The 21st Century Auditorium "GO 21" with Douglas Adams :)

July 1995 in msn Archive July 9, 1995 at 6PM (Sunday)

Douglas Adams "The Meaning of The Universe"

Join us for humour and insight with Douglas Adams, world-renowned for "The Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy" and its numerous sequels. Take a trip around the galaxy as we look forward into the future.

DNA: Welcome to 21st Century Online....Your Edge on the Future....We will begin in just a moment...

Host: Hello Douglas, and welcome!

Host: Could you tell us what you've been up to lately? I hear you have a book in progress.

DNA: Well, I've been working away on a book which is now extremely late... it's called "The Salmon of Doubt." I'm always a little reluctant to say too much about a work that's in progress because what inevitably happens is any idea you discuss drops out of the book. Because I am aware of that, I've been telling everybody that it's a Dirk Gently book.

Host: I'm having host problems and can't get to the guests questions at the moment...In the meantime: Would you tell us about your new multimedia interactive company "Digital Village?"

DNA: This is also taking up quite a lot of my time and energy in the last few months. It probably won't be up and functioning until sometime next year. It's a multimedia company that consists of me and a bunch of friends mostly from British TV but also one of the founding members of "Wired," and we are aiming to do -- starting at the traditional end, tv programs, also cd roms, and most important, importantly, as far as I'm concerned, online publishing. Which I think is the most exciting new area to be working in. It's rather like being in the film industry in about 1905. When the whole industry is actually being invented around you, and every idea you have is a new one.

Host: I hear you have ambitions in the rock music world....and recently played guitar with Pink Floyd. Please tell us about it.

DNA: That's right...well, this ws a birthday present to me. I had a very significant birthday last year, I was 42, and one of the guests at the party was David Gilmour, and one of his presents to me -- a considerable surprise -- was an invitation to play a couple of numbers on guitar at the Earl's Court. It's a big venue in London. There's a story about that, actually. I had a letter from somebody who was in the audience that night who relayed the following conversation to me. One person asked, "is that Douglas Adams up there playing?" And they said, "Which one?" They said "Well, he's the slightly overweight balding middleaged guy with the guitar." And they said, "Yes, but which one." It was a very extraordinary experience actually and it confirmed for me the strong desire I've had for a long time, to be a rockstar.

DanStar: When will we here in the US be able to see another of your books put to movie?

DNA: I don't know why you say another because I haven't had one made into a movie yet. "Hitchhiker's Guide" was made into a television series.

DNA: The Dirk Gently books are currently in development as a television series. The "Hitchhiker's Guide" is currently under development. I'm very confident that it will actually go into production any decade now. When... I want to know when too.

Shell_Bryson: Does Douglas think that printed media is going to get replaced with soft media: Published [exclusively] on the net?

DNA: In the long run, I think that may well happen but that's very much in the long run, it's not imminent. The death of print media has been predicted for a very, very long time. For instance, it was first predicted when computers began seriously to arrive 15 years ago. What has actually happened is that there are whole extra sections in bookstores devoted to computers. Going back to the Digital Village, one of the major things we will be setting up in the next few months is a very large scale web site, parts of which will be devoted to "Hitchhiker's Guide" and Dirk Gently and there will be tons of opportunities to interact. It will be a growing repository of anything having to do with Hitchhiker.

MarkFielder: Back in 1990, you presented a TV documentary on multimedia called Hyperland. Looking back, how do you think things have shaped up, compared to what was shown & predicted in the film.

DNA: I can't remember the film that well... But... I think that what we end up with will be both better and worse than what was suggested in the film, which is a safe answer because I can't remember precisely what the film predicted. I will make one point, actually... people talk a lot about interactive television, and indeed I talked about interactive tv a lot in that program, but I have a feeling that the medium we use for communication and entertainment will not be an extension of the television model but will be an extension of the computer model. In that I think the computer will gradually embrace all the things we currently expect from tv rather than vice versa, but that's just a guess. Here's an example of what I mean. We hear a lot about what the promises or pitfalls of video on demand may be, but as far as I can see, most of the experiments that are being conducted in that field have produced disappointing results. I think that's because it's an extension of the old couch potato model. On the other hand, the Internet is growing and growing at an astonishing rate, and we already have radio on demand, audio on demand, which is just something that somebody dreamed up and put on the Net, and it works. It's not hugely high quality yet, but the thing is, it does work. I think that a little bit further down the line when people have much faster higher bandwidth access to the Net, video on demand will just arri arrive one day amidst hundreds of other ideas that we haven't even thought of yet.

Pat-M: What do you think of such hard science fiction writers such as Gregory Benford and his ideas?

DNA: I don't think I've read any Benford. I have to say that I read very little science fiction. I think that when I read I tend to read a great deal of science fact, science nonfiction is another way of putting it. It seems to me that there's no percentage in reading science fiction if you're a science fiction writer. Because what happens is this: if you read a book and if it's not as good as what you write, then it's boring and a waste of time -- if it's better, than it makes you depressed. If it has an idea that you were thinking of using, then you can't use it any more. There's little positive to be gained, therefore, by reading science fiction.

DEstroff: Have you found the images from NASA/Hubble of the earth, satellites, galaxies etc stimulate him to think more about the universe of "Hitchkhikers Guide"?

DNA: Particularly comedy science fiction... I really can't stand it. I'm not... they don't necessarily make me think about "Hitchhiker's Guide" very much, but they certainly stimulate thought.

TJinOhio: Are there any media in which you still have not published the HitchHiker's guide? And if yes, why not?

DNA: Well, movie... why not? Simple answer, Hollywood.

Host: The images you have online here in the "HOT" images folder...what are they?

DNA: They are puzzles, so the question... I would like basically to send the question back to the questioner: what are they? The odd thing is that people have spent 15 years digging around trying to find all sorts of significances to the number 42, when I just meant it as a joke. Then when I did this grid of spheres I designed for the illustrated edition of the Guide, I decided I would build into it all sorts of hidden puzzles. As far as I can see, no one has spotted one of them. So give it your best shot and send us mail if you find something.

rivera: What happened to Mark Cowardice and how are the animals from Last Chance to See fairing?

DNA: Mark Cowardice is doing well and working very very hard as a zoologist and conservationist. I don't see him that often because he is usually on the other side of the world in a tent. The news on the various animals, some is good, some is not so good. The gorillas, particularly, are in terrible danger at the moment, because of the political upheavals in Rwanda. The rhinos continue to be under terrible threat because of the trade in rhino horn. The kakapo... continues to experience problems brought about by its own inability to reproduce properly.

Host: Could you tell us more about that project? Do you think your work with it helped ?

DNA: I hope that it helped... certainly it has produced reactions from a lot of people who would otherwise not have thought to sit and read a book about conservation work. One of the nicest responses I had to it was from a zoologist at Oxford University. He told me that he always used to have a problem when people asked him why he was a zoologist. Now he says when people ask him that question he just gives them a copy of "Last Chance to See." Then they get it, he says.

heath: Do you have any plans to revive Arthur, Ford, Zaphod etc in another Hitchhiker story?

DNA: No plans at the moment. In the past, I've made the mistake of saying Yes, I will do another Hitchhiker book or no I won't do another one and nearly always turn out to be wrong. Therefore I will make no firm predictions but will only say I have no plans at present.

Shell_Bryson: Are there going to be any CD-ROM games [based on your work]?

DNA: A lot of people have complained that I killed all the characters off at the end of "Mostly Harmless.... But there was a very good reason why I did that, which was this: at the end of each of the previous books, all of the characters were scattered all a around the galaxy so that when I came to write the next one I would spend about the first 50 pages having to act not so much as author but more as sheepdog rounding them all up. I felt that having them all dead at the end of the book was much neater. At least you know where they are! Yes, there will be CD roms. The first one will not be Hitchhiker one though, probably not even the second, either. The first CD rom I do is an all new story which is called "Starship Titanic." I will also probably do a CD rom based on "The Meaning of Liff."

TJinOhio: What are the chances of Dr. Who being revived soon and you writing another script for it?

DNA: No...I have no information about Dr. Who whatsoever. I worked on the program when was it, nearly 20 years ago, and that was a whole other stage of my life.

JordanG: I think your theory about flying only being a matter of missing the ground is brilliant (that and the 5th dimension being probability). Totally unrelated, what do you think of the similiarities between HHGTTG and Red Dwarf?

DNA: I don't know, I've never seen Red Dwarf. Refer to your previous answer... That just came about because I regularly used to have the flying dream, and it was so vivid to me that I wanted to find a way of capturing it.

DEstroff: My daughter wants to know: did you base your "Hitchhikers" characters on friends/acquaintances? My kids have memorized the radio shows- we play them in the car on long trips.

DNA: One or two of the characters are based on real people, particularly the character of Marvin was based on a friend of mine, though he became a slightly less good friend as a result of it. It's interesting to point out that Marvin is famously a very depressive character, and the person he was based on was another comedy writer because we're all a bit like that.

Host: As we are here in the 21st Century Auditorium...What is your personal vision of the 21st Century?

DNA: I think by and large it's quite an optimistic one, though it's optimistic by choice rather than necessarily by conviction. I think it is important to have an optimisti c view of the future. If we all allow ourselves to be hypnotized by the Bladerunner vision of the future, then that's what we'll get. I would say that the 20th century is one in which physics has been the queen of the sciences. I think that in the 21st century, biology will be the queen of the sciences, and the thing that makes that crucial difference is the emergence of the computer and the effect that has had on our understanding of evolutionary science. I hope our perceptions and understanding of the world, our philosophy, if you like, is based far more on profound understanding of the way the world actually works rather than wishful thinking about it. I hope that just as the technology we've had for the last couple of centuries has meant that we have lived very heavily on the earth, I hope that in the 21st century the very high technology we will have will allow us to live on the earth much more lightl lightly.

Steve_Burkholder: The vehicle of the Internet provides as never before the capability of co-operative story writing and story telling, possibly with unlimited plot lines -- does any of this interest you?

DNA: It doesn't particularly at the moment, because I haven't yet seen the point of it. It may well be that I suddenly do see the point to it, in which case I will. At one time, I didn't see the point of interactive fiction, now I do. Collaborative fiction I'm not so sure about, but give me time.

Host: Several people want to know if Dirk Gently will return (my personal favorite!).

DNA: Well, this is a complicated question. The first thing is there's a tv series in development at the moment based on Dirk Gently. I can't give you any dates other than to say that at this level of television just the contract took a year to write. The other part of the answer has to do with the book I'm working on at the moment. As I said earlier, I'm always nervous about telling people about things I'm currently working on because anything I say about it almost always turns out to be untrue. With this in mind, the only thing I've told people about the current book, "The Salmon of Doubt," is that it's a Dirk Gently book. That now turns out not to be true. I got rid of the character of Dirk Gently from it only because I was getting very very held up with the book. There was something somewhere that I couldn't get to work properly and after I'd tried shifting one thing after another inside the book realized that the thing that was actually causing the problem was Dirk himself, so I thought why not write Dirk out, then see if it works, and lo and behold, it did! The only thing I've told people about the book so far is the one thing about it that is not true.

Host: That seems to be a pattern for you! Can you tell us who will be playing Dirk? Or anything else about the tv production?

DNA: Not yet, no, I can't. One of the reasons for this is that I don't know, but that's only one of the reasons.

Mark_FrmMgr: Who are you favourite writers? Also which Scientists do you find most inspiring...

DNA: The scientists I find most inspiring are Richard Dawkins, Richard Feinman, anybody called Richard, really.

DNA: Things are moving too slowly...I'm going to turn all of you live for five minutes.

Host: Wow! great news!

Shell_Bryson: Any advice for budding SF authors out here?

DNA: Advice to people living in SF is basically keep on doing it. It's one of the places I wouldn't mind living....

Sneaker: Wow, can I have your autograph!!

DNA: Here's my autograph... there you go...

james_lord: Do you watch Star Trek TNG. What do you think of the technical aspects??

DNA: I've seen one or two episodes and I quite enjoyed it. I'm not sure I have any particuarly profound remarks to say about it. I think Patrick Stewart does a very good job.

DanStar: Do you think the rumor that AT$T buying out MS is true.. and if so how much do you think it will affect the world of science fiction.

DNA: AT&T buying what?

tedbw: AT and T is buying ziff interchange, not Microsoft

DNA: I hadn't heard that rumor. Good God! This sounds to me like a very very wild rumor.

santosc: Do you believe Earth will actually communicate with life outside our solar system?

DNA: I have no idea whether there is life out there or not -- I'd like to think there is, but the scientific view is that we don't know.

Richard_Bodor: Forget the media - what shoes are you wearing? Sandals? Loafers? (needed for my thesis)

DNA: At this precise moment, I am wearing some moccasins from Santa Fe. Thanks for asking.

Meej: You had mentioned (last year?) in your Internet newsgroup that you were working on the Hitchiker movie script. Unlike the TV series, you have only two hours to work with. Will it still cover both HGTTG and Restaurant or just the first novel?

DNA: It wouldn't be possible to do a movie that covered all that ground because as anybody in the movie industry will tell you, the thing that makes an ideal movie is a short story, not a whole book. I wouldn't say that the movie was exactly based on the first book but HH fans will probably know what I mean when I say that it is the first book that the movie specifically contradi

DNA: contracts.

DNA: contradicts.

heath: What do you think of Win95 compared to your beloved Macintoshes?

DNA: Regarding WIN95 vis a vis Mac, people are saying now it's almost as good as Macintosh. Well, that's fine for everybody that uses Windows -- I've already got a Mac and I'm very happy with it.

DNA: The problem I foresee happening with it is this, if it really is as good as Mac where will they get their ideas from?

rOOSTA: What kind of guitar did you use when playing with Pink Floyd?

DNA: I used a Joe Jones copy of a Danelectro guitar when I played with the Pink Floyd. I bought it at Route 66, which is a lefthanded guitar store.

DanStar: Do you think you will be involved in the Interactive Cable TV?

DNA: I think I will be involved in interactive network entertainment. As I said earlier, I think that what grows out of the internet promises more than what grows out of tv.

Meej: Are the problems with getting a Hitchhiker movie off the ground limited to the larger movie studios (didn't Ivan Reitman own the rights for a time?) or have you had problems with idependent studios as well?

DNA: Ivan Reitman is out of the picture.

DNA: The problem is that everybody loves it but wants it to be different.

rlith: How do you feel about censorship on the net? Do you worry about congress censoring a book of yours online do to a blue word?

DNA: I love that remark somebody made about the net that the internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.

DNA: And what is a nice irony about that is the fact that the internet is able to behave in that way. The structure was originally designed by the Rand Corporation, a right-wing think tank... that's an irony I particularly enjoy.

Mark_FrmMgr: When will the INTERNET become self aware..or is it already..if so will it develop Marvinesque tendendcies!?

DNA: I don't know if it will become self aware, but certainly it's beginning to exhibit some of's beginning to exhibit certain biological forms of behavior.

DNA: But a sponge exhibits biological forms of behavior, but none that I have ever used are self aware...

DNA: A mindset of wondering if it's time for another cup of coffee yet.

jmw: What do you prefer: The US or England?

DNA: Okay, got to go... you're all spectators again.

DNA: One last question. This time, Judith, make it good.

Host: Phew...I'm still recovering from that!!!

Host: When will you be back?

DNA: Let's shoot for September sometime.

Host: OK, last but clearly most important:

Kevin_Ryan: What's your favorite kind of tea?

DNA: US VS England...Oh, it's a hard question, I mean there's stuff I like and dislike about both.

DNA: My favorite tea is Earl Grey. My favorite parts of the States are the Bay area and New Mexico.

Host: Thanks VERY much for being here with us tonight, Douglas!

Host: Clearly, everyone enjoyed the chat!

Host: Bye, Douglas!

DNA: Cheers!

Host: Tah!