I remember that the first time I ever encountered the words Douglas and Adams in succession was in the very early part of 1985. They were included, in a sequence, with the words The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. It wasn’t the book or the radio series or even the TV series, which seemed to air quite frequently on my local PBS channel — and which I often confused with Doctor Who before I really discovered what the difference was — no, it was none of those. It was an article in the April 1985 issue of Compute! Gazette, a magazine dedicated to Commodore computer users, about a new computer text adventure game from a company called Infocom. That game was called Planetfall.
I kid. It was actually the previously mentioned Hitchhiker’s Guide.
At the time, I was in a local public school program that was the first school in the Cincinnati area to offer an entirely computer-based curriculum. Mostly, we played cracked Apple IIc games and played around with code as the teachers lectured on geometry and social studies. I was also an avid Commodore 64 user so, obviously, technology and games were really huge things for me. A classmate of mine happened to see me reading the interview in Compute! and, being from Australia, was already aware of Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker’s, and even Doctor Who. He suggested I go buy the first book. I remember pestering my parents to buy it for me at the local Walden Books shop. I got the book and read it in two days. Then I asked for the next book, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe and read that in one sitting. And then I beseeched my poor parents the third book called Life, The Universe, and Everything. That one took a little longer but by this point, I was a hopeless case and, upon finishing it, lay prone upon the kitchen floor and supplicated my bemused mother to pretty please let me get the fourth book in the trilogy, So Long and Thanks For All the Fish.
In retrospect, I felt rather sorry for my parents. My brothers and sisters were involved in normal activities like sports or band, things one could conceivably handle. They didn’t know what to do with a son obsessed with computers, Monty Python, and science fiction. Ah, but that’s a story for another time, dear readers.
Eventually, I got a copy of the Infocom game. Then I watched the TV series. I read and read again the official Hitchhiker’s radio series script, then read along when one of the public radio stations finally broadcast the series.
It’s ironic that a man whose initials matched those of the molecule Deoxyribonucleic acid would become such an integral building block of my life. Douglas Adams and his books opened a new universe, one that transcended the dullish neighborhood that I grew up in. So much of what I feel and think, the irreverence I had for things people took seriously, the wonder of seeing Betelgeuse and wonder what if, all of it began with him. The characters and situations he created in Hitchhiker’s, Doctor Who, and the Dirk Gently books provided great mirth as well as some exceptionally dangerous ideas to my somewhat sheltered existence: permeance, subjectivity, and alcohol.
Much has been said about Douglas Adams’ alleged prescience on technology: Wikipedia, e-books, interactive media, and so forth. Each time I get a new tablet or e-reader, I immediately load the Hitchhiker’s books on it.
Douglas Adams made me want to be a writer, his works nurtured the odd sense of humor that I have, and it broke my heart — as well as the hearts of every person worthy of their towels — when he died suddenly on this day in 2001. To think that almost half of the time that I’ve been a Douglas Adams and Hitchhiker’s fan has been with the man himself no longer present on this planet is odd, to say the least. One could come up with a Meaning of Liff-esque word to describe it:
Pendelton (n): The bereft feeling one gets wishing that Douglas Adams was still around.
As Ford Prefect once said, what I need is a strong drink and a peer group. Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters all around.