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Hitchhiker: A Biography of Douglas Adams Hardcover – October 14, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Longtime Douglas Adams devotee Simpson has penned his second book on the subject (he also wrote The Pocket Essential Hitchhikers Guide, released in the U.K. in 2001). An engaging yet straightforward portrait of the phenomenally successful writer of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (and its series of spinoff books and radio plays), the book is informed by interviews with many of Adams's close friends and associates (Adams died in 2001 at age 49). Simpson weaves a tale that meanders from Adams's school days and university nights to his work as a scriptwriter for the BBC, through his years as a frustrated novelist and, later, to what Gaiman, in his foreword, calls his career as "a Futurologist, or an Explainer, or something." Simpson, a cofounder of the British sci-fi magazine SFX, does an able job of pulling out revelatory bits, sketching a portrait of Adams as a genius procrastinator, an inventive guardian of his creative efforts and a restless experimenter, always easily distracted from completing a current project by the promise of projects not yet explored. Among the book's more compelling aspects is Simpson's discovery of a large volume of unexplained exaggerations in Adams's recollection of the events in his life, evidence of both the unreliability of memory and Adams's inability to refrain from spinning good yarns, even when they were about himself. It's both a must-have for serious Adams fans and a neat companion volume to Gaiman's more playful 1987 guide to The Hitchhiker's Guide, Don't Panic.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
*Starred Review* A seemingly typical graduate of the Oxbridge comedian-breeding ground, Adams was clever, funny, and interested in all sorts of things, from endangered animals to the better sorts of champagne. Admiring John Cleese, Adams determined to be a writer-performer in the Monty Python mode but realized primarily the writing part of his aspiration. From sketches and music for the venerable Cambridge Footlights troupe, Adams went to BBC Radio, the wildly popular Dr. Who, and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio series featuring the bemused Arthur Dent, some dreadful alien poets, and the android Marvin. A master procrastinator, Adams would postpone by accepting further commissions and going off to research them until he was forced to hole up and write furiously under the vigilant eyes of publisher, agent, or wife. He had an ever-ready stack of ripping yarns about his life and work, but Simpson, though a huge admirer, firmly points out discrepancies between Adams' versions and actual events, allowing fans glimpses into Adams' life that the intensely private writer wouldn't. In his brief life, Adams managed to work or party with everyone he admired, from Pink Floyd to Paul McCartney; remained friends with those whose deadlines he blithely ignored; and succeeded in almost every medium he tackled. A biography that will entertain die-hard fans and those who've never cracked a Hitchhiker book alike. Roberta Johnson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Much of this biography I liked. I had had no idea of Douglas Adams's life but I was a fan of most of his writings. I bought this book at a used bookstore for a fraction of its list price and I suppose I got my money's worth. I left this book with a sense that much was missing. The text includes name dropping about the people who liked and admired and socialized with Douglas Adams and not very much of why these people would admire Douglas Adams.
The Hitchhiker did much to explain the 25 year effort by Douglas Adams to make a movie made of his famous Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy (yes it is a five book series but only about three books of good stories). For all of the coverage given to the business of buying and selling the movie rights, of preparing and rewriting scripts and flying to different movie lots; one still has a sense that this story has not been fully told - thereby capturing my attitude towards the entire biography.
The famous Douglas Adams story of the packets of cookies at London airport is all but debunked with the insistence that Adams made it up and became so enamored of it he continue to use it. One of the best Adams quotations in the book is "I love deadlines they make such a whooshing sound as they blow by" captures something of the humor of Adams but it is frequently used to criticize his work habits and by the end of the book loses its humor. I would've loved and wider variety of humorous quips from a man who loved playing with words.
And this goes to the heart of the problem with the Hitchhiker; the underlying humor and broad-spectrum curiosity of this very intelligent if somewhat peripatetic man is rendered in faint praise.
This is probably a 3.5 star review rounded up mostly by fondness for Adams. With this book I have a better sense of some of the facts of this author's life but only a vague sense of his spirit. I am glad I have read this book. I'm glad I did not pay the full price for this book and I would hope that someone with a greater interest in the human side will write a better biography of this man. Douglas Adams at his best was a writer who loved banging together words to see and hear what they sounded like. His biographer should share that same love.
(Since posting my original review, I've learned that Simpson was disgruntled about not having any of his little sci-fi conventions attended by Douglas. This is a good reason for a nasty book? I think not.)
Trying to provide a balanced account and not taking everything one's subject has said as gospel is one thing. But going to great lengths, using wholly faulty logic, quotes from people barely on the fringes of the subject's life, and constant correlation without causation to make quotes look like contradictions in spite of the fact that they can actually happily coexist (and even often support each other, even though Simpson does all he can to explain why they might be at odds), is quite another. And believing the hazy memories of someone tangential rather than words from the horse's mouth doesn't reveal much sympathy for the subject.
Basically, Simpson makes Adams look like, depending on the page, a complete liar or a bumbling idiot (neither of which he was) -- throughout the entire book. It reeks of some kind of childish revenge, which would explain why Simpson waited until after Adams' death to write it; and tedious trivia and statistics are spewed to this end without any insight into the man or his life whatsoever, as other reviewers have pointed out.
Simpson also makes snide remarks about Douglas at every possible opportunity, such as "It wasn't an interview. It was a Douglas Adams monologue, and not a terribly interesting one." Someone reading the biography of an author would in fact be extremely interested in hearing an account of how one of that author's novels got published. Why the haughtiness? Simpson's thesis near the end is the heinous and unqualified opinion that Adams didn't write good books unless an editor or coauthor helped him.
Simpson even invents some new and intriguing words, such as "themself."
Don't waste your money on this. Don't Panic and Wish You Were Here are much, much, much, much, much better.
John Lloyd's forward is really quite wonderful, and I would gladly read more material from his hand about "The Big Man." As for this book, I'd say if you enjoy Mr. Adams' books and you're looking for some moderately enjoyable bed-time reading, this isn't such a bad choice.
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