Book Review: Don’t Panic

I’m not usually a big fan of reading biographies. Even of people I admire. The thing is, if you really admire someone, you probably know a fair bit about what they’ve been doing with their life. It stands to reason. Otherwise, what do you admire them for? And, often, before you even start to read a biography, you know how it’s going to end: the main character is going to end up dead. And they don’t even include a spoiler alert on the jacket.

All that aside, I jumped at the chance to read the book Don’t Panic: Douglas Adams and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy written by Neil Gaiman. This is a not a biography of Douglas Adams (arguably one of the most exciting, innovative and quirky writers in the history of ever) No, this is a biography of his idea. It’s a biography of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Douglas Adams’ relationship to and with it. It’s a biography of a thought, a concept, a radio show, a book, a sequel, a sequel’s sequel, a computer game, a TV series, the fourth book in a trilogy, an almost-movie, and the last Hitchhiker’s book that wasn’t. And it was written by Neil Gaiman, one of my favourite authors. How could I resist?

The original version of this book was published in 1988, and titled Don’t Panic: The Official Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Companion. It was then reprinted and renamed in 1993. Then, after Adams’ untimely and sudden death in 2001, the book was revisited, rewritten, and republished in 2002. One of the best online reviews of the book that I came across prior to reading it was written in 2004, and sums up the feel of the book perfectly:

The book does not feel like a night of solitary reading. It feels as if you casually ran into Neil Gaiman at a pub, bought a round, and giggle like a fangirl over the behind-the-scenes book legends of The Hitchhiker’s Guide. (This is not to assume Neil Gaiman giggles, which I can neither confirm nor deny.)

The book includes interviews, quotes, letters, and anecdotes that really draw the reader into the world of Hitchhiker’s and Douglas Adams. It traces the life of the original idea through the ups and downs, triumphs and tribulations, fame and infamy of its existence. And, even for a “fangirl” like me, it gave me a new and different insight into the life of the author, the book, and the environment that produced the Hitchhiker’s phenomenon.

I came away with an even greater respect for Douglas Adams, as well as the people who had to work with him. (I doubt anyone would have described him as low-maintenance. Genius? Yes. But not low-maintenance.) And I found myself wishing that he had lived long enough to see the massive explosion in the popularity of e-books and e-book readers that we have today, considering that he was writing about a dedicated e-book reader long before they had even been considered.

Read it. You know you want it.

***** SPOILER ALERT *****
Douglas Adams dies at the end, but the main character (that is, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) is still going strong. Did you know that you can play the Hitchhiker’s game online? Tastes just like the original, but now with added graphics.

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