life,te universe and Douglas

The infinite improbability drive has managed to turn a trilogy into five books. Philip Parr met DOUGLAS ADAMS, the most famous hitch hiker of them all, and he didn’t mention towels once.

on’t panic. He’ll be here; authors always turn up eventually. In the meantime I can always consult the Guide on what to do when a phenomenally successful writer

_ leaves you sitting on your own looking like a lemon. I fiddle with the hard-backed, gleaming, black object lying on the table next to me, but receive no response, not even the Guide’s patent gurgle and bleep.

Such behaviour, however, is fairly typical of The Guide of late. It was eight years since the last update (when an author under duress and contractual obligation bashed out So Long, and Thanks ForAll the Fish in his Islington garret) until the appearance, brand new and spanking, of the latest and last instalment Mostly Harmless, featuring a new version of the Hitch Hiker’s Bible and one (count her) new character. The latest Guide, however, is not the cheerful, useful and ever-so-slightly cuddly companion we know and love. It is horror of horrors— sinister, multi-dimensional and cunning; all characteristics, as faithful Hitchers will know, of a race called Vogon. Is this more than coincidence? Will Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect and Trillion emerge victorious against a Guide bent on Universe— domination? Will Douglas Adams ever show up? the answer to at least one of these questions is ‘yes’.

‘It was good fun to go back and see whether

there was any way of neatly knitting up all the loose ends I’d left straggling around,’ explains Adams, clutching a widget for his big, very big, stereo the purchase of which has turned out to be the reason for his

them , as many as I could catch , knotted them up, and killed them.’

Of course, Adams’ world is as confused as Arthur Dent’s is unspeakably dull, so you cannot really be sure that his trio of universe-hoppin g heroes is genuinely deceased. After all, in Mostly Harmless, Trillion does not only report on wars that haven’t yet taken place (a wee trick she learned in the time-space continuum), she is also another person, Tricia (that’s the Trillion who didn’t hop on a spaceship with Zaphod Beeblebrox a decade and a half ago). The Trillion who is Trillion has had a child by Arthur Dent (just don’t ask) and named her Random, which seems fairly apt.

‘Random was actually meant to be the main character,’ claims Adams. ‘But it always happens: whatever you design, whatever you intend for a book, whatever major idea kicks it off in the first place, hardly gets a mention when the book’s

finished. Writing a book is like making a dinner. You’re trying to keep to the recipe, but when you’re at the supermarket with your shopping-list you find a trolley which

has three wheels and some strange alien intent, and you try to get the ingredients you want but the trolley keeps pulling you in different directions. In the end you have to take what you can get and make whatever meal you can out of it.’ In this case, Douglas Adams makes a meal, primarily, out of his old chums Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect.

‘I basically like Arthur a lot,’ admits Adams. ‘There’s a certain slow-witted integrity about him. Ford has varied a bit over the years and has tended to fulfil whatever role has been around to be fulfilled.’ In his latest incarnation, Ford falls somewhere between gallant, dashing hero and git (with a tendency to veer towards the latter), while Arthur is given ample opportunity to display both his slow-wittedness and his integrity in his new role as grand sandwich-maker on the planet Lamuella.

‘I was looking for someone who came from the technological world we do, where none of us actually knows how technology works. You can press the buttons on that thing,’ says Adams, prodding my tape recorder, ‘but I assume you couldn’t build it. We all think we’re technologically literate, because we can press this button or that button, but none of us could ever make any of these machines we use. So I was just trying to work out what a dispossessed Earthman could actually do, and the only thing I could think of was sandwich-making.

With that, Douglas Adams is whisked off to another time and dimension (a book-signing session) by a member of another race (his publicity agent), leaving me with much to reflect on. If he really has killed off all his characters, has he also burnt all his towels? If the Guide has been bought out by a Vogon multi-universal, will it contain only poetry from now on?

The answers to these questions are not

to be found in Mostly Harmless. In

fact, if you read Mostly Harmless you’ll be left with a lot more questions than answers. But you can content yourself with the knowledge that there’s a very happy man, sitting in a garret in Islington, who will never again have to think of inventive things to do with towels. Probably. But then, everything is Random.

belated arrival. ‘I woke up sweating in the night and realised that I’d completely omitted to kill all the characters off, and I thought I’d better do that quickly. So I got

Mostly Harmless is published by Heinemann at£12. 99.

He had discovered that the reason lor the camlval atmosphere on Saquo-Plila Hensha was that the local people were celebrating the annual least ol the Assumption at St Antwelm. St Antwelm had been, during his liletime, a great and popular king who had made a great and popular assumption. What King Antwelm had assumed was that what everybody wanted, all otherthlngs being equal, was to be happy and enjoy themselves and have the best possible time together. On his death he had willed his entire personal lortune to llnancing an annual lestlval to remind everyone ol this, with lots ol good load and dancing

, and very silly games like Hunt the

Wocket. His Assumption had been such a brilliantly good one that he was made into a saint lor it. Not only that, but all the people who had previously been made saints lor doing things like being stoned to death in a thoroughly miserable way or living upside down in barrels ol dung were instantly demoted and were now thought to be rather embarrassing.

The lirst thing Arthur Dent had to do, he realised resignedly, was to get himseli a tile. This meant he had to ilnd a

planet he could have one on. It had to be a planet he could breathe on, where he could stand up and sit down without experiencing gravitational discomiort. It had to be somewhere where the acid levels were low and the plants didn’t actually attack you.

‘I hate to be anthroplc about this,’ he said to the strange thing behind the desk at the Resettlement Advice Centre on Pintieton Alpha, ‘but I’d quite like to live somewhere where the people look vaguely like me as well. You know. Sort ol human.’

The strange thing behind the desk waved some at its stranger bits around

- and seemed rather taken aback by this.

It oozed and glopped all its seat, thrashed its way slowly across the iloor, ingested the old metal tiling cabinet and then, with a great belch, excreted the appropriate drawer. It popped out a couple at glistening tentacles lrom its ear, removed some lilos lrom the drawer, sucked the drawer back in and vomited up the cabinet again. It thrashed its way back across the iloor, slimed its way back up on to the seat and slapped the tiles on the table.

‘See anything you iancy?’ it asked.

From Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams. J

12 The List 9 22 October 1992