This week, the View steps back to look at h2g2's general reaction to Douglas Adams' death.
We've moaned and shouted.
We've even laughed at the irony of Adams' inexplicable death in light of his own views on the insanely random quality of the universe.
But more than anything, we've been reminded that we remain a very small, but important part of the galaxy.
The View will return to its regular format next week.
As we all know by now, Douglas Adams died of a heart attack last Friday at the age of 49. The world famous science fiction author was one of h2g2's original founders and had chatted online about h2g2's future and his movie in-progress as recently as this March. His programme on upcoming technology, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Future," is still airing on the BBC.
The Researchers at h2g2 had just been discussing Favourite Hitchhiker's Guide Moments and (ironically) How Best to Prepare for Old Age when the news rang out. Shortly afterward, the National Institutes of Health released new guidelines on prescribing anti-cholesterol medication to previously undiagnosed people to prevent heart disease. In many ways, Adams' death came at a most peculiar time, which is of course quite apropos all things considered.
In response to his death, a link to h2g2 was placed on BBC's front page for several hours on Monday. h2g2 also became a common link for online obitutuaries, and the response was so enormous that the site became unreliable or inaccessible for many of us for two plus days. Rather than being perturbed, the Researchers were quite understanding and even respectful about the technical issues.
Adam's Personal Space became a common place for leaving tributes, expressing communal grief, and sending condolences to the author's family. As I write this column, about 350 distinct threads have been added along those lines.1 Some of these have turned into group conversations, often with dozens of comments added over time. There are easily over 1000 posts on Adam's death on his Personal Space alone. Add to that all the journal entries and other pages where tributes have been made, and there must be many thousands of similar posts floating around. And they are still pouring in at a rapid pace.
Trolling through these threads, I'm not embarrassed to say that I can't help bawling my eyes out. Though I've been employed at a college newspaper and had more than my share of troubles with deadlines and writer's block, this column is eaily the hardest thing I've ever had to write. The emotional weight one gets while sifting through so many heartfelt sorrowful posts is simply enormous.
In general, it seems there are three distinct sentiments among our mourning Researchers. Some are simply too shocked to do more than express their loss.
"The shock was very great when I found on one of my favorite news sites this morning that Douglas was dead. I'm afraid there's nothing I can say that hasn't been said, so I'll say only: Douglas, you'll be missed. Thank you for your ideas and your books and your legacy. You'll never be forgotten. -- Sidhebaird
Many responses come from Researchers far enough past the sense of shock to send on eloquent tributes and condolences to the author's family:
"Douglas Adams wrote books that were not only great sources of entertainment, but food for thought. I am
greatly saddened knowing that his presence is no longer among us and I offer my deepest sympathies to his
family and friends on their loss. I shall always treasure the books he gifted us with. I leave with my towel in
hand, a babel fish in my ear, and a piece of fluff in my pocket. 42." -- Researcher 174762
And many others feel an inner need to honor Adams' memory with some sort of action:
"The H2G2 website is the tip of the iceberg.
I am calling everyone who was touched by the inspiration of Douglas Adams to make his vision a reality.
Let's make a guide by the people, for the people.
All you researchers, get online and submit material. Don't do it for money or fame, DO IT TO TEACH PEOPLE THE WAY DOUGLAS TAUGHT US!" -- nufe
Indeed, nufe has a point. And I'm sure we'll be seeing it again in the future. For those who wish to honor's Adams' view of the future, probably the best way to do it is to make some part of his dream into a reality. It can be argued that we at h2g2 are engaged in doing this day by day. Of course, we welcome anyone who would join us in making a go at it.
There are other more mainstream commemorative actions being suggested as well. ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha, the Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Appreciation Society, held an open meeting on Wednesday 16th May in the Florence Nightingale pub near Waterloo Station. Also, May 25th has been designated as Towel Day, and fans who wish to observe the day are asked to wear towels prominently and mention Adams and the Hitchhiker's Guide books when questioned. In a way, this weeks' Post articles form a sort of active commemoration as well.
In this forum, Peta asks us to contribute other ideas for a group tribute to Douglas Adams. This might include designating a day to read a new book, setting up a charity page and asking Researchers to give to Adams' favourite causes, or something else. Do get involved if you have any good ideas.
Of course, h2g2 is not the only location for online tributes. There are legions of individual fan pages carrying messages about Adams' death. There are about 1200 tributes at DouglasAdams.com. Another 180 or so are at BBC's Talking Point page. And so many obituaries and related stories have been featured in newspapers, magazines, and on radio and television shows that is has already become quite pointless to list them all.
Adam's family is apparently comforted by the huge response, sending on the following message to h2g2:
"Having spent a large part of the last 2 days sat staring at our computer screens this is a brief note to let you know that Douglas' family are getting huge comfort in reading your messages on this site, Jane, Polly and Mum in California, and Sue, Jane and James here in the UK. Not only are they providing an instant comfort now, not to mention quite a few laughs, but they will no doubt be read and re-read over the coming days, weeks, months etc, reminding us that we are not the only ones who have lost, and none of us are alone." -- Thrifty Boy
All in all, it's fair to say that Douglas Adams died this week and h2g2 cried. Nothing much else of interest happened, certainly nothing of which the importance doesn't pale in comparison.
And I miss him too. That's really all I have to say about it.
The Next View
Next week, we'll catch up on the statistics and changes we've temporarily ignored. Among these will be the usual statistics on h2g2's progress in approving new Edited Guide entries, my theory on why exactly the site is so addictive, and some additional tidbits on possible site updates.