Thursday, December 3, 2009
Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
I want an electric monk.
As Douglas Adams tells us in this book, every civilization creates mechanical devices designed to save us from our labor. We have dishwashers to wash our tedious dishes for us, VCRs to watch those tedious television programs so we don't have to, and finally the Electric Monk to believe in those things we can't be bothered to believe in.
Is that cool, or what?
As strange as it sounds, the Electric Monk is actually integral to the plot. But this plot is complex enough to deserve it. The main character, more or less, is Richard MacDuff, an up-and-coming young computer programmer who has several unique problems. The first problem is that of his couch - it's stuck in the stairwell and, by all logic as affirmed by the best computer modeling systems, should never have gotten where it was in the first place.
The second problem is that he's wanted for the murder of his boss. He didn't do it, of course, but that kind of thing doesn't really impress the police. And, of course, there's the problem with the woman he loves, Susan, who just so happens to be the sister of the boss whom Richard is accused of murdering.
Add into all that the titular Dirk Gently, if that is his real name. Dirk is a man who, since college, has unswayingly, constantly denied having any kind of psychic powers whatsoever - which caused him some problems during his university days when he managed to correctly predict, down the the comma, the contents of a major exam.
Now older and weirder, Dirk runs his Holistic Detective Agency. His work rests on one simple principle: the Fundamental Interconnectedness of All Things. Based on a common misunderstanding of quantum theory, Dirk believes that all things are fundamentally connected to all other things, no matter how tenuous those connections might appear to the unaided eye. So during the course of, say, looking for a lost cat, it is entirely possible that he may have to go down to the beach in Bermuda. Because, fundamentally, all things are connected. And billable.
Then there's the matter of a time machine hidden in Cambridge and the temptation that can arise from having one. With what amounts to a TARDIS, one could go to any point in time and space. You could visit ancient lands, pet extinct animals or, if necessary, fix something that had gone terribly, terribly wrong. It's tricky, but it can be done. And if you're the ghost of an alien whose simple mistake – putting his trust in an Electric Monk, for example – consigned it to billions of years of insubstantial solitude, a time machine might be very tempting indeed.
There's really no good way to summarize this book. As Douglas Adams is fond of doing, there seem to be several plotlines and events which, at first, seem to have no relation to each other. But as you read, you find out that the Electric Monk isn't as funny as we thought he was, that putting a salt shaker into a piece of pottery can cause more problems than you think, and that you should always be afraid of people with nothing to lose.
As Dirk claims, all things in this book are fundamentally interconnected, even if it's not obvious at the moment.
Yes, even the couch.
“My mind is my center and everything that happens there is my responsibility. Other people may believe what it pleases them to believe, but I will do nothing without I know the reason why and know it clearly.”
- Dirk Gently, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency
Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency on Wikipedia
Douglas Adams on Wikipedia
Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency at Amazon.com