Posts Tagged ‘Douglas Adams’

Dr. Who Meets Pink Floyd

August 11, 2017

This is another fascinating and weird arrangement of the Dr. Who theme in the style of other pop/rock musicians. It’s from Taniloo’s YouTube channel, and it’s would a version by the veteran Prog Rockers Pink Floyd would have sounded like.

Well, it could have happened! Douglas Adams, who wrote the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, was a big fan of Floyd. I’ve heard that they were the model for the band Disaster Area in ‘Hitchhiker’, whose songs are all about boy being meeting girl being under a silvery moon, which suddenly explodes for no very good reason. And Disaster Area’s stage act, which involves a spaceship diving into the heart of their audience’s home star, seems to me to be very much inspired by Floyd’s song ‘Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun’. Adams was also, as Hitchhiker fans and Whovians well know, also a script editor on Dr. Who.

There’s a nod to Floyd on the double album of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which came out in 1981 or thereabouts. When Arthur, Ford, Trillian, Zaphod and Marvin land on the abandoned planet of Magrathea, the background music by Paddy Kingsland and the Radiophonics Workshop goes off into echoing Pink Floyd-esque bluesy melismas, while Arthur says, ‘Ford, do you realise this robot can sing like Pink Floyd?’

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‘Your Plastic Pal Who’s Fun to Be With’

November 2, 2015

Okay, this is something a bit lighter. This fortnight’s Private Eye carried in their ‘Funny Old World’ column a story from the Japan Times for 27th September of this year, 2015, reporting that a Japanese cybernetics company has brought out an emotional robot, ‘Pepper’. The article states

“When people are described as ‘acting like a robot’, Masayoshi Son of the Softbank Corporation told reporters in Tokyo, “it means they have no feelings or emotion, but we start challenging this concept today. for the first time in the history of robotics, we are putting emotion into a robot, and giving it a heart. ‘Pepper’ is 120 cm tall, and costs 198,000 yen (£1,110). It can read human emotions, hold conversations, make jokes, and move autonomously, but its affability should not be mistaken for something less innocent.

“For that reason, purchasers must sign an agreement, which forbids them from using Pepper for improper purposes. the policy owner must not perform any sexual act or engage in other indecent behaviour, or must they tamper with the software to give the robot a sexy voice. Any lewd acts will trigger punitive action.”

Concern about the possible misuse and exploitation of androids in Japan has also led to the formation of the Campaign Against Sex Robots. “As humanoid robots become more widespread,” the group argued in a recent press release, ” it is necessary to develop an engaged ethical response to these new technologies. Such machines could further sexually objectify women and children, and further reduce human empathy.”

The Campaign Against Sex Robots has a very good, moral point. People were, however, making sex robots as far back as the day’s of Vaucanson and the automatons of the 18th century.

But to me, the idea of an emotional robot raises another spectre entirely. It’s too much like the Sirius Cybernetics Company and Marvin, the Paranoid Android, from the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The manically-depressed robot was part of a new line of sentient machines with their own personalities. And he was a personality prototype. As he said, ‘You can tell, can’t you?’

The emotional robot is clearly designed to function as a mechanical friend, meaning that we’re back to the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the Sirius Cybernetics Company’s definition of a robot as ‘You’re plastic pal, who’s fun to be with.’

Which means this piece from the 1980s BBC TV adaptation of Hitch-Hiker is suddenly relevant …

The clip doesn’t include the further statement that a copy of the Encyclopaedia Galactica, which fell through a time warp from 1,000 years in the future, defined the Sirius Cybernetics Company as ‘A bunch of mindless jerks, who were first up against the wall when the revolution came.’

Douglas Adams was an atheist with an acute sense of the absurd nature of the world and humanity. He’s sadly no longer with us, but wherever he is, I bet he’s laughing.

Financial Times Review of Biography of Douglas Adams

October 27, 2015

Adams Hitchhiker Photo

Adams on the set of the BBC’s TV series of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Going through a pile of old newspaper clippings, I came across a review by David Honigmann of M.J. Simpson’s Hitchhiker: A Biography of Douglas Adams, published by Hodder & Stoughton, from the Saturday edition of the Financial Times for 22nd/23rd March 2003. Here it is.

The psychologist Meredith Belbin distinguished between a range of roles that individuals could play on a team. There are the co-ordinators who keep things moving, the resource investigators who grub around for materials and cut deals, the shaper/finishers who make sure projects get completed and the plants who throw out ideas. Douglas, it is fair to say, was a plant. In a casual conversation, he could throw out enough ideas for a lifetime’s writing. It was just the actual writing that came hard to him. He was ambitious enough to live in poverty on odd jobs while waiting for his big break, with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but not ambitious enough to keep working at the same rate once fame arrived.

M.J. Simpson’s biography of Adams is surprisingly tart, coming from a fan whose obsession with his subject seems to fall just this side of stalkerhood. The charges against Adams are four-fold: he procrastinated, he was starstruck, he exaggerated, his knowledge of science fiction was shallow. That Adams procrastinated is not in doubt. He learned the habit at the feet of a master, working with Graham Chapman during Chapman’s alcoholic post-Python years. After the original Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, all his books were delivered late – in many cases they were only begun after the deadline had passed. But he was, in general, so reliable as a cash-cow that editors and publishers were prepared to wait for milking-time. Nonetheless, at the time of his death, Adams had not completed a book for eight years, and his last project, Starship Titanic, had received only a lukewarm reception.

Starstruck, Adams certainly seems to have been. He went to Cambridge to ingratiate himself with the Footlights crowd: he wanted to be John Cleese and worked his way into at least an outer ring of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. His parties were studded with musicians from Procol Harum, Pink Floyd and Wings, and Islington media glitterati.

“The audience were more famous than the band,” recalls one of the latter ruefully. For his 42nd birthday, he was given a certificate entitling him to appear on stage with Pink Floyd. His school chaplain suspects that his atheism was caused by his hero-worship of Richard Dawkins. At best, this tendency in Adams meant that he exposed himself to a wide range of ideas, many of which he developed in his own work; at its worst, this star-spotting was mostly harmless. That Adams played up his anecdotes seems likely. Simpson patiently debunks some of the myths: the first book did not go straight to number one in the Sunday Times bestseller list; Adams did not have to fight his way through crowds to get to his first book signing; the original idea for Hitchhiker did not (probably) come to him as he lay drunk in a field outside Innsbruck. The myths became part of Adams’ brand. He told the stories well, as can be heard on Douglas Adams’s Guide to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, an audiocassette from BBC Worldwide. In essence, they fulfilled his desire to be a performer, not just a writer.

They may have served a function as self-defence in the face of a world with almost limitless tempting distractions. And they seem to have fulfilled his need for external validation: as someone who cherished throughout his life the time when a hard-to-please English teacher gave him 10 out of 10 for a story, he succumbed to the temptation to make his career a little more successful, a little more lucky.

The final suggestion is that Adams’s knowledge of science fiction was shallow. This is probably correct: one of the characteristics of science fiction fandom is that someone, somewhere, always knows more than you do. But as a science fiction writer, Adams had the mastertouch of being able to put names on concepts that no one previously knew they needed. The number of Hitchhiker concepts now embedded in the internet (such as the Babel Fish as a universal translator) is a tribute to this. There is one strikingly sad moment in Douglas Adams’s Guide, when Adams notes, “when you pass 40 – and I’m well past 40 – you suddenly become aware that all the things on your agenda … you’re not going to do them all.”

Had he lived longer, it is doubtful whether he would have produced much more, unless driven to it by economic necessity. Simpson considers this a waste of his talent. More charitably, one might conclude that most of his ambitions had been fulfilled and a few decades of intellectual puttering about and indulging his hobbies was a fair reward.

Despite Simpson’s general diligence, there is one striking lacuna. For the last decade or so of his life, Adams had been working on a novel to be called The Salmon of Doubt. What was to be in it changed periodically but the title remained – surprising, given Adams’s general indifference to titles. Simpson dismisses it as “a meaningless phrase”, but it is nothing of the sort. The Salmon of Doubt is a riff on the Irish legend of the Salmon of Certainty, which grants whoever eats it all the knowledge in the world. The seer Fionn labours for seven years to catch it, but when he does he leaves someone else to cook it while he gathers firewood. The other man – who turns out to be Fionn, son Uail, son of Baiscne – consumes three drops of oil from the fish, and he gets the knowledge, not Fionn the seer.

In other words, what turned out to be Adams’s last project was named for the story of someone who procrastinates for seven years over a project to gain the secrets of life, the universe and everything, only to have the prize snatched away from him at the last minute. He would have appreciated the irony.

And here’s the opening titles from the BBC TV version:

Coventry Tories Attack Food Banks and the People Who Need Them

June 29, 2014

Lady Godiva posted this video as a comment to the post I reblogged from Unemployed in Tyne and Weare about one of the Tory councillors for Coventry, Lepoidevin, blaming the people using food banks for their own predicament. She claimed that some of the people forced to turn to them did so because they chose to indulge their own selfish desires for drugs and alcohol over paying the rent and feeding their children. This video shows her actually saying that. It begins, however, with her colleague, Councillor Blundell, claiming that the rise in food banks is due to the ambition of the Trussell Trust to have a food bank in every town. Blundell then says they’re going to ‘thwart’ the Trust’s ambition, partly by ‘growing the economy’. Here’s the video:

Now, as Untyneweare’s article made clear, some of the people referred to the food banks do come from an agency dealing with those issues. However, the person, who has to spend his or her rent or money for food on alcohol and/or drugs, has gone way beyond using them for pleasure. They’re addicted. There’s a lot you can say about alcoholism and drug addiction. One of the most important is that it’s not a pleasure, it’s a clinical illness. The countries that have the best recovery rates for these diseases, like Switzerland, treat it as such. And part of the reason they succeed, is that while some people might find defying the law for forbidden and dangerous pleasures attractive, no-one really wants to be sick.

And we are dealing with severe sickness here. A friend of mine once told me he knew people, who were hooked on heroin. They once literally sold the clothes off their backs for a fix. No-one ever goes through that stage of addiction voluntarily. Somebody that does clearly needs help.

As for doing it for pleasure, the impression I had from the people, who spoke at the Uni about a project the archaeology department did in Bristol with the homeless, is that many of those on the streets, who have alcohol and drug problems, have severe psychological problems. In the case of the children and young people, they’re quite often fleeing violent and abusive home. In psychological parlance, they’re ‘self-medicating’. They’ve started using drugs and alcohol as a way of escaping from some of the inner, mental torment. They’re sick on all number of levels. Councillor Lepoidevin is basically kicking people who are severely ill, based on nothing more than the folk wisdom and morality peddled by the Daily Mail and the Express.

Just before Blair won the 1997 election, Channel 4 showed a programme ‘The Dinner Party’. This consisted of very middle class types simply talking round the dinner table about, well, Life, the Universe, and Everything. But with precious little of the late Douglas Adams’ wit, humour or intelligence. Instead, it showed them as a bunch of profoundly ignorant, sneering misanthropic snobs with a complete contempt for their social inferiors and an absolute complacency about their own status in society. The picture was so revolting, that several TV reviewers joked that Channel 4 had deliberately screened it to boost Blair’s campaign by showing how utterly disgusting the Tories were.

It’s precisely the reaction I have to the crew in this video. One of the contributors to Lobster once asked one of his friends, what the global financial elite were after the friend attended a high level banking conference. The friend said simply, ‘Worse than you can ever possibly imagine’. This shows them without the mask. And it’s ugly. Very ugly.

Nixon’s Political Heirs: Convicted Tory Peer Now Campaigns for Prison Reform

September 30, 2013

I just heard this little bit on the One Show, and it seemed a very telling sign of the post-Nixon state of British and American politics. There’s a bit in the film Whoops Apocalypse where the first female president of the USA goes in search of her predecessor to ask his advice on the current international crisis. The film shows the presidential limousine going up to a grand mansion. It then passes it, to stop at a group of convicts working on the road nearby. ‘Hi, Mr President’, the President calls from her car, ‘how’s life?’. ‘Still doing it’, replies one of the convicts. Nixon’s impeachment clearly influenced Douglas Adams’ when he was writing The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy (still better selling than Celestial Homecare Almanac). In it, Zaphod Beeblebrox, the extremely laid-back and highly weird President of the Galaxy has spent one of his two presidential terms in jail for fraud. In the TV series, there was an advert for one of Beeblebrox’s products, running ‘Vogon Firelighters Never Go Out’. Now here’s another case of reality following art.

Ben Miller was on the One Show to talk about his latest play, The Duck House. It’s based on the MPs’ expenses scandal of a few years ago. It’s hero is an MP, who flips his houses so that he can claim expenses, and employs his wife as his secretary and his son as his researcher so that he claim for them as well. The One Show then produced a few cases of what some of the real MPs got up to. This included a Labour MP, who fraudulently claimed £30,000 worth of expenses, and was jailed, and a Tory Peer, who was also imprisoned for falsely claiming £14,000. The former Labour MP has now disappeared from view, but the Tory Peer is now campaigning for prisoners’ rights and prison reform. Well, there’s nothing like personal experience. Clearly this has stopped one Tory claiming that jails are too soft on criminals.

It also shows just how far political corruption and jailing of MPs is now almost commonplace, after Jeffrey Archer, Jonathan Aitken and the Hamiltons, not to mention the Libdem couple, have been sent down. ‘How’s life, Mr President?’ ‘Still doing it’ seems to sum exactly this state of affairs. Unfortunately, none of those jailed have been Blair or Cameron, at least, just yet.