Douglas Adams

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"The hotel shop only had two decent books, and I'd written both of them."

Douglas Noel Adams (11 March 1952 - 11 May 2001) was a British author and satirist, most famous for his The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series of radio plays and books.


See also: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Sourced

  • . . . imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, 'This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!' This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it's still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything's going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.
  • "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.
  • If you try and take a cat apart to see how it works, the first thing you have on your hands is a non-working cat. Life is a level of complexity that almost lies outside our vision; it is so far beyond anything we have any means of understanding that we just think of it as a different class of object, a different class of matter; 'life', something that had a mysterious essence about it, was God given, and that's the only explanation we had. The bombshell comes in 1859 when Darwin publishes 'On the Origin of Species'. It takes a long time before we really get to grips with this and begin to understand it, because not only does it seem incredible and thoroughly demeaning to us, but it's yet another shock to our system to discover that not only are we not the centre of the Universe and we're not made by anything, but we started out as some kind of slime and got to where we are via being a monkey. It just doesn't read well.
    • As quoted in Richard Dawkins' Eulogy for Douglas Adams
  • 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.
    • Answering Richard Dawkins' question 'What is it about science that really gets your blood running?'. as quoted in Richard Dawkins' Eulogy for Douglas Adams
  • The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.
  • You are disoriented. Blackness swims toward you like a school of eels who have just seen something that eels like a lot.
    • The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy text adventure, published by Infocom.
  • I think a nerd is a person who uses the telephone to talk to other people about telephones. And a computer nerd therefore is somebody who uses a computer in order to use a computer.
  • A learning experience is one of those things that say, 'You know that thing you just did? Don't do that.'
    • Interview in The Daily Nexus, April 5, 2000 (reprinted in The Salmon of Doubt)

The Meaning of Life (1983)

(Co-written with John Lloyd) ISBN 0-330-28121-6
  • AALST (n.) One who changes his name to be further to the front
  • ABOYNE (vb.) To beat an expert at a game of skill by playing so appallingly that none of his clever tactics or strategies are of any use to him.
  • CLIXBY (adj.) Politely rude. Briskly vague. Firmly uninformative.
  • FAIRYMOUNT (vb. n.) Polite word for buggery.
  • LAXOBIGGING (ptcpl.vb.) Struggling to extrude an extremely large turd.
  • SHOEBURYNESS (abs.n.) The vague uncomfortable feeling you get when sitting on a seat which is still warm from somebody else's bottom
  • WOKING (vb.) To enter the kitchen with the precise determination to perform something only to forget what it is just before you do it.

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (1987)

  • Let's think the unthinkable, let's do the undoable, let's prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.
  • If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family Anatidae on our hands.
  • "What really is the point of trying to teach anything to anybody?"
    This question seemed to provoke a murmur of sympathetic approval from up and down the table.
    Richard continued, "What I mean is that if you really want to understand something, the best way is to try and explain it to someone else. That forces you to sort it out in your mind. And the more slow and dim-witted your pupil, the more you have to break things down into more and more simple ideas. And that's really the essence of programming. By the time you've sorted out a complicated idea into little steps that even a stupid machine can deal with, you've learned something about it yourself.
  • The teacher usually learns more than the pupils. Isn't that true?
    "It would be hard to learn much less than my pupils," came a low growl from somewhere on the table, "without undergoing a pre-frontal lobotomy."
  • The door was the way to... to... The Door was The Way. Good. Capital letters were always the best way of dealing with things you didn't have a good answer to.
  • And that, apart from a flurry of sensational newspaper reports which exposed him as a fraud, then trumpeted him as the real thing so that they could have another round of exposing him as a fraud again and then trumpeting him as the real thing again, until they got bored and found a nice juicy snooker player to harass instead, was that.
  • This was the evening of the last day of Gordon Way's life (...) The weather forecast hadn't mentioned that, of course, that wasn't the job of the weather forecast, but then his horoscope had been pretty misleading as well. It had mentioned an unusual amount of planetary activity in his sign and had urged him to differentiate between what he thought he wanted and what he actually needed, and suggested that he should tackle emotional or work problems with determination and complete honesty, but had inexplicably failed to mention that he would be dead before the day was out.
  • WFT-II was the only British software company that could be mentioned in the same sentence as such major U.S. companies as Microsoft or Lotus. The sentence would probably run along the lines of "WFT-II, unlike such major U.S. companies as Microsoft or Lotus ..." but it was a start.
  • "Or maybe she decided that an evening with your old tutor would be blisteringly dull and opted for the more exhilarating course of washing her hair instead. Dear me, I know what I would have done. It's only lack of hair that forces me to pursue such a hectic social round these days."
  • The seat received him in a loose and distant kind of way, like an aunt who disapproves of the last fifteen years of your life and will therefore furnish you with a basic sherry, but refuses to catch your eye.
  • "(..) Sir Isaac Newton, renowned inventor of the milled-edge coin and the catflap!"
    "The what?" said Richard.
    "That catflap! A device of the utmost cunning, perspicuity and invention. It is a door within a door, you see, a ..."
    "Yes," said Richard, "there was also the small matter of gravity."
    "Gravity," said Dirk with a slightly dismissed shrug, "yes, there was that as well, I suppose. Though that, of course, was merely a discovery. It was there to be discovered." ...
    "You see?" he said dropping his cigarette butt, "They even keep it on at weekends. Someone was bound to notice sooner or later. But the catflap ... ah, there is a very different matter. Invention, pure creative invention. It is a door within a door, you see."
  • If the Universe came to an end every time there was some uncertainty about what had happened in it, it would never have got beyond the first picosecond. And many of course don’t. It’s like a human body, you see. A few cuts and bruises here and there don’t hurt it. Not even major surgery if it’s done properly. Paradoxes are just the scar tissue. Time and space heal themselves up around them and people simply remember a version of events which makes as much sense as they require it to make.

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (1988)

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It has been suggested that The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul be merged into this article or section. (Discuss)
  • It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the phrase, 'as pretty as an airport.' Airports are ugly. Some are very ugly. Some attain a degree of ugliness that can only be the result of a special effort.
  • "My name is Kate Schechter. Two 'c's, two 'h's, two 'e's, and also a 't', an 'r', and an 's'. Provided they're all there the bank won't be fussy about the order they come in, they never seem to know themselves."
  • It was a battered yellow Citroën 2CV which had had one careful owner but also three suicidally reckless ones.
  • I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.
  • Dennis Hutch had stepped up into the top seat when its founder had died of a lethal overdose of brick wall, taken while under the influence of a Ferrari and a bottle of tequila.
  • Thor was the God of Thunder and, frankly, acted like it.
  • The impossible often has a kind of integrity to it which the merely improbable lacks.
  • It was his subconscious which told him this - that infuriating part of a person's brain which never responds to interrogation, merely gives little meaningful nudges and then sits humming quietly to itself, saying nothing.
  • Dirk was unused to making such a minuscule impact on anybody. He checked to be sure that he did have his huge leather coat and his absurd red hat on and that he was properly and dramatically silhouetted by the light of the doorway. He felt momentarily deflated and said, "Er..." by way of self-introduction, but it didn't get the boy's attention. He didn't like this. The kid was deliberately and maliciously watching television at him.
  • "A suffusion of yellow." (A calculator's response to the question of any math problem with an answer larger than four.)
  • It was a couple of days before Kate Schechter became aware of any of these things, or indeed of anything at all in the outside world.
    She passed the time quietly in a world of her own in which she was surrounded as far as the eye could see with old cabin trunks full of past memories in which she rummaged with great curiosity, and sometimes bewilderment. Or, at least, about a tenth of the cabin trunks were full of vivid, and often painful or uncomfortable memories of her past life; the other nine-tenths were full of penguins, which surprised her. Insofar as she recognised at all that she was dreaming, she realised that she must be exploring her own subconscious mind. She had heard it said that humans are supposed only to use about a tenth of their brains, and that no one was very clear what the other nine-tenths were for, but she had certainly never heard it suggested that they were used for storing penguins.
  • The Great Zaganza said: "You are very fat and stupid and persistently wear a ridiculous hat which you should be ashamed of."
  • Yes, it was an act of God. But which God?

Last Chance to See (1991)

... any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still know where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.
  • Mark Carwardine's role, essentially, was to be the one who knew what he was talking about. My role, and one for which I was entirely qualified, was to be an extremely ignorant non-zoologist to whom everything that happened would come as a complete surprise.
  • The aye-aye looks a little like a large cat with a bat's ears, a beaver's teeth, a tail like a large ostrich feather, a middle finger like a long dead twig and enormous eyes that seem to peer past you into a totally different world which exists just over your left shoulder.
  • We talked about how easy it was to make the mistake of anthropomorphising animals, and projecting our own feelings and perceptions on to them, where they were inappropriate and didn't fit. We simply had no idea what it was like being an extremely large lizard, and neither for that matter did the lizard, because it was not self-conscious about being an extremely large lizard, it just got on with the business of being one. To react with revulsion to its behaviour was to make the mistake of applying criteria that are only appropriate to the business of being human.
  • I am rarely happier than when spending an entire day programming my computer to perform automatically a task that it would otherwise take me a good ten seconds to do by hand.
  • The great thing about being the only species that makes a distinction between right and wrong is that we can make up the rules for ourselves as we go along.
  • I don’t like the idea of missionaries. In fact the whole business fills me with fear and alarm. I don’t believe in God, or at least not in the one we’ve invented for ourselves in England to fulfil our peculiarly English needs, and certainly not in the ones they’ve invented in America who supply their servants with toupees, television stations and, most importantly, toll-free telephone numbers. I wish that people who did believe in such things would keep them to themselves and not export them to the developing world.
  • Here the man in blue crimplene accosted us once more but we patiently explained to him that he could fuck off.
  • (..) I say roughly, because the gorillas are not yet sufficiently advanced in evolutionary terms to have discovered the benefits of passports, currency declaration forms, and official bribery, and tend to wander backwards and forwards across the border as and when their beastly, primitive whim takes them.
  • I watched the gorilla's eyes again, wise and knowing eyes, and wondered about this business of trying to teach apes language. Our language. Why? There are many members of our own species who live in and with the forest and know it and understand it. We don't listen to them. What is there to suggest we would listen to anything an ape could tell us? Or that it would be able to tell us of its life in a language that hasn't been born of that life? I thought, maybe it is not that they have yet to gain a language, it is that we have lost one.
  • I didn't notice I was being set upon by a pickpocket, which I am glad of, because I like to work only with professionals.
  • We are not an endangered species ourselves yet, but this is not for lack of trying.
  • I've heard an idea proposed, I've no idea how seriously, to account for the sensation of vertigo. It's an idea that I instinctively like and it goes like this. The dizzy sensation we experience when standing in high places is not simply a fear of falling. It's often the case that the only thing likely to make us fall is the actual dizziness itself, so it is, at best, an extremely irrational, even self-fulfilling fear. However, in the distant past of our evolutionary journey toward our current state, we lived in trees. We leapt from tree to tree. There are even those who speculate that we may have something birdlike in our ancestral line. In which case, there may be some part of our mind that, when confronted with a void, expects to be able to leap out into it and even urges us to do so. So what you end up with is a conflict between a primitive, atavistic part of your mind which is saying "Jump!" and the more modern, rational part of your mind which is saying, "For Christ's sake, don't!" In fact, vertigo is explained by some not as the fear of falling, but as the temptation to jump!
  • Three days later I found myself standing on top of a termite hill staring at another termite hill through binoculars.
  • Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.
  • The kakapo's persnickety dietary requirements are a whole other area of exasperating difficulty. It makes me tired just to think of them, so I think we'll pass quickly over all that. Imagine being an airline steward trying to serve meals to a plane full of Moslems, Jews, vegetarians, vegans and diabetics when all you've got is turkey because it's Christmas time.
  • The system of life on this planet is so astoundingly complex that it was a long time before man even realised that it was a system at all and that it wasn't something that was just there.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Future (2001)

A BBC Radio 4 produced radio programme on how new media and technology will change our lives

  • It'd be like a bunch of rivers, the Amazon and the Mississippi and the Congo asking how the Atlantic Ocean might affect them… and the answer is of course is that they won't be rivers anymore, just currents in the ocean.
On his response to representatives of the music, publishing and broadcasting industries who asked Douglas at a conference how he thought technological changes will affect them, and hoped his response would be something to the effect of, "not very much"
  • It's important to remember that the relationship between different media tends to be complementary. When new media arrive they don't necessarily replace or eradicate previous types. Though we should perhaps observe a half second silence for the eight-track. - There that's done. What usually happens is that older media have to shuffle about a bit to make space for the new one and its particular advantages. Radio did not kill books and television did not kill radio or movies - what television did kill was cinema newsreel. TV does it much better because it can deliver it instantly. Who wants last week's news?
  • 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.

The Salmon of Doubt (2002)

  • 'Stotting' is jumping upward with all four legs simultaneously. My advice: do not die until you've seen a large black poodle stotting in the snow.
  • 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.
  • All opinions are not equal. Some are a very great deal more robust, sophisticated and well supported in logic and argument than others.
  • Anything that is in the world when you're born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that's invented between when you're fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things.
  • There is no problem so complicated that you can't find a very simple answer to it if you look at it right ... Or put it another way, "The future of computer power is pure simplicity.
  • I am fascinated by religion. (That's a completely different thing from believing in it!) It has had such an incalculably huge effect on human affairs. What is it? What does it represent? Why have we invented it? How does it keep going? What will become of it? I love to keep poking and prodding at it. I've thought about it so much over the years that that fascination is bound to spill over into my writing.
  • I'd take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day.
  • My favourite piece of information is that Branwell Brontë, brother of Emily and Charlotte, died standing up leaning against a mantelpiece, in order to prove it could be done. This is not quite true, in fact. My absolute favourite piece of information is the fact that young sloths are so inept that they frequently grab their own arms and legs instead of tree limbs, and fall out of trees.
  • The hotel shop only had two decent books, and I'd written both of them.
  • Anything that happens happens, anything that in happening causes something else to happen causes something else to happen, and anything that in happening causes itself to happen again, happens again. Although not necessarily in chronological order.
  • We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works.

Unsourced

  • Driving a Porsche in London is like bringing a Ming vase to a football game.
    • From Don't Panic: The Official Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Companion
  • I may be a pretty sad case, but I don't write jokes in base 13!
    • Douglas Adams, referring to the theory that the disparity between the question and answer of life, the universe and everything is an obscure math joke on his part. He mentioned this when interviewed on the BBC by Clive Anderson, among other occasions.
  • "42 is a nice number that you can take home and introduce to your family"
    • Douglas Adams, responding to the "Why 42?" at Brown University (circa 1994)
  • Mozart tells us what it's like to be human, Beethoven tells us what it's like to be Beethoven and Bach tells us what it's like to be the universe.
  • "Humans are not proud of their ancestors, and rarely invite them round to dinner."
    • From The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
  • "Mark Knopfler has an extraordinary ability to make a Schecter Custom Stratocaster hoot and sing like angels on a Saturday night, exhausted from being good all week and needing a stiff beer."
    • Adams' Description of the guitar on the Dire Straits track "Tunnel of Love"
  • "Flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss."
    • From The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

Religion

  • Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?
  • I find the whole business of religion profoundly interesting. But it does mystify me that otherwise intelligent people take it seriously.
  • If I were not an atheist, I think I would have to be a Catholic because if it wasn't the forces of natural selection that designed fish, It must have been an Italian. (Riding the Rays, an article written in 1992)
    • From Last Chance to See, after seeing all the different colored fish around the Great Barrier Reef.

Computers

  • I wrote an ad for Apple Computer: 'Macintosh - We might not get everything right, but at least we knew the century was going to end.'
  • He started to count to ten. He was desperately worried that one day sentient life forms would forget how to do this. Only by counting could humans demonstrate their independence of computers. -Ford Prefect, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
  • The Macintosh may only have 10% of the market, but it is clearly the top 10%.
  • First we thought the PC was a calculator. Then we found out how to turn numbers into letters with ASCII — and we thought it was a typewriter. Then we discovered graphics, and we thought it was a television. With the World Wide Web, we've realized it's a brochure.
  • [The World Wide Web is] the only thing I know of whose shortened form — www — takes three times longer to say than what it's short for.
  • Technology is a word that describes something that doesn't work yet.
    • JavaOne keynote, 1999
  • The idea that Bill Gates has appeared like a knight in shining armour to lead all customers out of a mire of technological chaos neatly ignores the fact that it was he who, by peddling second-rate technology, led them into it in the first place.
  • I first saw this program in the same week that evidence was discovered of life on Mars. This is more exciting.
    • On the subject of Creatures, an artificial-life computer program

Learning

  • You live and learn. At any rate, you live.
  • I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don't know the answer.
    • (Zaphod Beeblebrox - H2G2)

Profession

  • In fact, I wanted to be John Cleese and it took some time to realize the job was in fact taken.
  • Writing is easy. You only need to stare at a piece of blank paper until a drop of blood forms on your forehead.
    • (note: this quote is often attributed to Gene Fowler rather than Douglas Adams.)

Time

  • It takes an awful long time to not write a book.
  • Time is the worst place, so to speak, to get lost in...
  • I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they go by. (This quote was originally used by Scott Adams in a Dilbert comic strip)
  • Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so. (Ford Prefect)

Travel

  • If you've never visited or spent time in Santa Fe, New Mexico, then let me say this: you're a complete idiot. I was myself a complete idiot till about a year ago.....
    • From "Maggie and Trudie"

Hollywood

  • Getting a movie made in Hollywood is like trying to grill a steak by having a succession of people coming into the room and breathing on it.
    • MIT (1999)

Life

  • "Life, is like a grapefruit. [...]it's orangey-yellow and dimpled on the outside, wet and squidgy in the middle. It's got pips inside, too. Oh, and some people have half a one for breakfast." (Ford Prefect, in a dream sequence)
  • "He hoped and prayed that there wasn't an afterlife. Then he realized there was a contradiction involved here and merely hoped that there wasn't an afterlife."
  • "It is a mistake to think you can solve any major problems just with potatoes."
  • "Life! Don't talk to me about life." (Marvin)
  • "What to do if you find yourself stuck with no hope of rescue: Consider yourself lucky that life has been good to you so far. Alternatively, if life hasn't been good to you so far, which given your present circumstances seems more likely, consider yourself lucky that it won't be troubling you much longer."
  • "It's funny how just when you think life just can't possibly get any worse it suddenly does." (Marvin)
  • "Life, loathe it or ignore it, you can't like it." (Marvin)
  • "Everybody has their moment of great opportunity in life. If you happen to miss the one you care about, everything else in life becomes eerily easy." Mostly Harmless

The Universe

  • There is a theory which states that if anybody ever discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened. - (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, almost all versions)
  • The simple truth is that interstellar distances will not fit into the human imagination - (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy)
  • In the beginning the universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move. - (The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe)

External links

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