In Memorium: Douglas Noel Adams

As it’s the birthday of Douglas Adams, lots of folks are tweeting favorite parts of his writing to one another. I’ve been trying to tweet mine, but the thought is too big for 140 characters, so here’s the long(er) version:

If I had to chose five books to read for the rest of my life, two of them would be written by Douglas Adams. I found >The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy when I was fifteen, so I was a latecomer as far as my generation was concerned. Most of my friends found the books in Jr. High. I found the radio dramas after I’d dropped out of high school. In my case, that was just the right time for it to change my consciousness, profoundly.

In its quirky and irreverent humor, I found a raw-hearted, fierce love of life and insatiable curiosity–as well as a deep sense of moral irony that earnest me was, at the time, desperately lacking. Of all the bits of the radio series that stuck with me (and I have, in fact, memorized all 13+ hours of it), the parable of the Ogloroonians is the one that perhaps helped set the tone most for the kind of life I’ve found. Here you can see it, in context, with some lovely animations (the parable starts at 1m33s and runs to 3m05s):

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So the Hitchhiker’s Guide rocked. But later on, I found Dirk Gently, and again, it changed my consciousness.

Dirk Genly’s Holistic Detective Agency is an altogether weirder book, and more apparently nonsensical, which is why Douglas embedded in it a rosetta stone in the form of an essay about mathematics and beauty. It turns out that this little throwaway tidbit is an important part, because he’s basically telling you, in two pages, what the entire book is really about–underneath the…well, okay, I won’t spoil it for you, so I’ll just say “underneath the freako-bizarre paranormal mystery”–lurks one of the modern world’s finest meditations on beauty and what it means.

The little essay is called Music and Fractal Landscapes by Richard McDuff (who is a character in the book), and it’s worth a couple minutes to read it. You can find it as a pdf, easy to read right there.

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Douglas Noel Adams changed my life for the better, twice. He’s one of the big reasons that I write science fiction. He went missing–probably because of the Vogons–15 years ago.

And I still miss him.

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