Authors: Douglas Adams

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English novelist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, 1979

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, 1980

Life, the Universe and Everything, 1982

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, 1984

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, 1987

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, 1988

Mostly Harmless, 1992

Short Fiction:

“Young Zaphod Plays It Safe,” 1986

“The Private Life of Genghis Khan,” 1986

“A Christmas Fairly Story,” 1986 (with Terry Jones)

Teleplays:

Doctor Who, 1978-1980

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, 1981

Hyperland, 1990

Radio Plays:

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, 1978-1980

The Original Hitchhiker Radio Scripts, 1985 (pb. in England as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: The Original Radio Scripts, 1985)

Nonfiction:

The Meaning of Liff, 1983 (with John Lloyd)

The Deeper Meaning of Liff: A Dictionary of Things There Aren’t Words for Yet—But There Ought to Be, 1990 (with Lloyd)

Last Chance To See, 1990 (with Mark Carwardine)

Edited Text:

The Utterly, Utterly Merry Comic Relief Christmas Book, 1986 (with Peter Fincham)

Miscellaneous:

The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time, 2002

Biography

Douglas Noel Adams was a British comedy author whose satire and surreal works are often compared to the television quartet Monty Python. His father, Christopher Douglas, was a management consultant, and his mother, Janet, was a nurse. It was while, at age nineteen, hitchhiking and reading a copy of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Europe, that Adams thought that somebody should write the same book on a galactic scale. He filed this memory away, not then thinking anything else about it.{$I[A]Adams, Douglas}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Adams, Douglas}{$I[tim]1952;Adams, Douglas}

After graduating from Cambridge in 1974 (where he was a member of the comedy troupe Footlights), Adams became a freelance comedy writer for BBC Radio as well as performing odd jobs to make ends meet. Eventually he was given a full-time job both writing for BBC Radio and as a script editor and writer for the long-running television show Doctor Who. Remembering his idea of hitchhiking throughout space, Adams proposed a pilot series called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. BBC Radio executives agreed, and in 1978 Adams wrote a twelve-part series.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy involved a middle-of-the-road English gentleman named Arthur Dent and his friend Ford Prefect, who Dent learns is an alien right before the earth is destroyed to make way for an interstellar highway. Dent is a writer for the encyclopedia “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” a galactic guide to everything that is of interest throughout the known universe (including a creature called a Babel fish that is used to translate alien languages and the uses of a common beach towel). Absurd beyond belief, Adams’s radio series was a hit, and soon he was asked to turn it into a book. He did so in 1979, to critical acclaim. It later became a television series as well.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe and Life, the Universe, and Everything, the second and third books in the series, solidified Adams’s reputation on both sides of the Atlantic as a science-fiction comedy writer whose flare for pointing out the problems of everyday life was timely and impeccable. Now a full-time writer, Adams soon found himself speaking at science-fiction conventions and college campuses, much to his own bewilderment. His opinion of Hollywood, where Adams lived in 1984 trying to write a “Hitchhiker” film script, was even worse. The work was droning, the film was never made, and Adams returned to England disheartened by the whole experience.

He tried to get back into writing and published his fourth Hitchhiker book, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, in 1984, but it was a mistake as well. Panned by critics who wondered why he was even continuing the story in the first place, Adams felt like he was between the proverbial rock and hard place. He wanted to please his fans, but at the same time he had resented having to write the book. He would later admit that writing it had been a miserable experience all the way around. For a change of pace, he collaborated with Infocom Games’ Steve Meretzky to create The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as a computer game. The game was a huge hit, partly because of the mischievous but deliberate behavior of the game, which lied to its players.

With Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency in 1987, Adams returned to writing but with a separate story from the “Hitchhiker” books. Borrowing from “Shada,” the last Doctor Who story he wrote that was never televised, Adams’s new novel involved Dirk Gently, a detective who looked at things holistically (meaning that all things, no matter how separate they appear to be, are really interconnected). Combining this unusual approach to detective work with Adams’s comic quirkiness, the novel was a success. He followed it up in 1988 with The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, which continued the series and is thought by many to be the superior of the two Gently novels.

Suffering a serious case of writer’s block, Adams took a year-long journey with zoologist Mark Carwardine to explore Earth’s disappearing and unusual species of animals. The resulting book, 1990’s Last Chance to See, was a unique perspective on wildlife preservation (written in Adams’s Everyman style) that got high marks. He finally returned to the Hitchhiker series one last time for 1992’s Mostly Harmless, the fifth book of his misnamed “trilogy.”

Adams spent the majority of the 1990’s doing anything but writing. In 1990, he created for the BBC a one-hour look at information technology called Hyperland that eerily predicted the Internet. He married Jane Elizabeth Belson in 1991, and they had a daughter, Polly. He designed a CD-ROM for Last Chance to See in 1995, and in 1996 he became a founding partner for The Digital Village, whose first project was the highly anticipated (and successful) computer game Starship Titanic. He also became a patron for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and the Save the Rhino foundation. It was in 2001, when Adams returned to Los Angeles for another attempt to write the “Hitchhiker” film, that he suffered a heart attack and died at age forty-nine. The Salmon of Doubt, a posthumous collection of fiction and nonfiction, was published in 2002.

Even though Adams is primarily remembered for creating one idea, that one idea has generated a radio and television series, books, stage productions, comics, and audio tapes, and has even inspired people to take his ideas and turn them into real things, such as the World Wide Web search engine Alta Vista’s translation program, called Babel Fish. The h2g2.com Web site was started by Adams to become a real-life version of his hitchhiking guide. Adams never considered himself a science-fiction writer but a comedic writer who used science fiction as a way to tell his stories. Surprisingly enough, writing was the last thing Adams wanted to do with his time, saying that deadlines made him happy as they passed him by. He was happiest playing guitar, implementing new technology ideas, or raising awareness of endangered wildlife.

BibliographyGaiman, Neil. Don’t Panic: Douglas Adams and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” Rev. ed. London: Titan Books, 2002. The first official biography written about Adams; it was updated after his death.Morgan, David. Monty Python Speaks! New York: Spike, 1999. Includes a chapter in which Adams recalls early days in Cambridge and collaborations with members of Monty Python.Simpson, M. J. The Pocket Essential Hitchhiker’s Guide. London: Trafalgar Square, 2001. A very thorough list of almost everything Adams did or with which he was involved.Webb, Nick. Wish You Were Here: The Official Biography of Douglas Adams. New York: Ballantine Books, 2005. Official biography of Adams written by Webb, a friend and colleague, first published in United Kingdom in 2003. Access to papers and interviews with family members makes this work essential.
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