Contented Reader

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Gareth Roberts


It’s a tale as old as time.  Well, no.  But it is an old story that most reasonably nerdy people already know.

In 1979, Douglas Adams had been the author of a BBC radio series known as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  It had been a success, but Adams was not yet the wealthy, famous, massively influential writer he would ultimately become.  He was a young writer who had had one successful project but who still had bills to pay.

He took a job as script editor for Doctor Who.  It was season seventeen, with Tom Baker as the Doctor and Romana as companion.  During the course of his time with the show, he wrote three episodes.  Two of them. The Pirate Planet and City of Death, are available on the relevant collections of DVDs, and they’re good episodes.

The third Douglas Adams episode was Shada.  He wasn’t happy with the way it turned out, and so it was almost a relief when a labor dispute interrupted the filming, leaving it only partially finished.  Years later, when Adams was so famous that the ‘lost episode was legendary, the half-finished episode was released on video, to Adams’s chagrin.

Adams recycled elements of the plot to become the truly wonderful novel Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, which is high on my list of books that always make me happy.

I felt some hesitancy when I saw this novelization of Shada at the bookstore.  I’d seen the video version, and it was… not as good as one might hope, though it had some good moments at the beginning.  ‘This,’ I said, ‘is another attempt to part the honest nerd from her hard-earned money by capitalizing on the name of a great writer who did not write this book.  Douglas Adams is gone forever, and he’ll never write another book, no matter how much I might wish for him,’ and then the black existential despair descended upon me again.

Only a little.

So I put it on hold at the library, and… it’s good.  Surprisingly good.  It’s surprisingly easy to believe that if Douglas Adams had sat down to novelize his old lost episode the way he would have wanted it to turn out, this might have been the result.  It isn’t exactly Adams, but Roberts has done surprisingly well at being true to his voice, without trying so hard to imitate Adams that it turns out awkward and painful.  It’s the closest thing to a new Douglas Adams book we are going to get, and I’m glad I read it.  I might even buy it, when it comes out in paperback.


Written by Contented Reader

August 9, 2012 at 8:27 am

Posted in Reviews


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