Thursday, January 6, 2011
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The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams
This is the second of the Dirk Gently books - and the final one - and is no easier to explain than the first. But I'll try.
In this story, Dirk is contracted to meet a client one morning at 6 AM, and play bodyguard. The time is vital. The client has made it a point that Dirk absolutely, positively has to be there by six, and he's willing to pay handsomely for it. So when Dirk wakes up at 11 AM, he suspects that he's screwed up royally.
His suspicions are confirmed when he arrives at the home of his client, who is sitting quite comfortably in an armchair while his head is rotating slowly on a nearby turntable. The only clues to his grisly demise are his ravings about a green, scythe-wielding monster and a mysterious packet of papers, written in a language that Dirk cannot begin to understand. But he does know their shape - they're a bill. But for what services, and rendered by whom? So now Dirk has to figure out who, or what, did this to his client and why.
But there's more to this story (isn't there always?) An American woman, Kate Schechter, is one of the survivors of the explosion of an airline ticket counter, something that everyone who knows about explosions is calling an "act of god." But which god would do such a thing, and why? Lucky for her, Kate is about to find out, and she's also about to find out why gods aren't quite all they're cracked up to be.
There aren't a lot of greater themes in this book - it's an adventure, of sorts, but as far as overarching messages go, it's pretty thin other than watch out for eagles and be nice to homeless people. It's entertainment as only Douglas Adams can deliver it. There is some thought given to gods, however, which is a topic I always enjoy. In Small Gods, Terry Pratchett asks where gods come from, and what sustains them. In American Gods, Neil Gaiman asked the question of what happened to gods who were brought to America by their believers. Adams asks what happens to gods once we don't actually need them anymore.
We made them, after all, and most of the time we made them immortal. We needed gods to be bigger than we, stronger than we, and generally everything we weren't. And then we went around infusing them with humanity - with jealousy, courage, rage and fear. When we were done with them, we let them go. But that didn't mean they went away. An immortal is an immortal, and without work to do or followers to deal with, what is a god to do? In the case of Odin, the father of gods and the ruler of the Norse pantheon, the solution is very simple. What's more, it keeps him pampered and cared for, which is all he ever really wanted.
While I love Hitchhiker's Guide first and foremost among Adams' works, I really wish he could have lived to write more Dirk Gently books. The character is a person of reprehensible ethics and somewhat tarnished morals, but you can't help but love him. Lurking refrigerators, coffee-thievery and all, you find yourself wishing that you could hang out with Dirk, while at the same time knowing that he'd probably invite you out for lunch and somehow make you pay for the meal. He's a bad person, but an excellent detective - and a great character.
So pick this one up and give it a read. It's fast, it's fun - you won't regret it.
"Nobleness was one word for making a fuss about the trivial inevitabilities of life, but there were others."
Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul on Wikipedia
Douglas Adams on Wikipedia
The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul on Amazon.com
The Douglas Adams Homepage