Ten years ago today Douglas Adams left the earth like the vanishing dolphins at the beginning of Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – well, not quite, they fled an earth destined for destruction and he merely died. But still, he left this gentle, spinning orb, and we lost a man whose contributions to the art of the quintessentially British serial sci-fi were unrivalled.
On the road to adaptation, to go from a radio serial, to a TV series, to finally a book is really the path less travelled – but that’s what Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy did, and its journey didn’t end there, becoming a mediocre film in 2005. Adams’ contributions to the genre are greater than this one franchise, though; he also wrote Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul, the posthumous Salmon Of A Doubt, the cult adventure game Starship Titanic and three episodes of Doctor Who at the height of both his fame and the show’s success, but it’s Hitchhiker’s for which he’ll be most fondly remembered.
I first encountered Hitchhiker’s through its most quotable lines, reading them aloud endlessly from a magazine article on the greatest TV sci-fi – from there I decided I wanted the book, devouring it in a matter of hours on a summer holiday – and then the DVD, on its release for my 17th birthday.
Neither medium was flawless, the series seem to trickle to a conclusion rather than pound along furiously, and the single collected volume seemed endlessly repetitive, but Adams mashed up difficult concepts into disarmingly simple chunks of irreverence – a proud tradition in comic sci-fi/fantasy – and drenched everything in an unmistakable odour of Englishness. If you ever had to explain to someone what it means to be English, or were ever in any doubt, simply look to Arthur Dent for all those reference points that still tag sci-fi and fantasy from these islands to their place of origin.
Pubs, crisps, dressing gowns, and a galaxy of wondrously absurd possibility – everything from Harry Potter to Doctor Who, to Shaun Of The Dead, has a slither of a debt owed to Douglas Adams.
And most of all, so do we.