Douglas Adams © Michael Hughes
Bring out your towels and commemorate the life, legacy and influence of the British humorist Douglas Adams, born this week in history on March 11, 1952. He was born in Cambridge, England just months before Crick and Watson discovered DNA nearby at Cambridge University, cueing Adams -- lover of all things science -- to say he had been DNA in Cambridge months earlier.
Skyrocketing to fame through the cult of the "Hitchhiker" franchise, Adams used his signature blend of humor, wit and a practical eye to examine big life questions -- who are we? why are we here? -- with a breezy, lighthearted approach to writing. He had this sort of centripetal logic, using humor as a means to home in on the human desire for impossible answers to life's questions. For a man who readily admitted to being as equally baffled as the rest of us, he delighted in the notion of serving up arbitrary answers. Forty-two, anyone?
Outside of his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, which reached every medium from radio to television to the 2005 motion picture, Adams is also the author of Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (1987), The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (1988), and the life-changing The Meaning of Liff (1983). For his singular voice, stellar vision, and intergalactic imagination, enjoy these nine quotes from his life and works.
1. "I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by." (The Salmon of Doubt, 2002)
2. "It's nice to think that one could, even here and now, be whisked away just by hitchhiking." (Statement of 1984, as quoted in Don't Panic: The Official Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Companion (1988) by Neil Gaiman, p. 2)
3. "We don't have to save the world. The world is big enough to look after itself. What we have to be concerned about is whether or not the world we live in will be capable of sustaining us in it." (Speech at The University of California, videoed by UCTV, May 2001)
4. "The world is a thing of utter inordinate complexity and richness and strangeness that is absolutely awesome. I mean the idea that such complexity can arise not only out of such simplicity, but probably absolutely out of nothing, is the most fabulous extraordinary idea. And once you get some kind of inkling of how that might have happened, it's just wonderful. And … the opportunity to spend 70 or 80 years of your life in such a universe is time well spent as far as I am concerned." (Response to the question "What is it about science that really gets your blood running?" as quoted in Richard Dawkins in his eulogy for Adams, 17 September 2001)
5. "Let us think the unthinkable, let us do the undoable, let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all." (Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, 1987)
6. "The impossible often has a kind of integrity to it which the merely improbable lacks." (The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, 1988 Ch. 14, p. 169)
7. "For Children: You will need to know the difference between Friday and a fried egg. It's quite a simple difference, but an important one. Friday comes at the end of the week, whereas a fried egg comes out of a chicken. Like most things, of course, it isn't quite that simple. The fried egg isn't properly a fried egg until it's been put in a frying pan and fried. This is something you wouldn't do to a Friday, of course, though you might do it on a Friday. You can also fry eggs on a Thursday, if you like, or on a cooker. It's all rather complicated, but it makes a kind of sense if you think about it for a while." (The Salmon of Doubt, 2002)
8. "Generally, old media don't die. They just have to grow old gracefully. Guess what, we still have stone masons. They haven't been the primary purveyors of the written word for a while now of course, but they still have a role because you wouldn't want a TV screen on your headstone." (BBC Radio 4 radio programme on how new media and technology will change our lives)
9. "The chances of finding out what's really going on in the universe are so remote, the only thing to do is hang the sense of it and keep yourself occupied … Look at me: I design coastlines... I'd far rather be happy than right any day." (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, 1979, Ch. 3)