The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time

ISBN: 159777006X
ISBN 13: 9781597770064
By: Douglas Adams Christopher Cerf Simon Jones

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About this book

Rescued from the Macintosh of the late Douglas Adams, "The Salmon of Doubt" gives listeners the opportunity to linger and frolic one last time with the uniquely entertaining and richly informed mind of the author. Unabridged. 2 cds.

Reader's Thoughts

Johnny

In early 1998 (or was it ‘97?), I experienced one of the most heady experiences of my life. A literary idol approached me at a conference we were attending in France (it was in Cannes, but it was a media festival rather than the more famous annual event), invited me to join him at dinner and debate the existence of God. Douglas Adams, self-proclaimed radical atheist, wanted to consider God’s existence (or lack thereof) with me. As a minister, I’d like to write myself in as the hero and claim that I at least put a dent in the famous atheist’s armor. We had a fascinating conversation and I’d like to think that I pushed him into rethinking his position, but that’s not very realistic. Hang on! This does relate to this collection of Adams’ writing in his last years, especially those reprinted in The Salmon of Doubt.In our discussion, I pulled out the well-worn rubber duck of apologetics. I told him that he was dishonest in calling himself an atheist instead of an agnostic. I didn’t realize that this was the most offensive opening I could try. I hadn’t read his interview with American Atheists where he asserted that Agnostic did not adequately express his position because he was “convinced that there is no God.” (p. 96) But I blundered into the conversation with my classic approach that it is intellectual arrogance to claim to “know” that there is no God by appealing to an illustration in one of Rudy Rucker’s books on multidimensionality. This took my literary hero off guard because “multidimensionality” was a great fascination for him. I told him that certainty of the non-existence of God might well be trying to decide a multidimensional issue via the limited dimensions we have discovered in our empirical science. Then, I conceded that being “convinced” was different than “knowing,” but that it wasn’t objectively any better than a person of faith being “convinced.” I scored the opening round a stand-off. I’m not sure what Adams would have scored it. He must have been somewhat satisfied because he shifted gears.He told me that there was no rational need for the existence of God. This, of course, is a different question. Unlike my typical sermon, I opted to walk the tightrope of suggested that God is a useful concept—EVEN (don’t be horrified at my speculation, true believers) if a personal God didn’t exist. I told him that I personally believe in a personal God, but for purposes of discussion, we should consider whether there really was no rational need for the existence of God. I asserted that, contrary to Adams’ hero Richard Dawkins for whom I expressed admiration for his science and reservation for his assertions which went beyond the acceptable evidence, the idea of God was more helpful than harmful.Adams was skeptical (duh!) and attempted two analogies which I found interesting. He pulled some British currency out of his wallet and suggested that burning it wouldn’t warm you, eating it wouldn’t feed you, and wearing it wouldn’t cover you, but that it had purchasing power because the state stood behind it. But, he suggested that you need the assurance that the state exists in order for the currency to have any effect whatsoever. I countered (maybe a feeble parry at best) that, for the bulk of the British population, they had no idea of the nature of money supply, national deficit, budget viability, and governmental oversight of that currency but had an essential faith in the government. One doesn’t have to have all of the economics behind the currency explained satisfactorily in order to use the money. In the same way, one doesn’t have to understand everything about God in order to benefit from the idea of God. Therefore, there may well be a rational need for God. Before I explain the next analogy, imagine my amazement to see the late 1998 speech from Adams that was reprinted in The Salmon of Doubt: “Money is a completely fictitious entity, but it’s very powerful in our world; we all have wallets, which have got notes in them, but what can these notes do? You can’t breed them, you can’t stir-fry them, you can’t live in them, there’s absolutely nothing you can do with them, other than exchange them with each other—and as soon as we exchange them with each other, all sorts of powerful things happen, because it’s a fiction that we’ve all subscribed to. …if the money vanished, the entire cooperative structure that we have would implode.” (p. 140) Did our discussion bear fruit? Adams didn’t change his mind about the existence of God. He merely recognized the utility of the concept of God. Egotistically, I had thought to convince him one step at a time, but perhaps, I merely pushed him to fortify and develop his philosophical position to allow for a utilitarian (he called it “artificial”) God. The conversation was still stimulating, especially so when Adams began to expound about Feng Shui. Now, maybe I wasn’t listening, but I thought he was expressing skepticism about Feng Shui, so I said that it wouldn’t really make any different that he and I don’t believe that dragons exist, but that the concept of the dragon may help people design more comfortable and functional living spaces even if no dragon ever sets foot in the dwelling (and presumably they would not). Therefore, I suggested that even if I was wrong about the personal God whom I serve, my life may be better and more meaningful as a result of my conceptual idea of God’s involvement in my life. Now, admittedly, Adams’ hero of evolutionary arrogance (Richard Dawkins) wouldn’t concede this as said individual perceives the very concept to be harmful due to the fundamentalist extremes which have wreaked havoc in human history, but it seemed like the approach caused Adams to pause. Again, that could be arrogance on my part. I WISH I had impacted Adams and this could merely be wish-fulfillment. However, I was delighted to read on p. 146: “You figure out how the dragon’s going to be happy here, and lo, and behold, you’ve suddenly got a place that makes sense for other organic creatures, such as ourselves, to live in.” Do I think I won a debate with this man who was, in so many ways, my intellectual superior? Naaah! I just like to think that our conversation pushed him in a direction he was already considering. Do I wish I could have convinced him of the existence of a personal God who cared about Him and wanted to be involved in his life and life’s work? Absolutely! Do I still admire him as a person and his creative output? Absolutely!There were a few other lines that I really enjoyed in this book of essays, interviews, introductions to books, albums, and concerts, speeches, and rambling thoughts before I got into what I really procured the book to read, the last Dirk Gently story. I loved his line about art when he said, “I think the idea of art kills creativity.” (p. 158) And, I loved the story about his awkward experience in the train station with the cookies (pp. 150-151). It appears that he was sharing a table while waiting for a train. He had his coffee and a packet of cookies along with his morning newspaper. As he was reading his paper, the fellow reached over, opened the bag of cookies, too one out and began to eat it. Some British reserve kept him from confronting the man for his effrontery, so they actually ate the cookies in uncomfortable silence one-for-one. When the man left, Adams moved his paper and discovered an identical, but unopened bag of cookies under his paper. He was amused that he had thought so ill of the man while he was erroneously consuming the other man’s cookies. And he knew why this had occurred, but the other man never discovered the punch line. In the U.S., of course, there would have been a loud vocal confrontation at the very least. As for the title piece, the bare-bones portion of the unfinished Salmon of Doubt, it was delightful—even in its admittedly unpolished form. I followed the tortured logic of the cabbie who assumed that since people said, “Follow that cab!” in the movies and he, having had a long tenure as a cabbie had never heard that phrase, he must indeed have been the cab that all other cabs were following (pp. 249-250). I rolled my eyes with empathy when Dirk discovered a freezer cabinet full of “old, white, clenched things that he was now too frightened to try to identify.” (p. 226) I chuckled at the description of Gently’s office that was “old and dilapidated and remained standing more out of habit rather than from any inherent structural integrity” (p. 238) I really loved the slam on typical airline personnel speak (Airline Syllable Stress Syndrome—p. 253). I was sad that the book wasn’t complete, even in its current form.

Karen Terrell

Ohmygosh. I found myself grieving at the end of this book - all teary-eyed and sniffling - it felt like I was saying a final good bye to a dear friend. This was Adams's last book - compiled and arranged in the year after his death by his friends and editors. Coming to the end of Salmon of Doubt, and realizing there'd be no more words written by Adams, was really hard for me. I loved this book. The humor, the whimsy, Adams's unique take on the world - it was all there. I wish I'd gotten to know his writing while he was here with us - and I'm so sorry he no longer is.

Tortla

Douglas Adams was a clever, intelligent man. This compilation of his essays, short stories, interviews, and what they could scrounge up of the work-in-progress "The Salmon of Doubt" (unfinished due to his untimely death in 2001) makes for a nice homage to the man. Also, it's amusing to see his name abbreviated to DNA in interviews.

Jenn

I highly recommend this book for any Douglas Adams lover!This book is an amalgam of several of Douglas Adams works, including letters and article he wrote during his lifetime. Made me nostalgic for what could have been if he had lived longer and gave us more.

Jon

Readers beware: The Salmon of Doubt is not a single novel, but rather a collection of goods pulled from Adams' computer after his death--including a draft of the first few chapters of his next Dirk Gently story (also titled The Salmon of Doubt, thus the larger part of this collection's title). Also enclosed in this volume are a series of short stories, essays, travelogues, and other random snippets, some of which date back over a decade, and most of which have little to do with the next entry, except they were all written by Adams.How, then, to review this book? How does one go about commenting on a collection of miscellanea the author never intended to exist in single-volume form? How does one offer criticism on a draft of an unfinished novel? Indeed, how does one offer any insight into a bricolage of material that, pessimistically, smacks of the publishing industry's frantic attempts to make one last posthumous dollar off of a popular writer?I answer through a personal narrative. Any review ever published is, of course, subjective. This one is more so than even most. There's your grain of salt.My wife bought me this book for my birthday, and I took it with me when I flew home (alone; my wife wasn't able to accompany me) the next week to visit my parents. I read the entire book in one day as I shuffled between airplanes and ticket counters, fast-food stands and uncomfortable plastic seats. Much of what appeared in Salmon... was completely new to me, as I'd somehow never read Adams' shorter works--only his novels. But in short, I was both entranced and maddened: the former at the brilliant intelligence and humor that marble-streaked its way through the pages; the latter at the frustratingly incomplete Dirk Gently novel (imagine if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had only written the first half of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" before suddenly perishing, or if Shakespeare had never completed "Romeo and Juliet"). I saw in Salmon... sides of Adams both familiar to me, as in his intelligent satire, and unfamiliar, as in the extemporaneous and atheistic speech he delivered at Cambridge, sections of which forced me to close the cover temporarily while I pondered my own thoughts about the nature of God. Most importantly, through all of these scattered scribblings I saw the inner workings of a man who truly, admirably loved life. And as I turned the last page and stared helplessly at the blank sheet before me, and realized that I had just read the last "book" Adams would ever "publish," I was overcome with a sadness so deep and painful that I've never yet been able to even pull Salmon... off of the shelf again, much less read it.Douglas Adams never knew I existed: we never met, exchanged correspondence, or even caught a glimpse of one another in a crowded airport. Yet I consider this man one of my dearest mentors, a man whose writing has shaped the last fifteen years of my life in areas too varied and extensive to number. How then to review a book like this? Simply put, I can't. I'm too close. Even now, five years after the only time I managed to read Salmon..., and six years after Adams' death, I'm too close.Why, then, do I give this book five stars?How could I not?

Katherine Furman

If you love Douglas Adams this book is an absolute must read. It's got some great incite into the man who could make a pot of petunias think to itself, 'Not again.' A large part of my enjoyment was finding out about Adams as a person, and in turn finding out that I've got some stuff in common with him. I mean sure I haven't ridden a stingray like he has or written the funniest books of all time and granted I'm not British, BUT we do make our tea the same way, we're both have the same religious beliefs in our complete lack of having them (did you know atheists have conventions? I didn't), and, well I can't think of another one right now, but we're like peas in a pod. Trust me.Plus he recommends some great authors and tells some hysterical true stories. Damn it, I miss him. As much as you can miss someone you never met anyway, which believe me is a LOT.

Aaron

I loved this. Not all of it, but the parts at the beginning. This is not a book, or rather, it is not a coherent story. Douglas Adams was working towards a book called the Salmon of Doubt when he died. This is a collection of writing, which includes many of the things he had written which may, or may not have ended up on his book. There are also many writings by other people, people who know Douglas Adams. I laughed and I cried many times as I listened to this. This book will do little or nothing for someone who has little or no experience with Douglas Adams. If you want to experience what I have experienced, and get the full effect of this book, you must first listen to the BBC radio recordings of the Hitchhiker's Guide series. Then I'd recommend watching the BBC TV show, then I would read or listen to the novels, and finally, watch the movie. If I am not mistaken, this is the order in which he wrote them, although I am not convinced he actually had much to do with the TV show. There are also the Dirk Gently books, which you can read or listen to at any point, as long as they are after the radio broadcasts and before this book. We lost a genius when we lost Douglas Adams. If you are a friend of mine, I am sure you've had some experience of Mr. Adams, but perhaps you haven't had the full experience. I highly recommend it.

Sho

I wrote a lovely review, detailing my history with Douglas Adams, listening to the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy at school, buying The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul by accident and having a friend introduce me to the first Dirk Gently book.Followed by discovering the Earth edition of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (h2g2.com - go on, have a look, it's fantastic).But it vanished. So all I'm going to say is that the brilliance displayed in some of Douglas Adams' writing makes me want to cry. And that reading The Salmon of Doubt on the train, laughing out loud, made people stare at me. When I came to the end of all that we have of what would have been the third Dirk Gently book I got a bit sad because... well, we'll never know how it was supposed to end. And why was the rhinocerous called Desmond?(oh and I first bought this when it came out in 2002 - I love that I can find this info from Amazon) so I read it then too. But my copy seems to have vanished so I got a "new" one to replace it, which mysteriously found its way onto my "to read" pile)

Maggard

This makes a good case for NOT publishing everything found around the house after an otherwise-brilliant author kicks the bucket.

Frank

An enjoyable but utterly pointless book.I'm a huge Douglas Adams fan but sadly this book doesn't deserve his name. It's not that it's filth, or worthless. In fact this is has some lovely moments in the book and that's what gets it 2 stars from me.But the issue is it's a book that shouldn't exist. This should be free on the internet, or some other format. You get a large amount of articles, a few random chapters from a book, a book that no one even knows what series it belongs to exactly, and that's about it. The only author I felt worse about passing was Micheal Crichton, and his posthumous book was an almost finished manuscript, this unfortunately is just the building blocks.The worst book in the world would be one you talk about with the author, read all the chapters out of order, and piecemeal, read a rough draft, read an almost final version, and read the final copy. This is just the second step by itself, and because we all know there won't be a final book, it feels like a hollow last hurrah in my mind. I'll always miss Douglas Adams, but I'll honor him with his classics. Not what probably should have remained unpublished and unnecessary tidbits of his life.

Glenn

While many of the pieces included in this collection were, a) entertaining, b) somewhat informative, c) diverse, and d) well written peeks into the beliefs and personality of the author, the overall effect was also, e) incomplete. Of course that's to be understood, as it IS a posthumous gathering of magazine articles, interviews, and an unfinished 'Dirk Gently' story. One does wonder, however, if it was really necessary to publish "The Salmon of Doubt". Being as unfinished and maybe haphazardly thrown together as it sort of appears, do you think Mr. Adams himself would really have wanted to attach his name to this? For all the good intentions involved, and the glorious little bits of wisdom and humor contained therein, "Salmon" still feels more like a tease than a satisfying conclusion. It is understandable that fans of Douglas Adams may hunger for any scrap they haven't yet read by the man before his unexpected departure (Mr. Adams died suddenly, of a heart attack, in 2001), but overall, in my opinion, the assembly of the contents here feels rushed, desperately collected and lashed together, just so readers could feel as if it were that proper last goodbye. Is it? In my opinion, no. It is perhaps a sincere tribute put together by friends and admirers, but no, not a fitting conclusion.

Michael Sentman

It is unfortunate that there are not more books by Douglas Adams. I would love to be able to read more novels, to be surrounded by his humor, intelligence, and imagination but his works are more spread out between different medias than just books. This book is a collection of mostly random letters, anecdotes, and the beginning of an unfinished novel put together posthumously. Some of the stories are very interesting, lending a perspective into Douglas' life and interests and closes it with a reminder of how brilliant his writing was, even when it was unfinished. The book is quick to read as none of the individual works that comprise this collection are very long and it has its insights and wisdom like his other works. While the book is pervaded by Adam's unmatched wit and humor, finishing the novel left me sad, but only because I know that there is no more to be read.

Mpr

This work is unpolished, unfinished, and it's totally obvious. It cuts off as abruptly as the final piece of Bach (BWV 1080), leaving a vague disappointment and a void that won't ever be filled. I never met Douglas Adams, and I'll never have a chance to, but perhaps one day I'll visit his grave.Douglas Adams was unique in his ability for existential satire. From his portrayal of transgalactic airports to the way Norse gods would act in modern London, all his work shows a delightful talent for combining the surreal and the mundane. He mixes them, like a fancy drink, garnishes it, and offers you one of the most pleasingly different word cocktails that you'll ever taste.The Salmon of Doubt didn't contain this in the same density as his other novels, and perhaps if I were reading it without the necessary context of his writings I would be left confused and underwhelmed. But knowing Adams' oeuvre makes it almost-make-sense, in the way the first cut-off half of an absurdly complicated mystery novel might. I'm rating this five stars regardless of the unpolished writing because of the emotions it instills in me- the guaranteed sadness, the sense that I lost someone important to me before I'd ever even met him.

Tracie

I enjoyed the forwards and short stories that were in this book. But I was also saddened by the ending when I could no longer put the fact that Douglas Adams death was not just a fictitous vicious rumor but the cold truth. After reading so many of his wonderful creations I feel as though I have lost a close friend. I am saddened by the fact that his words, the ones that don't grace pulped pages, are no longer coming. The world was a better place with Douglas Adams in it.

Adam Heine

So, this is not my kind of book. The first two-thirds are basically a collection of blog posts, and well...there's a reason I don't buy blog post collection books. This was a birthday present :-) And the last third is a wonderfully written, but ultimately unfinished portion of a Dirk Gently novel which honestly makes me sad because now I'm left hanging. Forever.Adams' writing is hilarious, always. The fiction snippets, in particular, were everything I miss about him, but his "posts" were fun to read, too. The book just didn't stick with me because it's not the kind of blog I would have read: dated technology posts (it's not his fault they're dated, of course) and fingers-in-the-ears atheism. Douglas Adams seems like he was an awesome individual, and I would love to have met him, but clearly there are certain topics he and I would've had to avoid talking about, or else spent a couple of days talking about at great length :-)

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