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Hitchhiker: A Biography Of Douglas Adams Paperback – 2 Feb 2004
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'Douglas's latest and most comprehensive biographer ... Simpson's style is easy and informative' -- Daily Telegraph
'Impeccably researched' -- Observer
'M.J. Simpson has written an engaging and unbiased study of his subject' -- Evening Standard
'The first major biography of the man who must be Britain's most popular cult author since Tolkien ... Minutely detailed' -- Time Magazine
'There are gems for Hitchhiker fans ... For anyone who loves [Douglas's] work, this book is an indispensable read' -- The Scotsman
Bestselling novelist, avid ecologist, inventor of words and leading technologist, Douglas Adams was one of the most influential thinkers of the late 20th century. His was an extraordinary life: he started his career as a struggling comedy sketch writer but then became an overnight success after his "Hitchhiker" series were first aired by the BBC in 1978. Arthur Dent's adventures through space with his friend Ford Prefect became a popular culture phenomenon, spawning bestselling novels by Adams, hit television and stage shows, a cult following and fan clubs all over the world. Brilliantly researched and packed with anecdotes from friends and colleagues, it is the definitive biography of this extraordinary man.See all Product description
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The sadly missed Mr Adams was one of the strangest writers around - most authors might moan and groan in the process, but on the whole they enjoy it. Douglas Adams seems to have loved coming up with ideas, but hated the actual writing process. As has been well documented, many of his books were written after a year or more's prevarication, often with someone looking over his shoulder to make sure he did it, and in an amazingly short period (typically two to four weeks) .
But Simpson's book doesn't just trot out the old legends about Douglas Adams, it does its best to get beneath them, digging away at stories Adams told and retold until they developed a mythical quality of their own. Those who are interested in the creative process, just as much as those who are interested in Adams, will find this a great book.
I picked it off my shelf a week ago. I wanted to reread it before I decided whether to keep it or get rid of it. I made it to page 30, then I had to give up. It is as boring and pedantic as I remember. What I also recall now is how oddly pointless the book seems. Simpson way of relating facts and anecdotes reminds me of some horrible old aunt telling stories about 'Our Douglas'. "Did you know that our Douglas played in the school play? They mentioned his name in the school paper." "Really, Auntie?" "Yes! Oh, he is such a good boy. Did I ever tell you about the time he had to wear short trousers and he was so embarrassed, you wouldn't believe it." And so on and so on. At no point do I get the feeling that there is a coherent story being told; it's just a bunch of facts piled on top of each other untill the whole thing tips over.
To sum it up, I'm getting rid of this book and I wouldn't recommend anyone getting it in the first place. If you are insanely curious about Douglas Adam's life, then I still recommending saving the money and just borrowing it from a library.
Although Simpson is compelled to limit his view of Adams' childhood, apart from his "prep" school years, the author fails to establish the environment surrounding his subject. Nothing of the Britain of the year of Adams birth, 1952 is offered as background. His later schooling years, which was also the era of "Beatlemania", aren't reflected in the dynamics of that time. Instead, we learn of Adams aversion to sports and his crashing embarrassment at being forced to retain short pants after moving to more senior levels. Later, at Cambridge, Adams' involvement with the performing club "Footlights" certainly allowed him to begin his comedy career. His desire to become a "writer-performer" was manifested, but the gawky, clumsy lad was often a physical threat to others on stage.
Simpson traces well the path of Adams' career as a script-writer. An avid admirer of John Cleese, Adams emulated him in many ways. He would have made a great "Python", but by the time Adams was beginning to make his mark, "Monty Python" was winding down. Douglas wrote for "Doctor Who" at the same time he was developing "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". It was an indication of how hectic his life would become. In one segment, Simpson relates how Adams and a co-author sequestered themselves in a villa in southern France to complete "Last Chance to See", but spent the entire time at long lunches and interesting discussions. Words on paper failed to emerge. That never bothered Adams, who loved "to hear deadlines whoosh by". Missed deadlines, for which Adams' reputation seems to tower over all others, seem to pale in comparison to the delays incurred when his work was to be transferred to the film screen. The dissension, Simpson shows, was continuous and unending. There was a point when Adams was forced to buy back rights to his own work!
In a small but necessary concession to the world around Adams, Simpson explains how the release of the first "Star Wars" opened doors of opportunity for Adams' work to move to visual presentation. All the hesitation over putting "sci-fi" on BBC television was swept away and HHGG was produced as a result. Simpson notes that the timing led some to believe HHGG was a "send-up" of science fiction, but he dismisses that readily. HHGG was original thinking, demonstrating that Adams was well ahead in his view of putting science into interesting stories. His characters and events went far beyond Hollywood's interpretation of sci-fi. More importantly, the innovative graphics were supplemental to the story line and characters. The graphics only enhanced the narrative without dominating the themes, in the way Hollywood dealt with them.
In the meagre offerings Simpson attempts to reveal Adams' interests and what led him along certain tracks, we learn of the association with the Beatles. The focus, it seems, was on parties and name-dropping. Adams made one production involving Ringo Starr, but that went nowhere. As Adams matured, he lost a sense of the Christianity he was raised in. Simpson provides a flimsy chapter, "Interlude - God", in which Adams describes himself as waffling about deities. It provides nothing of the roots of his shift from religiosity. Although there is mention of his relation to Richard Dawkins, who married "Doctor Who's" Lalla Ward, there is nothing related about Adams' growing interest in science. When he realised his initials were "DNA", Adams later made much of the connection. None of that appears here. It took Richard Dawkins to extol Adams' "amalgamated knowledge of literature and science" in his "Lament for Douglas" to provide the proper assessment. It's almost astonishing that Simpson incorporates none of the accolades voiced at Adams' death.
Simpson has provided fans with much detail on Adams' career - collaborators, agents, and BBC officialdom. There are many legends and corrections of legends supplied. The chronicler deserves full credit for the immense task he has accomplished. As you close the final page, however, you realise the job is incomplete. The detail obscures the greater picture, which Simpson fails to encapsulate. Perhaps that is indicative of the immensity of coping with the subject. Adams was a big man in many ways and it's to be hoped that a full depiction of his life will be the next step. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
I really enjoyed it but I’m not sure many people will. This is a book for the real hardcore fan. The kind of person who understands the reference “I just wondered how he knew they were size nine”.
As a result it assumes you’ve read, marked and inwardly digested all the books and radio series, I listened to the radio series from the first transmission and while never enough of a fan to attend a convention or wear a silly suit and make ‘beep beep’ noises, have actively sought out everything Douglas Adams wrote. Yet without having read around the subject I don’t know what made the Kamikaze sketch so funny and I felt a bit left out.
It makes depressing reading, MJ Simpson is too close to the subject and takes Adams’ brilliance as a given and there are few quotes or examples to enjoy, instead it’s a 300 page story of missed deadlines and displacement activity which is an uncomfortable way to learn about a hero.
It’s a cliché to say that you laughed and cried at a book, but with The Salmon of Doubt (Adams posthumous collection) I did both and had to stop to compose myself. It’s a much better tribute to the man.
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