Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

I am a slow reader. I can usually only cope with one chapter at a time, transforming an otherwise forgettable quick-read into a much-weightier life-or-death experience. The characters have time to grow in my mind. I ponder what will happen next. It becomes a part of my daily life, and therefore a part of real life.

It becomes real.

A good example of this would be Douglas Adams’ Mostly Harmless, each chapter of which contains so many ideas that it needs regular breaks in which to absorb them all.

Today however, with 26 hours to kill until I would touch-down again in Auckland, it was time to plunge completely in and immerse myself for as many hours as it took, so I opened the same author’s oft-condemned Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.

I say oft-condemned because it was Adams’ first novel outside of his 5-book Hitchhiker trilogy. As a result, many were disappointed that it only contained some of Adams’ familiar ingredients.

Alternatively, my friend Rich gave-up reading it half-way through, protesting “It just knew how incredibly funny it all was.”

Sooo – too funny for Rich eh? This I must read.

High on a rocky promontory sat an Electric Monk on a bored horse.
He’s good at first lines, is Adams.

The Electric Monk was a labour-saving device, like a dishwasher or a video recorder. Dishwashers washed tedious dishes for you, thus saving you the bother of washing them yourself, video recorders watched tedious television for you, thus saving you the bother of looking at it yourself; Electric Monks believed things for you, thus saving you what was becoming an increasingly ominous task, that of believing all the things the world expected you to believe.

Unfortunately this Electric Monk had developed a fault, and had started to believe all kinds of things, more or less at random.

The Monk currently believed that the valley and everything in the valley and around it, including the Monk itself and the Monk’s horse, was a uniform shade of pale pink. This made for a certain difficulty in distinguishing any one thing from any other thing, and therefore made doing anything or going anywhere impossible, or at least difficult and dangerous. Hence the immobility of the Monk and the boredom of the horse, which had had to put up with a lot of silly things in its time but was secretly of the opinion that this was one of the silliest.

It is difficult to be sat on all day, every day, by some other creature, without forming an opinion about them.

On the other hand, it is perfectly possible to sit all day, every day, on top of another creature and not have the slightest thought about them whatsoever.

The Monk had first gone wrong when it was simply given too much to believe in one day. It was, by mistake, cross-connected to a video recorder that was watching eleven TV channels simultaneously, and this caused it to blow a bank of illogic circuits.

So after a hectic week of believing that war was peace, that good was bad, that the moon was made of blue cheese, and that God needed a lot of money sent to a certain box number, the Monk started to believe that thirty-five per cent of all tables were hermaphrodites, and then broke down. The man from the Monk shop said that it needed a whole new motherboard, but then pointed out that the new improved Monk Plus models were twice as powerful, had an entirely new multi-tasking Negative Capability feature that allowed them to hold up to sixteen entirely different and contradictory ideas in memory simultaneously without generating any system errors, were twice as fast and at least three times as glib, and you could have a whole new one for less than the cost of replacing the motherboard of the old model.

That was it. Done.

The faulty Monk was turned out into the desert where it could believe what it liked, including the idea that it had been hard done by. It was allowed to keep its horse, since horses were so cheap to make.

For a number of days and nights, which it variously believed to be three, forty-three, and five hundred and ninety-eight thousand seven hundred and three, it roamed the desert, putting its simple Electric trust in rocks, birds, clouds and a form of non-existent elephant-asparagus, until at last it fetched up here, on this high rock, overlooking a valley that was not, despite the deep fervour of the Monk’s belief, pink. Not even a little bit.

Time passed.
Dirk Gently, as the book’s title suggests, runs a holistic detective agency. Holistic means to deal with the whole problem. He doesn’t just find a missing cat. He solves the whole mystery of why the cat went missing in the first place. He also believes that everything in the universe is connected. To Dirk, therefore, everything is a very big problem indeed, but with an infinite number of, very expensive, leads.

“I’m very glad you asked me that, Mrs Rawlinson. The term ‘holistic’ refers to my conviction that what we are concerned with here is the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. I do not concern myself with such petty things as fingerprint powder, telltale pieces of pocket fluff and inane footprints. I see the solution to each problem as being detectable in the pattern and web of the whole. The connections between causes and effects are often much more subtle and complex than we with our rough and ready understanding of the physical world might naturally suppose, Mrs Rawlinson.”
He also doesn’t believe a good deal of what he says. Unfortunate, as whatever he disbelieves usually turns out to be true. Like the time back at college when, to make a fast buck, he’d pretended to know the correct answers to an exam paper ahead of time. And unwittingly predicted every answer correctly.

“I am not a clairvoyant.”

“Really,” said Richard. “Then what about the exam papers?”

The eyes of Dirk Gently darkened at the mention of this subject.

“A coincidence,” he said, in a low, savage voice, “a strange and chilling coincidence, but none the less a coincidence. One, I might add, which caused me to spend a considerable time in prison. Coincidences can be frightening and dangerous things.”
An unfortunate perspective, as Dirk is a man plagued by them.

It has to be said that reading it all in one sitting was actually an extremely good idea, as Adams’ plots are characteristically complex, and there’s just no way I would have kept track of all the threads over a longer period of time.

Several of this book’s elements were familiar to me, as many years ago Adams had been the subject of an edition of LWT’s The South Bank Show, in which several of his characters, including the Electric Monk, had shown up at his home to help him finish writing the fifth Hitchhiker book.

But this book’s biggest joy was a complete surprise. No-one had told me about this.

In the late 70s, Adams had been script-editor of my favourite TV show Doctor Who, and had written several classic episodes, including one my favourite stories City Of Death.

Pretty well every Doctor Who script at some stage got adapted into book form, but not Adams’, who refused to adapt his scripts for such a low fee (he was an award-winning novelist after all), and didn’t trust another author to adapt his work either.

So basically, Douglas Adams never wrote a Doctor Who book.

Except for this one.

Purists have criticised him for re-using elements from the two Doctor Who stories mentioned here, but in fact this simply qualifies it as a sequel. Professor Chronotis is a lead character, still resides quietly at college, has a shakier memory in his old age, and even repeats many of his jokes from Shada. Not a contradiction – a continuation.

So here was Douglas Adams writing my favourite TV show one last time, and Doctor Who never enjoyed better scripts than his.

(review of the sequel here)

Labels: ,

0 comment(s):

Post a Comment

<< Back to Steve's home page

** Click here for preceding post(s) **

** Click here for following post(s) **