Review of The Salmon of Doubt

2 Conversations

'Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things.'

The Salmon of Doubt is a collection of writings from Douglas Adams, collated from the contents of his beloved Macintosh. It was published approximately a year after his death. It has been rumoured that SoD is the sixth book in the HHGTTG series; not so. Neither does it contain any script for the proposed HHGTTG movie, although the journey of the movie through development hell is discussed*. Salmon of Doubt was, in fact, the working title of the third novel featuring the holistic detective Dirk Gently, and the first chapters of this form the last quarter of the book.

'... he was already building a legendary reputation for not writing ... Success only added to his ability to prevaricate.'

There are three main introductions to the book, and the first of these is a note from the editor*, describing the selection of the material and the people involved. There is a prologue in the form of a reprint of an article in the Guardian by Nicholas Wroe, and then an introduction by Stephen Fry*. The book then kicks off with DNA's first published work, a letter to the Eagle*, when aged twelve. There then follows a potpourri of articles, newspaper columns, interviews and sundry unpublished work, ranging between a few lines to a few pages in length. The topics are various, but as might be expected there are quite a few on technology and ecology. More useful, perhaps, is an idiot's guide to tea-making (although it is quite possible to use it if you are a clever person as well). There are two short stories; Zaphod Beeblebrox makes an appearance in one, which hints at the real reason why the Earth was blown up. The other involves the private life of Genghis Khan...

'I don't want to know about TIFF files (I don't. They give me the willies.)'

The latter half of the book contains the eponymous novel itself. Or rather, the first 10 chapters, selected from various drafts. As might be expected, the result has the feel of a work in progress, especially when it stops just when the plot seems to be gathering momentum (quite a lot of momentum, given that a rhino is involved). The result is more frustrating than anything else, and this is arguably the weakest section of the book. The potential is there, and you get the feeling that this would have been another wonderful addition to DNA's work, if only he had had another decade or so to work on it. This is brought home by the obituary that follows (by Richard Dawkins) and then the order of the funeral service, resulting in a rather melancholy ending.

'If you can't find an astronomer yourself, then ask your parents to find one for you. They don't all wear white coats, which is one of the things that sometimes makes then hard to spot.'

So the £10 question* is; is it worth it? Well obviously I thought so... but on the whole, yes. Not for the half-novel, which is more interesting than engrossing, but for the other writing that shows many facets of DNA's character and talent.


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