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The Salmon of Doubt
Douglas Adams
Harmony Books, 288 pages

The Salmon of Doubt
Douglas Adams
Douglas Adams was born in Cambridge in 1952 and educated in Essex before returning to Cambridge to study at St John's College. He worked as a radio and television writer and producer before the publication of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in 1979. The novel went on to sell more than 14 million copies and was followed by the sequels The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Life, the Universe and Everything and So Long and Thanks For All the Fish. He married Jane Belson in 1991 and they had a daughter in 1994. He died in May 2001 in Santa Barbara, California, following a heart attack.

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A review by Steven H Silver

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For more than a decade, Douglas Adams had been promising to deliver a novel entitled The Salmon of Doubt. Originally billed as the third Dirk Gently novel, in recent years, rumors began circulating that Adams was turning the book into a sixth Hitchhiker's novel. Long known for his preternatural ability to procrastinate, Adams died on 11 May 2001 before he could finish even the first draft of the book.

The most recent of Adams's long-suffering editors culled through numerous hard drives to recreate as much of the novel (eleven chapters) as Adams had written. Since this hardly is the making of a complete book, the editor added two of Adams's short stories and several autobiographical essays to the mix to produce a collection, with the long-awaited novel's title, which provides insight into Adams's life and concerns.

The book is divided into three sections, named "Life," "The Universe," and "and Everything." The first section contains numerous interviews and essays in which Adams talks about his own experiences. Relating tales like his attempts to avoid wearing short pants when he towered over everyone else, Adams manages a deprecating humor as he describes a childhood which appears to have a fair share of personal pain.

The second section of the book contains essays Adams wrote about causes he was concerned about. One of the most notable causes was the salvation of endangered species, which Adams discussed in his non-fiction book, Last Chance to See. In support of this, Adams discusses an expedition he was part of which climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with group members wearing a rhinoceros costume. Other essays from this section include a lengthy look at Adams's idea of an artificial deity. This long, favorable discourse on atheism manages to retain Adams's sense of the absurd which may help to keep it from alienating those readers who hold religious beliefs.

The final section of the book contains notes on the as yet unmade Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie, two short stories and the novel fragment. The movie notes are full of the same optimism Adams has shown for twenty years that the film will eventually be made, and although there is still the possibility, with Adams's death, it seems increasingly unlikely.

The first story is "The Private Life of Genghis Khan," in which Adams paints a banal picture of the emperor's life. Although the story is well written, it is essentially a single joke carried on past its expiration date. It also seems to take a nod from too much bad sketch comedy. Apparently unable to come to a suitable conclusion, Adams tacked one on which has nothing to do with the story and is more an in-joke than anything else.

The second story, "Young Zaphod Plays It Safe" is probably Adams's most widely read short story, as it appeared in the omnibus edition of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. This story follows one of the protagonists of his most famous series at an earlier age and, while it contains some hint of the humor from the books, it does not work as well.

Of course, the piece for which most people will, presumably, purchase The Salmon of Doubt, is the titular novel. Although Adams expressed misgivings about writing The Salmon of Doubt as a Dirk Gently novel, indicating that he might recast it in the Hitchhiker's template, the fragment works quite well as written. Gently finds himself discovering more about himself than he had every realized just as he discovers that an unknown person has been paying him a retainer. Using his holistic method to allow random events determine the shape of his investigation (into what he doesn't know), Gently finds himself in Arizona where he sees tie-ins to other cases. Unfortunately, Adams hasn't provided enough clues or notes to determine how Gently would manage to tie together the various clues and plots which seem to be alive around him, and the book comes to a dissatisfying end. However, it rekindles the mood which was so successful in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-time of the Soul. The fragment included here makes it evident that Adams's proclivity for procrastination and untimely death resulted in the loss of an highly entertaining novel.

Copyright © 2002 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver in one of SF Site's Contributing Editors as well as one of the founders and judges for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He is Chairman of Windycon 29 and Midwest Construction 1. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is the editor of three anthologies forthcoming from DAW. He is a two-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer. He lives in Illinois with one wife, two daughters and 5000 books.


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