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Last Chance to See ...
on 25 April 2002
Douglas Adams once noted that there was a class of reviewer who simply took the best jokes out of a book and put them in their review. It's going to be difficult to review The Salmon of Doubt without doing that, every page has quotable lines, memorable phrases and oh-so elegant metaphors that are just sitting there waiting for a reviewer to pluck them out. I'll do my best not to.
Latterly, Douglas Adams had become as famous for not writing Hitchhikers books as for writing them in the first place. The Salmon of Doubt, a collection of essays, articles, interviews and, finally, ten chapters of his last novel, demonstrates that he'd developed his displacement activities to avoid writing into a fine art, progressing from 'taking another bath' and 'going for a walk' to coming up with some of the most elegant essays on atheism ever written and climbing Kilimanjaro to save rhinos. This is what he'd been getting up to all that time, and it was a far more interesting and productive way of occupying himself than coming up with new things for Marvin to do.
And if I haven't done so already, here's where I lapse into cliche - Douglas Adams delighted millions; created characters and phrases that have passed into everyday use; he died tragically young; he made the most complex philosophical and scientific ideas seem so simple; I never met him but he made me feel that I knew him; I laughed aloud while reading this book.
Stephen Fry's introduction is perceptive, but more importantly it's moving. Fry makes the crucial point - Adams convinced a generation of readers that he was writing just for us. The sense of loss in this, and an equally moving tribute by Richard Dawkins at the end of the book, is keen. The subtitle of the book 'Hitchhiking the galaxy for one last time' captures the excitement of the prospect of being allowed into Douglas Adams' universe once more ... but also the sadness that it genuinely will only be once more...