Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Knowing where your towel is.

Let's see, exactly how much of where I am now can I blame on Douglas Adams.

My uncle Emile got me reading Hitchhiker's Guide when I was 12 or 13 years old, and I tore through them as fast as my public library could keep me stocked up. I still remember the second- or third-edition hardcovers with their crinkly clear protective cellophane covers. Sitting up in my room reading away, chapter after chapter. At some point my own writing -- because back then I was going to be a young sci-fi prodigy, doncha know -- started taking on what I genuinely believed was an Adamsesque bent. (It wasn't.) Then again, I believe anyone in the genre went through that phase where they decided they could do it, too; that time where you think your only hope is to mimic someone else's spark of genius rather than letting that spark illuminate your mind enough for you to find your own.

I remember, too, eventually hitting the (literally) explosive ending of Mostly Harmless and turning the book over to see Adams's smug smile, as though he was saying, 'Go on, I dare you to ask for more books now.' Then finding the TV series. Becoming aware of the original radio series but having no access to it because this was America in the 1990s. Finding 'Marvin, I Love You' and really wondering what the hell was going on.

I discovered the Dirk Gently books at the same library when my eyes landed on the title The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul on my next visit. I assumed it was some book nestled in the Hitchhiker's Guide series that I'd somehow missed, since I recognised the title as a quote from the series. I was rather surprised to end up reading (and enjoying) a detective story with entirely new characters, and backfilled the first book soon after.

And from there... Doctor Who. Because my boyfriend at the time realised that Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency came from Shada and thought showing me the VHS of scenes from the latter narrated by Tom Baker would be my gateway drug. It wasn't... but it got the show on my radar enough for my to try the movie. (You'll be able to read my complete retelling of that saga in the upcoming You and 42 anthology from Watching Books.)

And, er, we all see where that's put me 17 years later.

Speaking of Dirk Gently -- meeting Stephen Mangan in London in 2013 after seeing him as Bertie Wooster at the West End. Yes, this might just be an excuse to show this photo off.

I remember the first Towel Day. I was 20 years old, still in college. A few of us went to Patrick Henry Mall, got photos in a photo booth with our towels, and were generally actually quite happy. It was a bit weird, the 'happy' part. Then again, Towel Day was always meant to be something of a worldwide wake -- the happy after the sad.

Though as sad as it was, I don't think my heart ever truly ached over it until I finally read Salmon of Doubt. That was a book of mixed emotions. I was doing fine until I got into the final unfinished Dirk Gently book. I was extremely pleased to have it to read (I've always been a detective fiction nut, so Dirk beats H2G2 a tiny bit in my affections), but when it just... left off... That's when it hit me. There was no more. There would never be any more. and nothing drives it home quite like a book just stopping.

It's a bit pleasing, in retrospect, to see that both Adams and Terry Pratchett are remembered today. I have no lilac to wear with my towel, but I am thinking quite a bit of both writers right now. Especially today, when I've just come off finishing two short stories and a light novel that are all about to go into their final stages before coming to you, dear reader. Both influenced me a great deal, but Adams was the one who showed me so much of what got me on track as a writer. The joy of wordplay, but also knowing where and how to use it. The knowledge that just because something is funny doesn't mean it's not a genuine contribution to the genre. The willingness to let drama be funny and let comedy be serious as it wants to be.

We're never going to see the likes of Douglas Adams again. But I'm happy knowing we're going to see generations of writers who learned (and will continue to learn) from being fans of his work, and that science fiction is just that much more inventive, that much more fun, for his presence.