Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/11/10/verity_stob_douglas_adams/

Replicating DNA

Digital watches and dolphins all round

By Verity Stob

Posted in Verity Stob, 10th November 2008 13:02 GMT

Stob "Fans of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy are likely to react strongly to the announcement that Artemis Fowl author Eoin Colfer has been given the green light to write a sixth book in the series" - El Reg

"It's Marilyn, isn't it? You're the new assistant? Come on in and sit yourself down."

The religious affairs editor used her foot to nudge aside the unstable pile of boxes that half-filled her office so that her visitor could edge past. Nonetheless an errant shoulder bag clipped one of the cartons and a literary avalanche ensued.

"Don't worry - I'm always doing that", said the editor, as her visitor mumbled apologies, and knelt to pick up the books. They turned out to be shiny hardback copies of Oolon Colluphid's godbuster Everyone but me is a superstitious sucker.

"Not one of his best, I' afraid - I wish he'd go back to writing biology books. Actually, that'll be one of your first jobs, reading this script" - the religious affairs editor gestured to a voluminous pile of paper that teetered on a corner of her desk. "It's his most recent effort, working title If you're so big, God, how come you weren't Douglas Adams' friend? Probably getting overly personal, don't you think?"

Marilyn was saved the duty of opining on Oolon's opus by the desk telephone.

"Hello? Hello? Ah, Stanley. Yes... What, now? OK... Shall I bring the new girl? OK, with you in five." The editor replaced the receiver and stood up. "Don't bother getting comfy - we've got a meeting on the third. It's Stanley Matthews - our head of series development wants some input on his latest idea." She sighed. "An ill-educated man, but his arse is in the right place."

"Do you mean 'his heart', Mrs Pankhurst?" blurted Marilyn.

"I wasn't pitching as high as that. And do call me "Emmeline" - everybody else does."

"OK, Emily", said Marilyn Monroe meekly and wrongly.

Oolon Colluphid's theory of nominal limitation states that there are only a finite number of plausible names in the standard namespace, so that after the population has expanded beyond a certain size, reuse must occur, to prevent silliness overwhelming the forces of evolution.

In support of this idea, Colluphid claims that celebrity children, the Ginger Satinspits, Foxy Cheesenibblers and F1zholiness's of this and other Heat-reading dimensions, rarely amount to anything very much, despite the advantages of bathing in killer whale milk every day, and being personally tutored in domestic excess by Big Geoff Toss, the most foul-mouthed practitioner of the widely respected foul-mouthed school of advanced cuisine.

ArchArchbishop Edmond Moniker, Earth years 1651-1723, proposed an alternative theory. His idea is based on an event on Tuesday 1st November 4004BC, at about tea-time GMT ('God's Mean Time' of course; Greenwich was not then established. God's Mean Time persisted until the end of the Old Testament, at which point, according to Moniker, we put the clocks forward to God's Slightly Gentler Time, when years were allowed to run upwards instead of downwards).

On that fateful afternoon, according to the ArchArchbishop, the Lord God Almighty got out his real ink pen with the seraphim-tipped nib, and wrote out a big List of names that are allowed. Anybody naming their children with a name from the List would be smiled up by the Lord, and bathe in the glint of light falling upon God's left canine, whereas anybody picking a name not on that List could look forward to getting zapped by lightning or, worse, made to bathe in killer whale milk every day and eat Big Geoff Toss's food.

Thus Moniker's theory thus elegantly accounts for the existence and fate of celebrity children, and so deserves to be taught in American public schools.

As it happens, both these theories are nothing more than a load of dingo's delicates. The true explanation for the unlikely names of Stanley Matthews, Emmeline Pankhurst and Marilyn Monroe is that they are all mutually unaware aliens from a small planet in the neighbourhood of Betelgeuse who have chosen them to be inconspicuous after some rather skimpy research. If you happen to see Phil Woolas, please tell him, as the overrunning of the publishing industry by aliens, pushing perfectly good Brit lits out onto the streets, is exactly the sort of thing he intends to take in hand.

"Who on earth was that?" asked Marilyn, looking back down the corridor at the large, green alien who had just squeezed past them.

"That was Prostetnic Vogon Andrew - our star poet. Said to write the third worst poetry in the universe, though I reckon" - this in a confidential whisper - "his talents are underestimated. He's the second worst, at least."

"Don't people mind that he's a big, ugly, green thing?" enquired Marilyn.

"He normally looks perfectly human. He only flashes his vogonity when he's very upset. I think the Palace gave a cool reception to his latest haiku Queen Mum, the Queen Mum / Gawd bless the wonderful Qu... / No! Is she really? Here we are." Emmeline pushed open the door of a meeting room.

Stanley Matthews, a small, pompous man dressed wosswise in a suit styled for somebody 20 years younger, was chairing the meeting.

"Come in quickly guys and sit down. You must be the new girl Marilyn. Marilyn, meet William Gladstone, head of series development, Marie Lloyd, teenage editor, Elizabeth Fry, retail strategy, and Kylie Himmler, sales support."

(Miss Himmler's research had been even thinner than that of her colleagues.)

"I for one welcome our new film star-named colleague", said Elizabeth Fry, who had contracted a speech disorder from reading too many blogs.

"Boop boop be-do!" said Kylie Himmler, who fancied herself as a wit.

"OMG! That was H.i.l.a.i.r.e.u.s.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! HAHAAHAHAHAHAAHA okay so tht is tres tres funi", said Marie Lloyd, who, despite being in her late forties, had been brought in for her expertise in understanding modern youth.

"All right, that's enough chattering, children", said Stanley. "We must get on. William, if you could start us off..."

"It's the sci-fi/fantasy chuckle-genre coverage status", said William Gladstone. "All our big properties disk-crashed long ago, or are undergoing a virus check. We really need to shift buttocks on this one."

Marilyn looked at Emmeline blankly, who said, "William means we aren't publishing a comedy/fantasy series, like a Discworld, or a Hitchhiker's Guide."

Stanley Matthews had become excited.

"Well done, Emmy!", he cried. "That's exactly right! We're gonna reboot Hitchhiker!"

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has moved on considerably in recent times. The first few editions, for example, notoriously contained the following unhelpful entry:

Earth - Mostly harmless

The modern definition is much improved:

This article contains an opinion

This article or section contains instructions, advice, or how-to content.

Earth - Mostly harmless.

This article about a planet, comet or asteroid is a stub. You can help the Guide by expanding it

This Doctor Who-related article is a stub. You can help the Guide by expanding it.

Other infelicities have also been cleared up. A rather peculiar biology section, written by a bored advertising executive surfing during working hours, which claimed that

Bacteria can be divided into three major genera: the Good, the Bad and the Friendly

was removed as long ago as last week, and the following mischievous passage about a certain icon of popular culture

Early on in the development of the franchise, it was not realised what 'being 007' really meant, and the films were somewhat perfunctory in the gadgets division. In a cut scene in Dr. No, the quartermaster demonstrates the contents of the special briefcase for the master spy's journey abroad:

Additionally, the Wolseley Vanden Plas Tourer, seen in the exciting parallel parking sequence, had a headrest that could easily be unscrewed and converted into a quite practical hot water bottle.

has been on the list for urgent revision for many months now.

"But Mr Matthews", said Marilyn, displaying something of the naivety that her late namesake had put into her film roles, "I thought Douglas Adams was dead."

"Pah! Silly girl!" snarled Stanley Matthews. "Did they stop making Bond books when Ian Fleming died?"

"Did Flashman's career end when Thomas Hughes kicked the bucket?" quipped Kylie Himmler.

"Um", said Marilyn.

"yeh ficko sinsce wen did bein A LIFE mttr? i hate ppl who hv no commin sence!!!!!!!!!! lol lol lol lol lol", said Marie Lloyd, youthfully.

"I for one welcome our new zombie author overlords", said Elizabeth Fry, blog reader.

"They used to buy towels", reminisced William Gladstone. He had worked in merchandising at the time of the original Hitchhiker. "Perfectly ordinary towels, with not so much as a logo transfer on them. They used to literally fly off the shelves, with a 700 per cent margin."

Emmeline, who was so mind-bogglingly old-fashioned as to dislike abuse of 'literally' in a split infinitive, felt it was time to bring the meeting back to the topic in hand. "Surely it will be hard to find a ghost writer who can replace Douglas Adams? Who will be able to do all the jokes? You know, the digital watches and dolphins?"

"Actually, Emmy, darling, there's no problemo to the power of infinity minus one, as it were. Little Stanley has done the maths. If you will just feast your peepers on this..." Stanley flipped a flip chart to reveal a bar graph.

Bar chart showing word counts in Wikiquote for each of the books in the Hitchiker trilogy

"This chart shows the number of words quoted from each successive volume of the Hitchhiker sequence in Wikiquote. So there are about 2600 words quoted from Hitchhiker's Guide, 1500 from Restaurant, 970 from Life, and so on."

"wossa mttr wit U??????????? u sm kinda fckin G.E.E.E.E.E.E.K. or wot?????" demanded Marie impatiently.

"Bear with me, as the overly hirsute comedian said to the satanic slut. Wikiquote is a fairly objective way of measuring the level of humour in a book. The funnier the book, broadly speaking, the more jokes get quoted from it. This methodology shows that the Hitchhiker series suffered severe ECD - Exponential Comedic Decay. Each book is about two thirds as funny as its predecessor..."

<p"...or each joke has a half life of about 2.5 books, if you take lambda to be about 0.4", said Emmeline, who had been doing some quick calculations on her Palm. "So this means that our new book - "

"And Another Thing", said Stanley.

"And Another Thing need only contain 370 quotable words to remain true to the spirit of Douglas Adams. That should certainly make it easier to write. I'm sure we can find some schmuck of an author to knock that out." Despite herself, and a slight pricking of conscience, Emmeline was impressed by the power of mathematics. "And if by any chance we decided to do another one after that - "

"I Think You Ought To Know I'm Feeling Very Depressed", said Stanley.

"I Think You Ought To Know I'm Feeling Very Depressed need only have about 250... Wait a moment", said Emmeline, realisation dawning upon her. 'Just how many books do you plan to publish in this 'trilogy'?"

Even for a naturally smug man, Stanley radiated alarming levels of smugness.

'I thought "42" had a certain ring to it', he said.®