There's honestly really no way of me writing about this book without gushing all over the place. Despite the undeniable brilliance of his other books, Salmon of Doubt very quietly takes you into the mind of the introspective and thoughtful Adams that must have spent time staring deeply into the unknowable. It gets to the core of what he wrote about and why; his fascination with science which he would eventually find amusing and eventually have it evolve into jokes that he'd write into his books. And to draw all of this together, the infuriating ease with which he places words together. Though he was notorious for procrastinating and finding the writing process as arduous as almost anyone can testify, Adams was also known (after being forced to) for being able to sit down and write straight for two weeks and come out with a book. And his humor from his blog writings are so casual and flippant that there's no way to not feel awful about how unfunny and unwitty you are.
I appreciated this book for the glimpse it gave into Adams' mind, which turned out to be a minutely aware and self-searching one about technology, about himself, about life, the universe, and everything. A bittersweet compendium celebrating the man he was and mourning the future books he'll never write, the observations he'll never perfectly word in a single apt sentence.
UPDATE ON "2ND" READING:
Technically it's not my second reading, but it's been a really long time since I sat down and read the whole thing again from start to finish. It's a book I remember huge chunks of, listen to the audiobook when I'm feeling restless, dip into it when I half remember a passage and want to reread the whole section and then end up reading the whole several following chapters. In a way I've read it quite a lot. But it's been a while since I really read
it all the way through, taking in every word and really parsing everything he says.
Turns out that I've grown up a lot in that time.
I read it, incidentally, as a break from reading another one of my favorite writers whose most current work hasn't been evoking a lot of enthusiasm in me. What could be more appropriate, when disappointed by an author whose current work I feel like is somewhat regressive, than reading an author whose work never had time to grow?
Adams died at the relatively tender age of 49. It was unexpected, heartbreaking, and every time I go through this book, either briefly or wholly, I am struck by the sadness of that. He never got to see all the ways that the internet has exploded, for better or for worse - and the thing about Adams was the fact that, for the most part, he was expertly attuned to seeing technology as being for the better. His writings in this book about technology are the stuff I come back to the most. At a close second are his religious philosophies. What I got from his books at the time was not a resentment of religion but a fascination in our physical world. That our world was amazing and beautiful enough that religion wasn't required - but that didn't necessarily mean doing away with it or imposing that on other people.
And that's where I get a little relieved that I didn't have to watch Adams evolve. Because I've watched Dawkins do it, I've watched Fry do it. I've watched it turn into a spurning of religion in any form. Adams manages to hang onto his acknowledgement and understanding of it, but it's with a hint of European condescension and not exactly a difficult hop, skip, and a jump to the atheists of today. He paints it as something for the primitive locals to accept and the educated foreigners to understand. In that way, I'm glad that Adams is trapped forever in 2001 and older. It's one thing for someone to say that then; it's another thing for that mindset to holdout to this day. And I wish and want and hope and believe that he wouldn't have kept his foibles for another 16 years.
And by god are his foibles reflected well in what was left over of Salmon of Doubt. He's never been the greatest with female characters - I believe that it helped massively that Lalla Ward and Mary Tamm were sharp enough people to input personality into anything for the times he wrote Romana. They're invariably "attractive" (a massive pet peeve of mine being that female characters are introduced with a quantifier on that account - something, incidentally, that the book I was avoiding did) and often inscrutable. Richard and Arthur are both, in a way, bland, but are also both, in a way, interesting characters with interests and focus. His fumbling with characters like Kate and Trillian, bland with no personality or interests (or interests that change wildly from one story to the next), brings to sharp relief how bad he was at writing them. I don't exactly understand what was so incredibly inscrutable about the women-folk to Adams, but it does make me glad I don't have a book from him to be disappointed by. And yet, at the same time, I suffer under the missing half of Salmon of Doubt - about a cat that is missing its bottom half, like some sort of hellish ironic parallel. It remains unfinished, unfound, and despite apparently an entire well of writing in his harddrive, unknowable, taking the fate of Gusty Winds with it.
I love Adams - when I think of people whose works I've been invariably changed by, influenced by, Adams sits on top of that tower, beaming beatifically. But I'm old enough to opine myself, to have perspective and opinions separate from him (I didn't, once), and with that perspective, it's not that he's fallen in my eyes, it's that I've risen a lot since I last really perused him. This book is still incredibly important to me, and I won't deny that reading Dawkins' eulogy at the end still brings me to tears.