A nonfiction look at the science fiction Multiplatform phenomenon that is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy told by master storyteller Neil Gaiman. Whether you are just a minor enthusiast or consider yourself full fledged fun, this book will make you fall just a little more in love with The Guide.
The first time I experienced The Hitchhiker’s Guide was via the 2005 movie starring Martin Freeman and narrated by Stephen Fry. The only time I had laid eyes on the book it was a compendium at a friend’s house that was approximately four inches thick and, at the time, I had no desire to read a sci-fi bible. I didn’t know that it was actually six books!
Fast forward: the movie was accessible, weird, and hooked me. I’m a fan. Since then, I have enjoyed the stories and even ventured into Dick Gently territory. During a bought of insomnia I spotted Don’t Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by none other than Neil Gaiman. Two obsessions in one! Would it be worth a read?
Spoiler: It was amazing
Douglas Adams’s “six-part trilogy,” The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy grew from a blip of a notion into an ever-expanding multimedia universe that amassed an unprecedented cult of followers and became an international sensation. As a young journalist, Neil Gaiman was given complete access to Adams’s life, times, gossip, unpublished outtakes, and files (and became privy to his writing process, insecurities, disillusionments, challenges, and triumphs). The resulting volume illuminates the unique, funny, dramatic, and improbable chronicle of an idea, an incredibly tall man, and a mind-boggling success story.
In Don’t Panic, Gaiman celebrates everything Hitchhiker: the original radio play, the books, comics, video and computer games, films, television series, record albums, stage musicals, one-man shows, the Great One himself, and towels. And as Douglas Adams himself attested: “It’s all absolutely devastatingly true—except the bits that are lies.”
Updated several times in the thirty years since its original publication, Don’t Panic is available for the first time in digital form. Part biography, part tell-all parody, part pop-culture history, part guide to a guide, Don’t Panic “deserves as much cult success as the Hitchhiker’s books themselves” (Time Out via Amazon)
The biggest surprise for me? That these stories began as a radio program, then were books, then a play, a television show, then video games and finally movies. I think. There were also records in there somewhere. In hindsight, it’s all so clear now. These wonderfully weird stories makes so much more sense when you know that they were originally intended for radio and radio alone. It was Adam’s curiosity and desire to do things he deemed “interesting” that spurred him to change platforms so frequently and to seek the best manner to do it.
Adam’s may have been known for his ingenuity but he was equally infamous for his inability to get a writing project in on time. As Gaiman puts it, “This not-writing quality was to become a hallmark of Douglas’s later work.” If you are a writer and you are feeling that procrastination picks on you, please read this book. Adam’s ability to put off his writing projects until past due and then lock himself up and finish the work is legendary. I, however, do not recommend some of his coping mechanisms or the lengths to which his friends would go to in order to seclude him until he finished his work.
Adams may have developed amazing world building and loved his many projects but this quote about writing fully encapsulates his feelings about his chosen profession, “Writing comes easy. All you have to do is stare at a blank piece of paper until your forehead bleeds.” He even made notes for himself on his writing telling himself to find a regular job and then later noting that this was after a “regular day” of writing, not a bad one. And still the stories came.
Reading this book put the fear of God in me about the lengths publication companies would go to in order to get a book finished. Even though his publisher knew that he would turn in the second book late and they planned for it in their schedule, they still moved him out of his shared apartment and into a flat all his on one afternoon. As Adam’s remembers it,
“It was extraordinary. One of those times you really go mad…I can remember the moment I thought, ‘I can do it! I’ll actually get it finished in time!’ (Everything) contributed to the sense of insanity and hypnotism that allowed me to write a book in that time.”
How Gaiman manages to keep this book light and funny is a testament to his own writing because Adam’s struggle with writing and procrastination continued for the remainder of his life. Further complicating his path was the bold statement after the second Hitchhiker’s book that it would be his very last. But, then he wrote four more. Four more. And after each additional story he would boldly state that he would never again write another. But the story just had to come out. Or, you know, Adams needed a paycheck.
If you enjoyed The Hitchhiker’s Guide in any of the formats available to the general public you will undoubtedly enjoy Don’t Panic and the adventures of being Douglas Adams.
Tell me, please!
Who is your favorite Hitchhiker’s character?