Towel Day ’17: Do You Know Where Your Towel Is?

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has a few things to say on the subject of towels.

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost”. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in “Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.” (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)

One of my long-delayed goals is to write up a good all-purpose Tribute to Douglas Adams post, and another Towel Day has come without me doing so. Belgium.

Next year . . . or later.

Adams is one of those handful of authors that I can’t imagine I’d be the same without having encountered/read/re-read/re-re-re-re-read, and so I do my best to pay a little tribute to him each year, even if it’s just carrying around a towel (I’ve only been able to get one of my sons into Adams, he’s the taller, thinner one in the picture from a couple of years ago below). is the best collection of resources on the day, recently posted this pretty cool video, shot on the ISS by astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti.

Even better — Here’s an appearance by Douglas Adams himself from the old Letterman show — so glad someone preserved this:

Love the anecdote (Also, I want this tie.)

Reread Project: Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams

Mostly HarmlessMostly Harmless

by Douglas Adams
Series: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy, #5

Hardcover, 278 pg.
Harmony Books, 1992

Read: July 7 – 12, 2016

1 Stars

I was dreading this one — typically, like X-Men: The Last Stand, or The Highlander sequels, I prefer to pretend this doesn’t exist. It’s the only one of the series that I haven’t bought my son, and I don’t plan on changing that. Which doesn’t mean I couldn’t be won over — after 4 or 5 tries, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency finally clicked with me, I keep hoping this will.

But it didn’t this time (I think my 5th reading).

Which is not to say there aren’t some parts that don’t deserve to be celebrated — almost everything Ford does (for example) is great. There’s a little bit with Trillian, a bit of Tricia McMillan (no, really, I meant to list those separately) and a smidgen of the Arthur material that’s okay. But not much. Don’t get me started on Random.

There’s some really clever bits here and there, some great lines — and some bits that are clearly attempts to recapture the spirit/zaniness of the earlier books, but without the heart. The narrative as a whole (after such a huge leap forward with So Long) was worthless, the story didn’t work. And the ending? Flummery. It was like Adams was just trying to get away from the series and put it in his rearview mirror. Which I get, I absolutely understand, he wanted to do something other than just crank out another Hitchhiker’s after another after another. But this was not the way to do it.

Just avoid this one, don’t bother. But if you think I’m wrong — tell me why! I’d love to be convinced that Adams couldn’t write a bad book.


1 Star

Reread Project: So Long, and Thanks For All The Fish by Douglas Adams

So Long, and Thanks For All The FishSo Long, and Thanks For All The Fish

by Douglas Adams
Series: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy, #4

Mass Market Paperback, 214 pg.
Del Rey, 1999
Read: June 14, 2016

Arthur had a swordfish steak and said it made him angry. He grabbed a passing waitress by the arm and berated her.

“Why’s this fish so bloody good?” he demanded, angrily.

“Please excuse my friend,” said Fenchurch to the startled waitress. “I think he’s having a nice day at last.”

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: this is my favorite Douglas Adams novel. Sure, The Hitchhiker’s Guide is fantastic and I love it and you can make a strong case that at least one of the Dirk Gently novels is his best (I expect I’ll be doing so in a couple of months) — but this is the one that does it for me.

Unlike the previous three, there is an actual narrative here — it’s not a collection of scenes, jokes, and vignettes loosely tied together. Arthur Dent arrives on Earth (no, really) after traipsing from one end of the galaxy to the next; from the end of the universe, to the beginnings of life on Earth; basically all throughout time and space (sadly, without the blue box). And now he’s trying to re-acclimate to life at home. Which has somehow not been destroyed, neither has his house. In fact, everything’s pretty much like it was before.

Just with everyone convinced that the Vogon Constructor Fleet was a CIA-induced Mass Hallucination. Not everyone believes it, but most do. Two people who don’t believe that are a man named Wonko the Sane and Fenchurch. Both of whom are pretty cool characters.

I’ll skip Wonko, because the name says everything. Fenchurch, on the other hand, is perfect. She’s everything that Trillian never got the chance to be (except in the semi-disastrous final chapters of Life, the Universe, and Everything. She’s funny, smart, sexy — just what Arthur needs. I’d happily read a book just about her.

There’s a mention of Zaphod — briefly — but that’s it. So the zaniness fell into Ford’s capable lap. I’ve always liked Ford better, anyway. And he’s able (as always) to pull off the zaniness, the comedy, the . . . everything without being quite the obnoxious twit that Zaphod is.

Ford’s his usual delusional, clueless, charming, drunken self.

Here was something that Ford felt he could speak about with authority.

“Life,” he said, “is like a grapefruit.”

“Er, how so?”

Well, it’s sort of orangy-yellow and dimpled on the outside, wet and squidgy the middle. It’s got pips inside, too. Oh, and some people have half a one for breakfast.”

“Is there anyone else out there I can talk to?”

Arthur comes out of this one looking pretty good, too. He’s not whining, he’s not just getting pulled around by his dressing gown wherever whim strikes Ford (or Zaphod). He’s mature, capable, witty. He sees a problem or two and solves them (even if one of those problems is just “who was that girl I almost met the other day”?). He’s almost a wholly different guy when he’s home. Which makes him a lot like the rest of us — which is sort of the point of Arthur since we first met him.

One of the highlights of the last book was the section about flying, I’m pretty sure I said that. The section here about flying is better — Arthur teaching Fenchurch, Arthur remembering how to do it in the first place — and then the two of them flying around. It’s just about perfect.

And, of course, there are little bits like:

Of course, one never has the slightest notion what size or shape different species are going to turn out to be, but if you were to take the findings of the latest Mid-Galactic Census report as any kind of accurate guide to statistical averages you would probably guess that the craft would hold about six people, and you would be right.

You’d probably guessed that anyway. The Census report, like most such surveys, had cost an awful lot of money and told nobody anything they didn’t already know — except that every single person in the Galaxy had 2.4 legs and owned a hyena. Since this was clearly not true the whole thing eventually had to be scrapped.

    There’s a few things I’d love to go on and on about, but no one wants to read me gushing and gushing and gushing, so here are the assorted highlights:

  • The zig at the end of the Prologue.
  • Arthur’s biscuit/train station story. Seriously, I just love this.
  • Rob Mckenna
  • Wonko the Sane naming the world The Asylum and his house Outside the Asylum.
  • Wonko the Sane’s name.
  • All the California jokes. Clearly, he’d been vacationing there too much.
  • The whole thing about the lizard government and democracy is both funny and relevant.
  • Chapter 25 is just dandy.

The last chapter or two are a little weak, pretty close to the older books in tone and style. But they work, they are tied into the narrative and star Marvin. So who’s going to complain? Not me.

Really, I’ve got nothing but positive things to say about this. I love it. One of the easiest 5-star ratings I’ve ever given.


5 Stars

15 Years Ago

I distinctly remember where I was sitting, and who was around, when I read the news 15 years ago that Douglas Adams, a mere 49 years old, had died of a heart attack. I’m not usually one who reacts when a celebrity dies (usually), but this one shook me.

Adams’ wit, style, perspective, and books had a formative impact on my adolescence — for good or ill — and my adulthood.

I hadn’t realized this year was the 15th anniversary of his death when I decided to do my big re-read of his works this year, but I’m glad I’m doing it. I’ll talk about him a little bit more in a couple of weeks (and when I get around to reading the next books on my list), but for now, I just wanted to take a brief moment to reflect on his death.

A couple of days later, John Kovalic’s Dork Tower ran this comic (tweaked 5 years ago) which pretty much summed things up for me.

Reread Project: Life, The Universe and Everything by Douglas Adams

Life, The Universe and EverythingLife, The Universe and Everything

by Douglas Adams
Series: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy, #3

Paperback, 232 pg.
Del Rey, 2005

Read: April 18, 2016

“One of the interesting things about space,” Arthur heard Slartibartfast saying . . . “is how dull it is?”

“Dull?” . . .

“Yes,” said Slartibartfast, “staggeringly dull. Bewilderingly so. You see, there’s so much of it and so little in it.”

Between General Busy-ness and having a hard time locating a reading copy of this book (I have one leather-bound edition of the “trilogy” pre-Mostly Harmless that I’m trying not to further abuse and a 1st edition that I really don’t want to abuse at all), I didn’t get to reading this one on schedule. I was briefly tempted to write this up from memory — and I think I’d have hit 80% of the same things, but that seemed dis-honest, somehow.

Also, I really wanted to read the Belgiuming thing (if you’ll pardon the expression)

Thankfully, the Nampa Library came through. So, yeah, a little late and without further ado…

Sigh. This one just doesn’t work as well as its predecessors, does it? You can sense how hard Adams is trying to recapture the sensibility of the previous two novels — but it just comes across like someone trying (or locked in a hotel room by his editor until he’s done, which I believe is what happened here). For example, look at the concept of Bistromathic Drive, if that’s not a desperate attempt to remake the Infinite Improbability Drive, I’m a frood who doesn’t know where his towel is. And then the whole Krikkit saga? Don’t get me started with that.

Which is not to say that this doesn’t have some good moments — most of Ford’s dialogue is great. The whole thing with Agrajag is both a great call-back and a fun diversion. The best part of the book (both in concept and execution) has to be:

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has this to say on the subject of flying.

There is an art, it says, or rather, a knack to flying.

The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.

It goes on for quite a while after this — and I love every bit of it.

I had forgotten Marvin’s arc in this — I enjoyed that more than the rest (even if it wasn’t as good as his arc in Restaurant). It’s the best use of Trillian in the series, bar none. So, it wasn’t a total wash. Still, it felt forced, his heart didn’t seem to be in it. Which made us even, I guess, my heart sure wasn’t. Still, Adams on an off-day is better than most things.


3 Stars

Reread Project: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams

I think WordPress’ spell-check might explode if I add another sentence or two to this….

The Restaurant at the End of the UniverseThe Restaurant at the End of the Universe

by Douglas Adams
Series: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy, #2

Mass Market Paperback, 245 pg.
Ballantine Books, 1995

Read: February 13-15, 2016

If you’ve done six impossible things this morning, why not round it off with a breakfast at Milliways, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe?

I think in the past, I’ve enjoyed The Restaurant at the End of the Universe more than this time, but I’m not sure why. Which is not to say that I didn’t have a blast, I just usually have more fun. From the intricate — and death-defying — difficulty of making a good cup of tea; to the extreme lengths some people will go to for a dining experience; to perspective that a little cake can give; to considering what color a wheel should be or whether fire should be nasally-inserted — this book covers all the bases. While still episodic in nature, it seems less so than its predecessor — and far less so than its successor. It’s a stronger novel, not quite as funny, but still better than most “funny” or “light” SF than you’ll find.

[Gargravarr] had rather liked Zaphod Beeblebrox in a strange sort of way. He was clearly a man of many qualities, even if they were mostly bad ones.

Most of this book showcased the ex-President of the Galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox the First (how is great-grandfather was Zaphod the Fourth lies in one of the best lies Adams ever penned). Now Zaphod’s not my favorite character — actually, I typically dislike him as a character. As a joke-generator, a font of one-liners? He’s great. Probably most of the quotable lines in this book are his (even Arthur’s best line is immediately denigrated by him “Yeah, and don’t you wish you hadn’t?”).

We see the reason for his stealing of The Heart of Gold in the last book, we’re taken on a wild and twisty ride for him to complete his quest and then . . . it just stops. I’m sure it’s supposed to be in an absurd way or something, but it seems pointless (probably the point).

And then we’re off to Milliways. Ahhh, Milliways — this is an absolutely perfect part of the book. That this is the book’s title is absolutely fitting. There’s nothing about it I don’t like here — Max Quordlepleen’s banter (the oddly bittersweet introduction of him), Hotblack Desiato (and his tax plan), the Dish of the Day . . . I’m going to shut up before I just copy and paste the whole thing.

The rest of the book focuses on Arthur (and Ford, but, a little less), who I like, but don’t laugh at nearly as much.

“Poor Arthur, you’re not really cut out for this life are you?” [Trillian asked]
“You call this life?”

Something I’ve been thinking about this read-through is this: why Arthur? He’s one of Ford’s oldest friends on Earth — but we know he has multiple friends, he could’ve picked any of them — why Arthur? Surely, Ford would’ve had at least an inkling that Arthur would turn into the whiny Monkey-man that Zaphod can’t stand. It’s easy to see why Tricia McMillan would go off with Zapod as Phil over this wet blanket, well, towel. Trillian here has the same thought — and if we’re given a good explanation for that, I don’t remember it. Any of you have a guess (or a quotation) to justify Ford’s improbable choice?

Now, I may have sounded less that totally satisfied with this book — which is oddly true. I do think the Golgafrinchan Ark Fleet Ship B story is pretty “blah” and goes on far too long (into the next book). But it gives us gems like this:

It is a curious fact, and one to which no one knows quite how much importance to attach, that something like 85 percent of all known worlds in the Galaxy, be they primitive or highly advanced, have invented a drink called jynnan tonnyx, or gee-N-N-T’Nix, or jinond-o-nicks, or any one of a thousand or more variations on the same phonetic theme. The drinks themselves are not the same, and vary between the Sivolvian “chinanto/mnigs” which is ordinary water served at slightly above room temperature, and the Gagrakackan “tzjin-anthony-ks” which kills cows at a hundred paces; and in fact the one common factor between all of them, beyond the fact that the names sound the same, is that they were all invented and named before the worlds concerned made contact with any other worlds.

making it hard to complain too much.

There are a lot of laughs to be had here — I didn’t even mention Marvin’s contributions, which were just gold. And any time with Adams is worth it. A must-read follow-up to the classic, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.


4 Stars

Reread Project: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyThe Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

by Douglas Adams
Series: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy, #1

Mass Market Paperback, 216 pg.
Del Rey Books, 1995 (originally, 1979)

Read: January 14 – 15, 2015

If I’m not really careful, this will be the longest thing I ever post here. Let’s see how much restraint I have, shall we?

I think I read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for the first time in 1987 (maybe 1988), and have read it countless times since then. I quote it all the time (frequently unconsciously and unintentionally) — I think I’ve even plagiarized it a couple of times (really unintentionally). The only reason that my PIN isn’t 4242 is because it seems to be too obvious. I love this book. Rereading it is still fun. Even though I have paragraphs committed to memory, I can hear large portions of it in the voices of the original radio play actors, still the act of reading it is enjoyable, it’s like coming home after a long day at work.

The fixation on digital watches seems so quaint. It starts in the first paragraph and doesn’t really let up until late in the book. I so wish Adams was with us to see what he’d do with our smartphone addictions.

So much of what Adams does here has been repeated by others that he inspired, it’s tough to see some of it as fresh anymore, but he didn’t so much break the mold as ignored it and accidentally created a new one.

The Vogons are fantastic creatures. From the description of their evolutionary process — abandoned though it may be — their anatomy, their inherent meanness, to the commentary on civil servants. Just a fun alien race to read about. But is Adams satisfied with that? No. He adds the monstrosity that is their poetry (and the swipe at the old schoolmate) and they near perfection.

The Babel fish, what can you say about that? They are inspired. They take care of a problem that every space-bound Science Fiction story has to deal with in a way that’s actually more believable than technology-based solutions (Doctor Who does the same thing a bit less convolutedly, but less amusingly, too).

The Python-esque dialogue of the representatives of the Amalgamated Union of Philosophers, Sages, Luminaries and Other Thinking Persons. Is just a delight and picks up what could be a lull in the story.

Another little bonus that’s easy to over look is cop ex machina appearance of the Blagulon Kappa police officers — they’re a great commentary on law enforcement, notions of masculinity, depictions of both in the media — and how all three were undergoing a change at the time.

Strip away all the laughs, the jokes, the satire, the general zaniness and you still have a decent story — not a great one, mind you, but a decent one. There’s some good character work here, too — but it’s hard to see. The reactions of both Arthur and Trillian to the destruction of Earth are a lot deeper and real then Adams needed to make them. Unfortunately, that’s about all the good that Adams does with Trillian. Arthur still has some good treatment in his future.

It’s not perfect, don’t get me wrong — there are some problems with the characters (see Trillian), it being an adaptation of the radio program makes things a bit episodic with clunky transitions, and other hiccups (like the multiple introductions of Ford Prefect). Still, the highs are higher than the lows are low and there are a lot more of them.

    I stopped taking notes of particular lines on page 5 this time, there are just too many to count, and far too many to list. Still, there are a few I have to note:

  • “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”
  • “This must be Thursday. . . I never could get the hang of Thursdays.”
  • “You’d better be prepared for the jump into hyperspace. It’s unpleasantly like being drunk.”
    “What’s so unpleasant about being drunk?”
    “You ask a glass of water.”
    (I’m not sure why, but this has always made me chuckle, if not actually laugh out loud. It’s just never not funny)
  • “He had found a Nutri-Matic machine which had provided im with a plastic cup filled with a liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.”
  • “In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centuari. And all dared to brave unknown terrors, to do mighty deeds, to boldly split infinitives that no man had split before . . . “
  • “Look,” said Arthur, “would it save you a lot of time if I just gave up and went mad now?”
  • Slartibartfast
    (okay, not technically a line, but that name…c’mon)

It’s a classic, you just need to read it if you haven’t. If you have, is it time for a re-read?


5 Stars
(only because I don’t have time to make a 6-star graphic) 6 out of 5 stars, easy.