Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Sounds Strangely Familiar (Gygax and Adams)

So, I've just finished reading WISH YOU WERE HERE, a biography of Douglas Adams by Nick Webb (2003). I'd been surprised by the date, not having realized it'd been so long (2001) since Adams died. It was good to see that Adams was the subject of not one  but two full-length biographies (having pulled this one off the shelf and carried it off and checked it out, I've forgotten the author and title of the other). This one focused on putting Adams into context with other British comic writers of his time (e.g. some mentoring by Monty Python) rather than his fellow science fiction writers (who get far less attention than science fact).

I was glad to have the chance to read this partly because I think highly of Adams' work* and partly because I'm interested in writer's block, and he's one of those authors who suffered from writer's block to an epic degree,** writing little the last decade or so of his life. He did however waste a lot of time trying to get THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY made into a movie, and at one point the author describes Adams' experiences in Hollywood in the late '90s:

"he hung about the production office doing very little. 
This gave him an unfortunate appetite for doing very little
in California, a place where the rewards from a deal
are so mind-boggling that the investment of years of
doing very little (camouflaged, of course, as networking
or contractual foreplay) may seem perversely rational."
p. 205-206

This five and a half year period in Adams' life sounds strongly reminiscent, to me, of Gary Gygax's lost years in the early 80s, when Gygax spent years in Hollywood, living the high life but accomplishing very little.

One thing I learned that I'm glad to know is that, whereas I'd always seen Terry Pratchett as having taken Adams' schtick and shifted it from science fiction to fantasy, Webb shows the dates that prove Pratchett was already writing in his characteristic style before Adams broke into print, he just hadn't had any success with it yet.

All in all an interesting, informative, slightly wistful book, rather like Adams himself.

--John R.

*thanks to Charles N. for having recommended his work to me as far back as 1981
**like Tolkien, but more so because Tolkien never lost his engagement with Middle-earth (to the end of his days he was still engrossed in his invented languages).  Adams completely lost interest in the books his audience wanted him to write (more HITCHHIKER books), whereas he wanted to try new things like DIRK GENTLY (a colossal dud) and STARSHIP TITANIC (which sank without a ripple).

P. S. Fact I didn't know: Douglas Adams' sometime collaborator John Lloyd*** wrote an unpublished novel named GiGax, this being a term he coined meaning 'the greatest area that could be encompassed by the human imagination' (Webb p. 129); he only later discovered that there was a person (our Gary Gygax) who had that name (ibid.130).

***who co-wrote two of the original twelve episodes of the HITCHHIKER radio show when Adams had ground to a writer's-block induced halt.

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