Crowdfunding publisher Unbound is to launch 42: The Wildly Improbably Ideas of Douglas Adams, featuring unseen notes, scripts and ideas from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy author.
The book consists of excerpts from 67 boxes full of notebooks, letters, scripts, working notes speeches, to-do lists and poems, which were loaned by Adams' family to his old Cambridge college, St John’s. The book will also feature letters to Adams written by friends, colleagues and fans, including Stephen Fry, John Lloyd, Neil Gaiman, Caitlin Moran, Dirk Maggs, Sue Freestone, Michael Nesmith, Mark Carwardine and Margo Buchanan.
Developed in association with Adams’s estate and family, the book will be a full-colour, large-format hardback, reproducing extracts from the archive, presented with explanatory notes. The book will follow his career from early collaborations with Graham Chapman, to his work on "Doctor Who", through the Hitchhiker years, his non-fiction book Last Chance to See and his later digital work. Alongside this are details of projects that never came to fruition like a proposed "dark ride" at Chessington World of Adventures. It will be edited by Kevin Jon Davies, and will go live on Kickstarter today (22nd March).
The synopsis explains: "When Adams was alive, many of the things that we take for granted today like the iPhone, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter did not exist, and the majority of people accessed the internet through very slow dial-up connections. But the combination of Adams’ deep fascination with technology and his unique imagination meant that many of his wildly improbable ideas are now reality. As far back as 1995, he suggested that computers needed to stop being giant hulks of metal and disappear into the things around us to make them smarter. Seven years before the Kindle was invented he correctly realised, ‘The real electronic book will be a standalone device which connects wirelessly to the net.’ He even correctly guessed the rise of multiplayer online game like Fortnite: 'We tend to think of these games… as things that happen between a player and a machine... What I think will happen is gradually the machine comes out of it – or merely becomes the medium through which people play with each other.'
"The archive has a number of documents that reveal Adams’ feelings about the toil of writing. One page of erratically typed notes outlines his struggles: ‘Today I am monumentally fed up with the idea of writing. I haven’t actually written anything for two days, and that makes me fed up as well’. The same page reveals his struggles with the legacy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: ‘Arthur Dent is a burk. He does not interest me. Ford Prefect is a burk. He does not interest me. Zaphod Beeblebrox is a burk. He does not interest me. Marvin is a burk. He does not interest me. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a burk. It does not interest me.’ But then, in typical Adamsesque fashion, his complaining quickly morphs into an imagined conversation with a giant dragon called Lionel.
"Elsewhere, his ‘General Note to Myself’ is motivational: ‘Writing isn’t so bad really when you get through the worry. Forget about the worry, just press on. Don’t be embarrassed about the bad bits. Don’t strain at them… But writing can be good. You attack it, don’t let it attack you. You can get pleasure out of it. You can certainly do very well for yourself with it."
Commenting on the new project, Douglas Adams’s family said: "What Douglas loved more than a good idea was sharing a good idea, and whether it was the 1st or 100th time you had heard it, his obvious delight never diminished. We have enjoyed working with Unbound to share some of that delight with you."
Davies, who knew and worked with Adams, said: "Douglas Adams was not yet famous in 1978 when my tape recorder was first balanced on his untidy desk. He paused it mid-flow to answer the phone and released it afterwards, completing his previous sentence with a grin. His archives mirror that cluttered desk and his butterfly mind – draft pages, letters and notebooks, with inky crossings-out and “middles of thoughts” – rich with comedic genius and some truly terrible typing."
Mathew Clayton, head of publishing at Unbound, said: "Finding a new way to unlock the archive of one of the most creative thinkers of the past half-century in a way that directly engages his fans feels like the reason Unbound was invented. We wanted to make a book to enhance that legacy, to fix and reinforce Adams’s reputation as a philosopher and seer. Thanks to the enthusiastic support and guidance of his family, we think 42 will do that – and crowdfunding it is exactly the sort of revolutionary strategy that Adams would have embraced."