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To celebrate Douglas Adams’ birthday last weekend (March 11th), we’ve delved into the life of the wondrous man who created The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, and uncovered some absolute gems.
Of course, Hitchhiker’s. This wonderfully irreverent piece of sci-fi comedy gold has rooted itself into popular culture’s psyche, so much so that the series’ catchphrase “DON’T PANIC” was printed on the dashboard of the Falcon Heavy-launched Tesla Roadster in February of this year. The series’ other running joke—that of knowing exactly where one’s towel is—is celebrated every year on May 25th as “Towel Day”.
But that’s not all. Adams was also responsible for the fractionally lesser known Dirk Gently series—I say “fractionally lesser known” as nothing could ape the success or notoriety of Hitchhiker’s. Described by Adams as a “thumping good detective-ghost-horror-who dunnit-time travel-romantic-musical-comedy-epic”, this series of sci-fi detective novels have gone on to immense success, evidenced by the recent BBC America-Netflix adaptation.
At the same time as Hitchhiker’s was taking off, Adams was involved in another hugely popular British institution—Doctor Who. Originally scripting “The Pirate Planet” in 1978 for Tom Baker’s Doctor, he later went on to script edit the show’s seventeenth season in 1979, for which he contributed the serial with the highest ratings, “City of Death”.
And just to cap it all off, Adams played a surgeon and a pepper-pot on Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Fantastic.
The first Macintosh was released in Europe in 1984. Guess who was the first person there to buy one? You guessed it. Some sources claim Stephen Fry bought his first, though Fry himself has admitted Adams bought the very first Macintosh.
Adams’ Mac connections go further than that though. He was an “Apple Master”, part of a collection of celebrities that Apple invited to come and promote their products. His contribution included a rock video, made using the very first version of iMovie, that was made available on Adams’ .Mac homepage.
Prior to his untimely death, Adams had installed and used the first version of Mac OS X. His last post to his forum praised Mac OS X. He said it was “awesome…”—the last word he wrote here, and on his website.
You can’t make these headings up.
Yes, in 1994 Adams participated in a charity climb of Mount Kilimanjaro for Save the Rhino International, a group designed to raise awareness of ever-diminishing rhinoceros numbers. Roughly 100,000 pounds (170,000 AUD) was raised for this effort, which saw Adams not only wear the suit for the entire climb up the mountain — he also wore it on the way there.
This makes sense though, when put into the context of Adams’ deep passion for animal conservation. He was a committed supporter for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, ad consistently rallied for ongoing rhino conservation efforts.
This didn’t go unnoticed. Longtime friend Richard Dawkins, upon Adams’ death, wrote in his obituary for The Guardian that “Science has lost a friend, literature has lost a luminary, the mountain gorilla and the black rhino have lost a gallant defender.”
If you remember the 1986 fantasy extravaganza that is Labyrinth (and I really hope you do), you might also be aware of the Lucasfilm video game Labyrinth. It is a game where the player has to defeat David Bowie’s Jareth within 13 real-time hours. What makes the game extra special is that Douglas Adams was brought on board for a week-long brainstorming session.
It wasn’t a random hire; Adams had worked with Infocom to develop Hitchhikers’ 1984 video game adaptation. His next venture with Infocom was the hilarious Bureaucracy—you can imagine from that title alone, paired with Adams’ off-the-wall humour, what it might have entailed.
Adams was a founder-director and Chief Fantasist (a real job title) at The Digital Village (now defunct), with whom he created the seminal Starship Titanic, published by Simon & Schuster in 1998. This text-adventure game also developed a language processor to interpret any random player input appropriately. This was a huge step-up from standard text games at that point, which required specific inputs to get a response. the game was a huge success from an industry viewpoint, and it won a Codie Award in 1999.
Ever wanted to have your own version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? Adams knew, and was one step ahead of you.
In 1999, Adams kickstarted the h2g2 Collaborative Writing project, which was an experimental attempt at turning Hitchhikers into a real-world guide. Similar to Wikipedia, it was a collaborative project that allowed members to share information about their corners of the earth on all manner of topics.
Adams was involved with h2g2 from the start. His account name was DNA, and his user number was, appropriately, “42”. Though the site is still used extensively, Adams’ death in 2001 marred the enjoyment for many users, and his legacy is still felt through the site to this day.
This year’s #HybridWorldADL will take place in July in the city of Adelaide. For more details about the event, click here.