There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Douglas Adams's Starship Titanic on the bus

In the late 1990s, Douglas Adams, author of the famously popular "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," was working with friends developing an adventure game that used state-of-the-art (for late 1990s) graphics and a natural language parser to create an interactive adventure story. It was called Starship Titanic.

Adams considered writing a novel about the Starship Titanic, but his publisher insisted that it be published at the same time as the game. He didn't have time to do both and so he focused on the game.

And then Terry Jones arrives. Wikipedia summarizes Jones as "a British comedian, screenwriter and actor, film director, children's author, popular historian, political commentator and TV documentary host." And, at that time, the voice of a parrot in the game Adams was creating.

As Adams explains in the introduction to the book, "When Terry saw all the graphics and character animations we had been creating over the previous months, he became very excited about the whole project and uttered the fateful words 'Is there anything else you need doing?' I said, 'You wanna write a novel?' and Terry said, 'Yeah, all right. Provided,' he said, 'I can write it in the nude.' "

And the humor of Terry Jones' book "Douglas Adams's Starship Titanic" is stark naked.

The book is just as much fun as Adams' "Hitchhiker" series. I was particularly found of the Yassaccans, an industrious folk known throughout the galaxy for their dependable construction work. And peace-loving, too.

A black rage swallowed Bolfass whole, and the next moment he had swiveled out his SD handgun and blasted the three newcomers to cosmic dust -- their bodies exploded in a supernova of entrails and mangled flesh that quickly reached white-heat and, happily, burned out before they could bespatter or stain the beautifully hand-lacquered walls.

Lucy was aware of a violent cacophony of noise and her eyes were whited-out by the most piercing light. She screamed, grabbed onto The Journalist, and fell in a faint upon the floor. It was that terrifying.

Bolfass grinned and blew away the smoke from his SD handgun. His anger assuaged, he twirled the gun on his finger and slipped it back into its holster.

It has to be explained at this point that the Yassaccans were a peace-loving, kindly race -- dedicated to craftsmanship and sober industry. Many of them, however, were also prone to blind, blood-lusting rage when confronted by certain things, such as sloppy workmanship or a disregard for fine handcrafting. In the distant past these rages had led to terrible destruction of life and property, and since the moods went as quickly as they came, they had also led to unendurable remorse for many thousands of these otherwise benign and caring folk. The Yassaccan scientists had, therefore, developed the SD weapon, which, unlike the sort of hardware most military scientists come up with, was designed to reduce death and destruction rather than increase it. The Simulated Destruction weapon -- or SD gun -- gave the user the momentary impression of having wreaked the bloody revenge that his crazed fury craved without actually doing any damage. It always surprised and stunned the enemy, but that was all.

As one might expect from a book whose origins flow from the development of an interactive story, the plot sometimes devolves into a manual for the game:

At that moment, The Journalist suddenly burst onto the Captain's Bridge.

"The ship's on automatic!" he panted. "But the central intelligence core is missing some of its parts. We can't control the ship unless we can locate all the missing bits of the system and get them back into place!"

Still, it is a fun read. If you like Douglas Adams' books, you will enjoy Terry Jones' effort.


qofd said...

I miss Douglas Adams. I think I spelled that wrong but still... I miss him. But I also like Terry Jones quite a lot. So I'm half happy and half sad to see this book come out. Or something like that.

wburg said...

I so need an SD gun.

Terry Jones' stuff is just brilliant: "Goblins of the Labyrinth" is a favorite of mine. Adams himself is hit-or-miss, but with Jones actually doing the writing (with Adams' name up top to boost sales) I'm sure it's a hoot...I'll have to keep an eye open for it the next time I'm used-book hunting.

John said...

I'll definitely have to add "Goblins of the Labyrinth" to my list. I'm currently wading into David Halberstam's "The Coldest Winter, his posthumously published history of the Korean War. It's a big book, so I'll be on this for awhile.

I found "Starship Titanic" at an "Antique" store going out of business in Ashland, Ore. The book was published in 1997, just four years before Adams died of a heart attack.