On Friday, May 11, 2001, the world mourned the untimely passing of Douglas Adams, beloved creator of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, dead of a heart attack at age forty-nine. Thankfully, in addition to a magnificent literary legacy—which includes seven novels and three co-authored works of nonfiction—Douglas left us something more. The book you are about to enjoy was rescued from his four computers, culled from an archive of chapters from his long-awaited novel-in-progress, as well as his short stories, speeches, articles, interviews, and letters.
In a way that none of his previous books could, The Salmon of Doubt provides the full, dazzling, laugh-out-loud experience of a journey through the galaxy as perceived by Douglas Adams. From a boy’s first love letter (to his favorite science fiction magazine) to the distinction of possessing a nose of heroic proportions; from climbing Kilimanjaro in a rhino costume to explaining why Americans can’t make a decent cup of tea; from lyrical tributes to the sublime pleasures found in music by Procol Harum, the Beatles, and Bach to the follies of his hopeless infatuation with technology; from fantastic, fictional forays into the private life of Genghis Khan to extended visits with Dirk Gently and Zaphod Beeblebrox: this is the vista from the elevated perch of one of the tallest, funniest, most brilliant, and most penetrating social critics and thinkers of our time.
Welcome to the wonderful mind of Douglas Adams.
Douglas Adams has been a favorite author of mine ever since I picked up Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy four years ago. After completing the trilogy of five multiple times, as well as the first Gently novel, I spotted this at the library and declared it an act of fate.
Although The Salmon of Doubt was intended to be reworked into the final Hitchhiker’s book, the first chapters of the unfinished novel are still in Gently form here. Regardless, I found even this rough idea of what could have been a much more satisfying conclusion to the series than And Another Thing…, which, for the most part, I pretend never existed, and therefore, that I could have never read it.
(Don’t get me going on that. Eoin Colfer, you’re great, don’t get me wrong, but stick to Artemis Fowl. Adams is simply inimitable.)
The Salmon of Doubt contains all the zany twists and clever one-liners you’d expect from an Adams novel, such as
Yesterday he had inexpertly boarded a bus while tailing this man. Today, it seemed, he had inadvertently boarded a plane to Chicago. He put his hand to his brow and asked himself, honestly, how good of a private detective he really was.
“So, the only time you ever actually see the cabbie is when the fare says something to him. And when a fare says something to a cabbie in a drama, you know what it invariably is?”
“Let me guess,” said Dirk.”It’s ‘Follow that cab!'”
“Exactly my point. So if what you see on the telly is to be believed, all cabbies ever do,” continued the cabbie, “is follow other cabbies.
“Hmmm,” said Dirk, doubtfully.
“Which leaves me in a very strange position, as being the one cabbie who’s never asked to follow another cabbie. Which leads me to the unmistakable conclusion that I must be the cabbie all the other cabbies are following.”
However, the most important thing to know about this book is that largely, it isn’t actually The Salmon of Doubt. Adam’s unfinished book takes up a mere 79 pages out of the 298 pages in my paperback edition. The rest of it is a compilation of essays, articles, speeches, and more, collected from Adam’s Macintosh or retrieved from their original sources.
These essays are not quite the usual Adams madness. Although some have that signature humor to it, for the most part, they’re much more composed and serious. These range from enthusiastic reviews of palmtops to in-depth explanations of his atheistic beliefs to fond recollections of the first time he heard The Beatles. In fact, you could probably group these writings into those three categories–technology, atheism, and music–and find that most of the essays fit quite comfortably.
This section of the book is much more biographical material, almost. It’s an insight into his everyday life more than a fast-paced read. The closest thing I could compare it to is Letters by Kurt Vonnegut, a posthumous compilation of hundreds of letters Vonnegut wrote and received. While not a particularly thrilling read, it’s certainly a fascinating one.
I would recommend The Salmon of Doubt to those who after finishing Hitchhiker’s and Dirk Gently are looking for more Adams. However, without the context of those works behind it, Salmon might be a bit of a dull read.