Even though Douglas Adams died twenty years ago his legacy lives on with iterations of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and its sequels regularly popping up in multiple formats. One of his lesser known projects was devising a computer game in which a starship crashes into your home and then takes off with you on board in the company of increasingly failing and irritating technology. This is only outdone by an onboard crazy parrot as you try to pilot back to Earth before a talkative bomb detonates. It’s something that could only have been devised by the genius of Adams; here’s a trailer to give you a taster
As part of the original process a novelised version of the game was supposed to be provided. But if you know anything about the author, you will know the one thing that he hated was writing and that he regularly missed/ignored deadlines. So, with five weeks to go before product launch he phoned his friend Terry Jones and asked him to provide the book; it made it to the shelves on time. Jones, also alas no longer with us, did an incredibly good job of aping Adams’ style, as does a newly dramatized audio version of Starship Titanic broadcast on the BBC last weekend and now available via Sounds. It is adapted by Ian Billings and masterminded by Dirk Maggs, who has kept Adams’ flag flying with the audio versions of the later entries to the Hitchhiker’s Guide saga as well as the Dirk Gently books. The production is a great homage to Adams and Jones, capturing the technologically whimsical spirit and clever humour of both authors.
Of course, in any Adams related product there has to be a sardonically voiced book – I think it may well be enshrined in law. This time round it is called “The Encyclopaedia Galactica” and, pleasingly, features the dulcet tones of Jones’ old compadre Michael Palin. As has become the recognised form, the narrated interpolations contain some of the best comic utterances and provide a respite from the rather frantic comedy that goes on around them. In another nod to the past Simon Jones (the original and best Arthur Dent) also pops up as a bent space accountant whose idea it is to destroy the starship as part of a massive insurance fraud scam. As ever Adams’ scorn for middle management remains intact. The rest of the cast have clearly done their homework as far as capturing the extremely dry wit and bathos of the originals. There’s some pleasing music from Philip Pope, another frequent collaborator with both Adams and Maggs.
Although it is a piece which really cries out for the visual dimension, this audio recording does a fine job in conjuring up the opulence of the starship’s interiors. These seem to be based on the thematic approach adopted by Las Vegas casino hotels – both the Venetian and the Luxor are referenced. There’s also some almost traditional fun to be had with the technological aspects of the ship. There are various bots which adopt a whole range of very human characteristics and any number of automatic doors which add their commentary to proceedings. There is also a highly co-operative bomb which, if asked nicely, will keep resetting its countdown function so the unwitting humans aboard can avoid destruction. The parrot is just annoying – but then it is meant to be.
Starship Titanic is a great post-Christmas treat for Adams/Jones/Maggs fans with a strong if convoluted narrative and plenty of back referencing to the mythos of someone who is still one of the country’s favourite comic writers. Make yourself a fish paste sandwich, pour yourself a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster and enjoy the clever mayhem.