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The Salmon of Doubt

The Salmon of Doubt is a unfinished book by Douglas Adams

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A Fish to be Thankful For

  • Jun 11, 2005
Pros: A real glimpse into a wonderful mind.

Cons: Also a reminder that Douglas Adams won't be here anymore.

The Bottom Line: This is the thoughts of Douglas Adams of the REAL life, the universe, and everything. (MUST... STOP... USING... BAD... HITCHHIKER'S... CLICHES!!!)

I’m going to open this review with my favorite passage in The Salmon of Doubt. In the book, the essay is called “Radio Scripts Intro,” for the obvious reason that it’s the introduction from the compilation of radio scripts from the original Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:
...You are battling away trying to finish, or at least start, a book you promised to deliver seven months ago, and faxes start arriving asking you if you could possibly write yet another little introduction to a book that you clearly remember writing “The End” to in about 1981. It won’t, promises the fax, take you two minutes. Damn right it won’t take you two minutes. It actually takes about 13 hours and you miss another dinner party and your wife won’t speak to you, and the book gets so late that you start missing entire camping holidays in the Pyrenees....... And then more faxes come in demanding more introductions, this time for omnibus editions of books, each of which I have already written individual introductions to. After a while I find I have written so many introductions that someone collects them all together and puts them in a book and asks me to write an introduction to it.

The Salmon of Doubt is not a compilation of introductions by Douglas Adams, but for the type of book it is, it might as well be. It’s actually a collection of random musings written and spoken by Adams, with some fictional work and interviews tossed in for good measure. It was compiled just after Adams’s death in 2001.

Douglas Adams may have fathered The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Dirk Gently books, but one can’t fully begin to grasp just how knowledgable about various subjects, literary, and just plain funny Adams was until one has read The Salmon of Doubt (and, to a lesser extent, Last Chance to See). After three introductions (to make them more palatable, only the last one is called an introduction. The first two are , respectively, an editor’s note and a prologue.), we get the musings of the man himself, starting with his first known published work - a letter from a 12-year-old Douglas Adams to his favorite science fiction rag, called The Eagle. After the short letter, Adams’s post-Hitchhiker’s fame writings are the stars of the rest of the book. First off is an essay about The Beatles in which Adams writes about the enormous impact of the band, and wishes Paul McCartney a happy birthday. The essays go into various subjects at this point, some serious, others less so, but all of them are fun to read, thanks to Adams’s unique style which is best summed up in Christopher Cerf’s introduction:
He seemlessly blended world-class intelligence - and a daunting knowledge about an impossible variety of subjects (literature, computers, evolution, pop culture, genetics, and music, to name a few) - with cosmic silliness; technophobia with a lust for, and fascination with, every high-tech toy imaginable; deep cynicism about virtually everything with an effusively joyful spirit; and one of the quickest wits I’ve ever encountered with a relentless perfectionism in pursuing his craft.

I couldn’t have put it better myself. Adams was indeed good at making fun of himself, as seen in the essay he writes about his own oversized nose and a speech snippet in which he describes an episode in a travel station in which he unwittingly steals half the cookies bought by another traveler, thinking it was the other traveler stealing his cookies.
”The thing I like particularly about this story is the sensation that somewhere in England there has been wandering around for the last quarter century a perfectly ordinary guy who’s had the same exact story...”
Adams says. Most of the essays Adams has written in The Salmon of Doubt involves punchlines of a similar likeness. One can only guess what he was speaking about in that little snippet, but that’s not really the point in this case. Other funny essays revolve around why Americans can’t seem to make a decent cup of tea, New Years resolutions and why we are seemingly unable to carry them out, his favorite types of alcohol, and “experts” in certain industries who made predictions which turned out to be completely and utterly wrong.

Douglas Adams was practically married to Apple computers, and he was a very vocal advocate of the company. Many of his essays revolve around his technical knowledge and exasperation of MacIntosh computers. The bulk of his computer essays appear to be lodged in the second section of the book, and they deal with various aspects of computers like international power supplies. They wouldn’t be enough to convert PC freaks, though. The Mac essays have a kind of universality to them, so that any computer wiz who reads will be able to relate. Adams is basically preaching to the converted in most of them.

Two of the more hyped-up essays in The Salmon of Doubt are about another great passion of Adams’s: Animals. The first is about scuba diving among manta rays. Written in 1992, “Riding the Rays” is about how Adams concocts an excuse to visit a coral reef: He wants to compare a new invention called a Sub Bug - kind of an underwater motor that scuba divers ride - to the ride a manta ray could give. Adams is at his very best writing this essay - his words are heartfelt, and the portrait of the manta ray he presents to us is very vivid. “Riding the Rays” would not have been out of place in Last Chance to See. The second essay would be about his long-touted climb up Mount Kilimanjaro in a rhino costume. This is probably the most overhyped essay in the book. While Adams does do it for the rhinos, he only wears the rhino costume for about an hour. It’s periodically switched by those who are participating in the climb, and speaking of the climb, Adams never gets to do that. He gets to see Mount Kilimanjaro, but he never actually begins to climb up the mountain.

There are a handful of interviews by prominent magazines with Adams interspersed in The Salmon of Doubt. In the interviews, Adams isn’t trying to be as funny as he is trying to be informative. In a few, he mentions the Hitchhiker’s movie, which had been “only a couple of years away” for 20 years. The letter he sent to David Vogel of Disney to get the project off the ground is in the book as well. The interviews don’t touch on a wide variety of subjects, but there are some interesting clips. For example, Adams’s favorite city is Santa Fe, New Mexico. At one point, Adams is asked if he was fed up with being known solely for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Adams cconfesses that he was for awhile, until The Who’s Pete Townshend reminded him of just how many doors a project so beloved like that can open. If the interviews show one thing, it’s that while Douglas Adaams can be very funny, he can also be very insightful - a point further evidenced by a speech which was copied in the book about the existance of an artificial god - a very confusing speech at that. One of my favorite parts of The Salmon of Doubt occured at the end of Adams’s interview with American Atheists: When asked if he has anything to say to his atheist fans, Adams doesn’t go into any kind of philosophical waxing about, well, life, the universe, and everything. Instead, he settles for a friendly greeting: ”Hello! How are you?”

The fictional sketches don’t come until near the end of the book. The first is about the private life of Ghengis Khan, which is short but very amusing while it lasts. It’s just a quick couple of episodes about some post-conquest nagging and a scheduling conflict which threatens to end Khan’s plans to eventually rule the world. The short story “Young Zaphod Plays it Safe,” which stars the future former ex-president of the galaxy salvaging an underwater spaceship. But what people will really get into is the first ten chapters of what was supposed to be a new Dirk Gently novel. The description of it that Adams sent to his publisher made it sound very interesting indeed: A cosmic yarn about Dirk being hired by someone he never meets, which leads him to the mean streets of Los Angeles, through the nasal membrane of a rhino, and finally to a distant future dominated by estate agents and heavily armed kangaroos. The actual chapters of the book make you yearn to read it even more. It begins in a place called DaveLand, a place that exists 1.2 years after humans have suddenly become extinct. After that, we’re taken to Dirk’s office, where Dirk turns down a case which would involve him finding half a cat - literally half a cat is missing, and the cat doesn’t seem to know it. But once Dirk finds something unusual about his bank account, he sets out to find out what’s going on by following random people on the street. It works since he IS Dirk Gently, after all, and the book is brought to an abrupt, never-to-be-finished halt just after Dirk lands in New Mexico as a result of following someone.

After reading those chapters, you begin to really dream about the ways in which you hope the new novel will build up - unfortunately, you’re then forced to remember that Douglas Adams is dead. He’s never, ever going to be here anymore, and neither will his work. It’s a very heartbreaking development, because not only was he going to push on with Dirk Gently, but he implicated throughout several interviews in The Salmon of Doubt that he wanted to write a new Hitchhiker’s book since Mostly Harmless was a bit bleak, and he didn’t want to end his famous “trilogy” on a bleak note. While The Salmon of Doubt is a very fun and worthwhile read, in the end the unfinished book - and other projects Douglas Adams was riled up about - is a reminder that Adams hitched his ride out way too soon. One can hope that someone will finish it someday, but it won’t be him. Douglas Adams, wherever you are, so long, and thanks for this salmon and all the other fish.


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review by . November 30, 2003
The Salmon of Doubt is an awful book. You do have to feel a little sorry for Douglas Adams since, being dead, he didn't have much say in its publication, and at least half of the material comprises an unedited (one hopes) early draft for a new Dirk Gently novel, but ultimately he's to blame him for it; he, and no-one else, wrote every word, and with the notable exception of a couple of articles, pretty much every word is dire. Douglas Adams wasn't a born novelist, after all - he was a radio producer, …
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About this book


 The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time is a posthumous collection of previously unpublished material byDouglas Adams. It consists largely of essays about technology and life experiences, but its major selling point is the inclusion of the incomplete novel on which Adams was working at the time of his death, The Salmon of Doubt (from which the collection gets its title, a reference to the Celtic myth of the Salmon of Wisdom). English editions of the book were published in the USA and UK in May 2002, exactly one year after the author's death.

The original intention of The Salmon of Doubt was a Dirk Gently novel. Adams commented that some of the ideas he developed inSalmon of Doubt were not really working within a Dirk Gently framework. Those ideas would have been salvaged, undergoing necessary changes on the way, and put into a sixth Hitchhiker's book; as he thought that the last book in the series, Mostly Harmless, was a very bleak book and wanted to finish on a slightly more upbeat note.[1]

The plot, set a few weeks after the events in The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, involves Dirk Gently refusing to help find the missing half of a cat, receiving large amounts of money from an unknown client, and then flying to the United States. Dirk pays a visit to Kate Schechter (who had first appeared in The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul) and ...

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ISBN-13: 978-1597770064
Author: Douglas Adams
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy
Publisher: Ingram Pub Services
Date Published: January 01, 2006
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"Adams exposed"
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