Tales of frantic deadlines, obsessions with gadgetry and physics, and jokes told by one of history’s most amusing authors. If only all biographies could be this much fun.
Immediately ditching the cloak of scholarly reverence—and fortunately also eschewing a fan’s gushing mania—Webb dives into the messy life of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy impresario Douglas Adams, handling his subject with aplomb and not a little gentle ribbing. The large and ferociously intelligent Adams had a stiffly proper English education that he used to good effect: solid grounding in the sciences served him well in his sci-fi writing, and being so well versed in manners of British embarrassment and reticence allowed him to mock them amiably and with unerring accuracy. Webb deals with Adams’s childhood seriously but expeditiously, really hitting his stride with the author’s Cambridge years. Here, we learn about Adams’s little-known yen for theater and sketch-writing that would propel his postgraduate career. After a few years flirting with starvation and freelance sketch-writing—he was one of only two outside writers ever given credit on The Monty Python Show—the BBC agreed in 1977 to produce his radio play of Hitchhiker’s. A desperate period of overwork ensued as Adams also struggled to finish a few Dr. Who scripts, but soon the Hitchhiker novel was proposed, and once written, a smash success. While Webb’s affably irreverent tale downshifts as Adams’s celebrity climbs, there’s still plenty of good material here, mostly about the author’s infamous lateness (the best anecdote is from Sonny Mehta, who tells of locking himself into a hotel room with Adams, where Mehta wrung So Long and Thanks for All the Fish out of Adams, page by page). Adams’s death, in 2000, comes far too soon: you won’t want to let go of this gregarious and gangly master of thoughtfully comic science fiction.
Not just for the obsessives so gently chided here. A warm and humorous exploration of a generation’s answer to Vonnegut—and Einstein.