"Don't Panic" is a common, every day phrase; a calming gesture to hear when things get a little too out of the norm. That was, however, before Douglas Adams took a hold of those two words. Now, thanks to The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, those two words are synonymous with intergalactic adventure, encounters with bizarre alien races, and an unhealthy obsession with keeping track of towels.

Any person who is been a longtime fan of Adams stellar masterwork about a humble Earthling named Arthur Dent who zips around the universe with his best friend, an alien named Ford Prefect, has likely read Don't Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy at some point. The book, originally written as a solo project by Neil Gaiman (yep, that Neil Gaiman!), was first published in 1988, ten years after its subject was first introduced to the world, and chronicled the quite distinctive birth of Adams' career, and more specifically, the huge success of his greatest work. But Hitchhiker's success didn't stop in the '80s. Adams' baby kept growing and growing, and thus a second edition of the book was published in 1993, this time with updated information covering the latest and greatest in Hitchhiker's lore.

Obviously that was also not the end of the world's infatuation with the affable Arthur Dent, so more updates were required, and thanks to Titan Books, we now have a completely current, wildly comprehensive look at the life works of Douglas Adams (including his time spent on non-Hitchhiker's endeavors like "Doctor Who"), as well as the after-life works; including Garth Jennings' 2005 film adaptation staring Martin Freeman, as well as Eion Coffer's recently published And Another Thing..., the sixth entry in the humorous misnomer that is the Hitchhikers Guide trilogy.

I, however, am a late bloomer as far as Adams is concerned, as I am only just now getting to this wonderful look at his life. So I figured there must be others out there like me, in which case you need to be informed that Don't Panic is a Must Read book.

First off, the bulk of the book was written by Neil Gaiman, which means it is layered with the same delightful turn of phrase and subtle, comedic prose found in his fiction work. The later updates were made by new contributors David K. Dickson, MJ Simpson and Guy Adams, but all three writers match the light-hearted tone set by Gaiman, itself a reflection of Douglas Adams personality. It's that last bit that, for someone like me who only really 'found' his works after his death, really makes Don't Panic a special read. Sure, it's a retrospective look at his work, but it does such a good job of relaying what the mindset of Adams was during the evolution of Hitchhikers from a radio play to a book to a studio play to a TV show and beyond, that the book feels largely timeless.

What's also so great about Don't Panic is that, though incredibly informative, it doesn't come across as a straight forward biography of the influential science fiction author. It's peppered with quotes and remembrances from people other than Adams who were involved with the properties' development, and almost all of them attest, sometimes critically, to quirks in Adams' personality (such as never, ever, ever being able to make a deadline) that turned their experience working with him into a once-in-a-lifetime kind of event. Interspersed with these outside looks are fascinating excerpts from the original scripts and outlines for the franchise in all its iterations, giving the reader a glimpse into a side of Hitchhiker's otherwise deemed fit by men in suits as unworthy for your consumption. (Note, it's a testament to how inherently witty Adams is that even his scraped bits of writing are funny.)

Again, if you've been a life-long fan of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, you've probably encountered one of Don't Panic's previous editions in the past. Having never read any of those, I'm not in the position to say how much has uniquely changed between the versions, but I do know this: even if you first read the book 15 years ago, you're likely going to get as much a kick out of this definitive, updated look behind the scenes as you do reading, watching, or listening to the productions that got you hooked on Douglas Adams' particular brand of sci-fi kookiness in the first place. You'd do well to either pick it up for the first time, or pick it up for the first time in years.
CATEGORIES Features, Sci-Fi