Don't Panic by Neil Gaimen
Titan Books HCVR: ISBN 1840237422 PubDate: 10/01/03
Review by Pat Nash
240 pgs. List price $ 21.95
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Don’t Panic started out in 1987 as an idea for a companion to The Hitchhiker’s Guide series, and was passed among several authors like the proverbial hot potato, until the young Neil Gaiman accepted the job. He’d already interviewed Douglas Adams several times, and had no difficulty gaining access to Adams and the rest of his associates. Adams, Gaiman writes, was bemused by the initial success of this book and would probably be just as bemused by this updated edition. With additional material by David K. Dickson and MJ Simpson, plus a few appendices, the book covers the entire stretch of Adams’ life, through his funeral, and the continuing interest in his work.
Neil Gaiman is an excellent guide, partially for his familiarity with Douglas Adams’ world and partly because he’s witty and a good writer himself. His footnotes are always instructive and often hilarious. I especially liked his choice of excerpts from various works. Including them was a boon for those of us who might clearly remember Zaphod Beeblebrox but have to wrinkle our brows to place Slartibartfast. Even if you aren’t a big fan of The Hitchhiker’s Guide, you can follow along. Reading Don’t Panic is like joining a knot of casual friends at a party and finding out what they’ve been up to since you last met – with more clarity, timing and wit than we have any right to expect.
Aside from Adams’ books, Don’t Panic covers radio, television and even live theater productions of Hitchhiker’s Guide, and a BBC radio program called Last Chance to See, that had Douglas Adams roaming around the world feeding chickens to monitor lizards and combing Madagascar for endangered animals. There is also the tale of how Adams overcame his initial reservations about computers and came to write Hitchhiker’s Guide computer games.
The more you know about the Douglas Adams canon, the more enjoyable the book. For example, page 42 is intentionally left blank. The book attempts to clear up some facts that everyone knows that ain’t necessarily so: Mr. Gaiman states that Douglas Adams was not as fully fledged a member of the Monty Python troupe as popular rumor usually has it. I had not been aware that he was involved with the Doctor Who series. And if you really must know everything there is to know about Adams – say, you have rashly used him as the subject of a five to ten page research paper on influential contributors to modern English literature – your copy will erupt with multicolored sticky notes. If you need to know what he was doing at any time period, this book will tell you, tell you why he was doing it, and with whom. Along with the biographical data comes a real feel for Adams as a human being
If you carefully read between the lines, you can use it as a sort of Horatio Alger how-to guide to success in the entertainment industry. “Step 1. Make friends with people who share your particular mania while still in college…”
Don’t Panic reawakened my thirst to read and reread Adam’s entire body of work, particularly The Meaning of Life. It started as a drinking game with John Lloyd, and gradually turned into a public service. They hijacked place-names to represent common experiences for which there were no convenient terms. For example: “It is reassuring to realize that everyone else is as stupid as you are and that all we are doing when we are standing in the kitchen wondering what we came in here for is ‘Woking’.”
If you are an Adams fan, or wondering what the fuss is all about, read Don’t Panic. And get a towel, while you’re at it.