Author Douglas Adams, who wrote The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, is seen at home last year in Santa Barbara, Calif. Adams died Friday at age 49. (Dan Callister/Online USA) So Long
... And Thanks for All the Fish
By Edward Mazza
May 14 — Sci-fi humorist Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy novels, died on Friday. He was 49.
Adams, who was born in the United Kingdom, apparently suffered a massive heart attack while working out at a gym near his Santa Barbara, Calif., home, it was announced on Saturday.
"He was not ill," family friend Elizabeth Gibson told the Associated Press. "This was completely unexpected."
The Hitchhiker's Guide trilogy — of which there are actually five novels — sought to answer the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything.
That answer, Adams wrote in a typical Hitchhiker's non sequitur, is 42.
From Radio to Worldwide Phenom
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy started as a BBC radio series in 1978. The novel and its sequels sold some 15 million copies — and launched a U.K. television series and a loyal cult following.
It is also currently in development as a motion picture by Disney, parent company of ABCNEWS.com.
"I'm absolutely devastated," the BBC's head of comedy, Geoffrey Perkins, told that network's news agency. "I've known Douglas for 25 years. He was absolutely one of the most creative geniuses to ever work in radio comedy."
Perkins produced the original Hitchhiker's Guide radio series.
"He probably wrote one of the greatest radio comedy series ever; certainly the most imaginative," Perkins said.
Life, the Universe and Everything
In Adams' universe, the Earth is razed for an intergalactic highway. Survivor Arthur Dent and his strange alien friend, Ford Prefect, then hitchhike the galaxy, using the Guide to help them on their way.
They also learn the importance of keeping a fish in their ears, and why one must always carry a towel.
"When I originally described The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, over 20 years ago, I was only joking. I didn't see myself as a predictive kind of science fiction writer," the author wrote.
"But it turns out that I, inadvertently, had a terribly good idea. The Guide was compiled by researchers roaming round the galaxy, beaming their copy in, which was then instantly available to anybody to read. Over, believe it or not, something called the SubEthaNet."
In other words, an intergalactic version of the Internet — a medium the author has used extensively in recent years to create a "real" version of the Guide, where folks from all over get together to offer advice on life, the universe and everything (see Web links, right).
"We're gradually beginning to get some tiny, tiny inkling of how powerful a networked community sharing information really could become," Adams writes on the site.
Recent entries discuss the virtues of cow-skin rugs and which line to use at the supermarket checkout. Some five entries are added each day, according to a note on the BBC-hosted site.
Guide contributors have throughout the weekend posted messages of mourning on the site.
The Five-Book Trilogy
The sequels to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy are The Restaurant at the End of the Universe; Life, the Universe and Everything; So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish; and Mostly Harmless.
The last title is the Guide's entire entry on planet Earth.
Adams also wrote two books about Dirk Gently's "holistic detective" agency, and Last Chance to See, a book about endangered species with Mark Carwardine.
Adams was also a founder of Digital Village, a multimedia company.
He is survived by his wife, Jane, daughter, Polly, and mother, Jan Thrift.