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Don’t Panic!

While perusing the science fiction shelves in a used bookstore a certain spine caught my eye. “DON’T PANIC” it read, “NEIL GAIMAN”. ‘What on earth could that be?’ I thought, ‘Surely it couldn’t be that Neil Gaiman?’ But it could and, to my delight, it was. As it turns out, long before Sandman launched Gaiman to prominence, he penned what the cover describes as “The Official Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Companion”. I had always fancied myself a steadfast Hitchhiker’s fan and have been fond of Gaiman’s work for some time, but this book had completely escaped my attention. Needless to say, I picked it up.

It has now been some 34 years since The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was first produced as a radio program on the BBC, something like 17 years since I first read the book series as a teenager, and over 11 since the death of its illustrious author, Douglas Noel Adams. It seemed high time to read these books again. So, as I slowly worked my way through Gaiman’s companion book I have reread each volume in the series. Most of the books seem hardly to have aged and hold up very well. The parallel destruction Arthur Dent’s house and of the earth kicks off the madcap sequence of adventures through space and time no less hilariously today than ever. Slartibartfast is still an awfully funny name for a fjord obsessed planet architect. The peaceful pastoral Krikkiters still make delightfully incongruous xenocidal madmen. Fenchurch and Arthur’s love affair comes a bit out of left field, but serves to relieve the monotony of his permanent perplexity and finally gets him out of that damned dressing gown. As for Mostly Harmless, I haven’t yet savored it for a second time. Beginning to read it seems likely to make me a little sad, given that it is the last of Adam’s Hitchhiker’s series.

Maybe Eoin Colfer’s sixth Hitchhiker’s book, And Another Thing, can somewhat assuage that sense. After all, it was produced with the full consent of the Adams estate and as I am learning from Mr. Gaiman, Hitchhiker’s has always been a somewhat motley beast. Adams has always been the creative force driving it, but many others have had a hand, from the casts of radio, stage, and television productions to the producers, writers, musicians, and directors involved with these projects. Stll, Adams’ five books will always be the Hitchhiker’s cannon for me.

Fortunately, Hitchhiker’s does not represent the sum total of Adams’ work. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and it’s sequel The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul beckon for a re-reading. And there are still several of Adams’ books I have yet to read for the first time, among them, The Meaning of Liff, Last Chance to See, and the posthumously published The Salmon of Doubt. For the true fanatic there remain contributions to Doctor Who, The Original Radio Scripts, archived contributions to websites, and even YouTube videos of public appearances. Douglas Adams may be somewhat dead, but as he continues to fascinate us and to make us laugh he must yet be also still alive. If only like the death of Ford Prefect’s friend Hotblack Desiato of Disaster Area, it could turn out to be a highly sophisticated tax dodge. – Aaron Brumley, IT.

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