The Salmon of Doubt by Douglas Adams (2002)

Book review: The Salmon of Doubt by Douglas Adams (Pan Macmillan, 2002), foreword by Stephen Fry

thesalmonofdoubtThe Salmon of Doubt comprises ten chapters of the novel on which Douglas Adams was working at the time of his death in May 2001, along with an astonishing collection of pieces recovered from his beloved Macintosh computer.

The plot of The Salmon of Doubt is as intriguing as its title and sees Dirk Gently simultaneously on the trail of half a cat and an actor whose sudden appearance is perhaps not as random as it seems. Starring alongside the pizza-addicted detective are Thor Norse God of Thunder, Dave of DaveLand and a highly confused rhinoceros called Desmond. Other fictional stories include ‘Young Zaphod Plays It Safe‘, featuring the intergalactic star of the Hitchhiker series, and ‘The Private Life of Ghengis Khan’, written with Graham Chapman, in which the emotional needs of a barbaric marauding killer are revealed.

Non-fiction pieces range from an earnest twelve-year-old Douglas’s letter to Eagle magazine, through insights into a teenage mind full of adoration for the Beatles and loathing for short trousers, to lectures reflecting Adams’s exceptional understanding of our natural, technological and philosophical worlds. Here too are articles on subjects as diverse as religion, the ‘little dongly things’ making a mess of computers, the letter Y and Douglas’s love affair with two dogs in New Mexico.

For fans and new readers alike, The Salmon of Doubt is the ultimate smorgasbord of the insanities, urbanities and wondrous workings of life, the universe and everything.

The loss of Douglas Adams was a blow to a lot of us. For the people who knew him, it was a lot worse (of course) than for us fans, so when this book came out, it was welcome. Not because it had the bits so far of the new Dirk Gently novel he was working on, but because it’s a celebration of his life. From his love of scifi and computers to his love of music and endangered species … and his radical Atheism.

In Stephen Fry’s great foreword, there was something that caught my attention. Perhaps because it’s the way I too feel about Adams as a writer:

Douglas has in common with certain rare artists (Wodehouse again included) the ability to make the beholder feel that he is adressing them and them alone/…/ When an especially peachy Adams turn of phease or epithet enters the eye and penetrates the brain you want to tap the shoulder of the nearest stranger and share it. The stranger might laugh and seem to enjoy the writing, but you hug to yourself the thought that they didn’t quite understand its force and quality the way you do – just as your friends (thank heavens) don’t also fall in love with the person you are going on and on about to them.

Well said, Mr. Fry. It’s that personal connection you feel to Douglas Adams, even though you have never met him in your life. The same one that made me burst into tears ten years ago when mentioning his passing to my mum, who of course thought I should get a grip because I didn’t know him. “You don’t understand!” I probably sobbed in response, but it’s true. If you’ve never had the pleasurable experience of being plugged into the wonderful mind of Douglas Adams, you will never understand why not just friends and family, but many a fan shed tears that day.

What makes me sad, reading this book, is how much techology has leaped forward in the past decade. Ten years ago, there was no YouTube, no social networking, no blogging … no nothing. How pleased would Douglas Adams have been at the launch of the iPad? How many iPhones would he have had and how many app ideas would he have come up with? Imagine following him on Twitter, for goodness sake! Now we can’t, and we’ll never know how many brilliant thoughts he could have shared with the world in 140 characters or less.

This book, as specified in the official description blurb above, is a collection of articles, interviews, letters, speeches and various bits and bobs. It even gives a view on Feng Shui and we’re taken to a trip to Australia to see manta rays. If you don’t just enjoy the writings of this man but consider them near to sacred, this is a book you need to have. Sure, you might find the two short stories re-printed elsewhere and articles floating around on the Internet, but it’s not the same. This is a celebration of a great man. His thoughts, experiences and his widespread tech geekiness.

The final part of the book contains the twelve chapters he had managed to write in the new Dirk Gently novel. It’s as fun, quirky and thought-provoking as ever, and it’s a shame there will never be an end to it. Or a middle. Life is cruel sometimes.

Ten years. To think he totally missed the whole war on terror. Bet he would’ve had a bucketload of things to say about that. And they would have been mind-bogglingly brilliant and made us smile too.

5 out of 5 procrastinating baths.


2011 marks the 10th anniversary of the death of British comedian, author, genius, procrastinator and technology geek Douglas Adams, which I think is something worth commemorating and will therefore be posting several posts related to him and his works spread over the year.

Today’s date is, sadly, the ten year anniversary of his too early death in Santa Barbara. 🙁 The world still misses you, big guy.

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