42

By Douglas Adams, edited by Kevin Jon Davies

The wildly improbable ideas of Douglas Adams

Autobiography | Humour
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Writing in progress

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The Collector’s Edition featuring a special French fold dust jacket printed on both sides that folds out into a poster. Signed by Kevin Jon Davies.

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A book for all fans of Douglas Adams offering a unique insight into his life and work.

After his death in 2001, Douglas Adams's papers were loaned to his old Cambridge college, St John's – over 60 boxes full of notebooks, research, letters, scripts, jokes, speeches, to-do lists, hard drives and even poems.

The book will reproduce in facsimile form extracts from the archive with explanatory text and footnotes to add context. Developed in close association with Adams’s family and literary estate, 42 will be a full-colour, large-format hardback that follows his career from early collaborations with Graham Chapman to his work on Doctor Who, through the Hitchhiker years, Dirk Gently, his groundbreaking non-fiction book Last Chance to See and his later digital work. Alongside this are details of projects that never came to fruition like a proposed theme park ride and a TV series provisionally entitled The Secret Empire.

Just Imagine . . .

'I think Douglas was something that we don’t have a word for yet – a futurologist or an explainer. One day we will realise that the most important job out there is someone that can explain the world to itself in ways the world won’t forget.' Neil Gaiman

As his fans already know, Adams was as much a thinker as he was a writer and one of the reasons for creating this book is to properly explore this aspect of his life. The combination of his deep fascination with technology and his unique imagination meant that he had an uncanny knack for predicting the future direction of the digital world. As far back as 1995, he suggested that computers needed to stop being giant hulks of metal and disappear into the things around us to make them smarter. He also had an extraordinary ability to tackle complicated ideas and explain them in entertaining and memorable ways.

The following is from one of the speeches he gave later in his life. Bear in mind that when he wrote this, the iPhone, the Kindle, Twitter, Facebook and many other things we take for granted didn't exist.

'Imagine if every piece of information we ever generated about the world that passed through a computer, whether it's...

a restaurant typing up its menu for the evening, whether it's

a shop maintaining its stock list, whether it's

 a car noticing what speed it's going, how much petrol it's got left and where the nearest service stations are, and what prices they are charging, whether it's

someone measuring the wingspan of an African swallow, whether it's

someone writing down where and when their grandmother was born, whether it's someone taking a digital photo from the top of the Great Pyramid,

or just of a flower that has bloomed early this year,

Or late, or the settings on your thermostat when it's turned on or off,

Or if every time you took your child's temperature the network remembered.

Imagine all of that gradually creating a shared software model of the world. Just imagine.'

Letters to Douglas

The book will be published in 2022, the year that Adams would have turned 70 years old. A number of his friends and fans are contributing letters to Douglas written for this occasion that will appear in the book. They include Sanjeev Bhaskar, Margo Buchanan, Mark Carwardine, Prof Brian Cox and Robin Ince (The Infinite Monkey Cage), Arvind Ethan David, Sue Freestone, Stephen Fry, Neil Gaiman, Simon Jones, John Lloyd, Michael Nesmith, Dirk Maggs, Caitlin Moran and Robbie Stamp.

The Book

The book will be edited by Kevin Jon Davies, who first met Adams in 1978, knew him for 20 years, and has subsequently worked on a number of Hitchhiker-related projects.

It will be 320 pages long and A4 format (210mm by 297mm). For the standard hardback edition the cover will be printed directly onto the cover boards. The collector's edition features an additional wraparound French fold dust jacket printed on both sides that folds out into a poster.

A Note from Douglas's family

‘What Douglas loved more than a good idea was sharing a good idea, and whether it was the 1st or 100th time you had heard it, his obvious delight never diminished. It's a pleasure to share that delight with you in this book. We hope you enjoy it.’

About Kevin Jon Davies

Kevin Jon Davies grew up enthralled with Doctor Who and The Goon Show. The Hitchhiker’s Guide radio series in 1978 combined the best of both, so the young art student sought out its little-known author Douglas Adams, recording an early fanzine interview. Following a career in film and tv, he went on to direct The Making of Hitchhiker, the 1993 documentary for BBC Video. Adams then invited Davies to art-direct The Illustrated Hitchhiker, a large-format book with pioneering digital composites. Since then he has contributed to a number of Adams-related projects, including as researcher into Adams’ archives for The Hexagonal Phase (2018); the final radio series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Footnotes:
  • The archive images used on this page are by permission of the Master and Fellows of St John’s College, Cambridge.With thanks to Kathryn McKee and Adam Crothers at the Special Collections library.
  • The front cover and the overall design of the book are preliminary and may change as the project develops.
  • With thanks to Stephen Fry.
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