Hitchhiker’s fan-fic. Don’t tell anyone. By the time I was about five chapters into this ill-advised tome, it was announced that Eoin Colfer was in the process of writing the sixth book in the series, the under-appreciated And Another Thing, so I abandoned the project and returned to the real world. It sat there, unread and unloved, in a folder on my computer for many months, until it came up in conversation one day and I emailed it out to a few friends as a joke.
Much to my surprise, everyone who read it came back and told me to keep going. They wanted to see the rest of it. And my circle of friends aren’t exactly a mindlessly supportive group of ditto-heads. We’re pretty ruthless. So I sat down, stripped out everything that connected the work to Mr. Adam’s universe, and started crafting a brand-new story. That evolved into my first novel, A Hole in the Fence, (which is still looking for an agent…). The joke was apparently on me, though, because during the eighteen months I spent writing the damned thing, it never occurred to me to investigate how many sci-fi comedies make it to print in a given year. In case you’re wondering, it’s not many.
However, other stories followed, some short, some serious, some fantasy, but all because of the angry little spark the last page of Hitchhiker’s lit in my mind. Within a few months, I had my first acceptance letter, and I was hooked on this whole story-telling path for good. So thank you, Douglas Adams, for dying when you did. But, more importantly, I, and the world, have been enriched by the fact you lived at all. And that’s all any of us can hope for.