Why stop now, just when I'm hating it...
Marvin, the Paranoid Android
LIFE, THE UNIVERSE AND EVERYTHING OR: WHY THE ANSWER IS FORTY-TWO
by Richard Karsmakers
There is an art, or rather, a knack to flying.
The knack lies in learning to throw yourself at the ground and
Pick a nice day and try it.
The first part is easy.
All it requires is simply the ability to throw yourself forward
with all your weight, and the willingness not to mind if it's
going to hurt.
That is, it's going to hurt if you fail to miss the ground.
Most people fail to miss the ground, and if they are really
trying properly, the likelihood is that they will fail to miss it
Clearly, it is thus the second part, the missing, which presents
One problem is that you have to miss the ground accidentally.
It's no good deliberately intending to miss the ground because
you won't. You have to have your attention suddenly distracted by
something else when you're halfway there, so that you are no
longer thinking about falling, or about the ground, or about how
much it's going to hurt if you fail to miss it.
It is notoriously difficult to prise your attention away from
these three things during the split second you have at your
disposal. Hence most people's failure, and their eventual
disillusionment with this exhilarating and spectacular sport.
If, however, you are lucky enough to have your attention
momentarily distracted at the crucial moment by, say, a gorgeous
pair of legs (tentacles, pseudopodia, according to phyllum and/or
personal inclination) or a bomb going off in your vicinity, or by
suddenly spotting an extremely rare species of beetle crawling
along a nearby twig, then in your astonishment you will miss the
ground completely and remain bobbing just a few inches above it
in what might seem to be a slightly foolish manner.
This is a moment for superb and delicate concentration.
Bob and float, float and bob.
Ignore all considerations if your own weight and simply let
yourself waft higher.
Do not listen to what anybody says to you at this point because
they are unlikely to say anything helpful.
They are most likely to say something along the lines of, "Good
God, you can't possibly be flying!"
It is vitally important not to believe them or they will
suddenly be right.
Waft higher and higher.
Try a few swoops, gentle ones at first, then drift above the
treetops breathing regularly.
DO NOT WAVE AT ANYBODY.
When you have done this a few times you will find the moment of
distraction rapidly becomes easier and easier to achieve.
You will then learn all sort of things about how to control your
flight, your speed, your manoeuverability, and the trick usually
lies in not thinking too hard about whatever you want to do, but
just allowing it to happen as if it was going to anyway.
You will also learn about how to land properly, which is
something you will almost certainly cock up, and cock up badly,
on your first attempt.
There are private flying clubs you can join which help you
achieve the all-important moment of distraction. They hire people
with surprising bodies or opinions to leap out from behind bushes
and exhibit and/or explain them at the critical moments. Few
genuine hitch-hikers will be able to afford joining these clubs,
but some may be able to get temporary employment at them.
In recent weeks, in between copying mindbogglingly astronomical
amounts of "Virus Destruction Utility" disks (as well as
returning copies that the postal services cocked up and things
like that) and writing articles for this issue of ST NEWS, and
doing some studying long the line as well, I read the complete
"Hitch-hiker" series by the hand of the master of absurdly
humorous science fiction, Douglas Adams.
Being a typical example of a cult author, Douglas Adams has been
of an enormous influence of writing styles of many a modern day
writer (including, if I must be so immodest as to call us
'writers', Stefan and myself). Adams combines the most absurd
humour with brilliant English and the purest science fiction,
accomplishing something that cannot quite be overdone by any
human alive. In his books, the reader follows Arthur Dent on his
voyage through time and space, ending up in the weirdest places
one can (and can't) imagine, with even weirder creatures, in the
most utterly mindstaggeringly absurd situations.
Another world, another day, another dawn.
The early morning's thinnest sliver of light appeared silently.
Several billion trillion tons of superhot exploding hydrogen
nuclei rose slowly above the horizon and managed to look small,
cold and slightly damp.
There is a moment in every dawn when light floats, there is the
possibility of magic. Creation hold its breath.
The moment passed as it regularly did on Squornshellous Zeta,
The mist clung to the surface of the marshes. The swamp trees
were grey with it, the tall reeds indistinct. It hung motionless
like held breath.
There was silence.
The sun struggled feebly with the mist, tried to impart a little
warmth here, shed a little light there, but clearly today was
going to be just another long haul across the sky.
Very often on Squornshellous Zeta, whole days would go on like
this, and this was indeed going to be one of them.
Fourteen hours later the sun sank hopelessly beneath the
opposite horizon with a sense of totally wasted effort.
And a few hours later it reappeared, squared its shoulders and
started on up the sky again.
This time, however, something was happening. A mattress had just
met a robot.
"Hello, robot," said the mattress.
"Bleah", said the robot and continued what it was doing, which
was walking round very slowly in a very tiny circle.
"Happy?" said the mattress.
The robot stopped and looked at the mattress. It looked at it
quizzically. It was clearly a very stupid mattress. It looked
back at him with wide eyes.
After what it had calculated to ten significant decimal places
as being the precise length of pause most likely to convey a
general contempt for all things mattressy, the robot continued to
walk round in tight circles.
"We could have a conversation," said the mattress, "would you
It was a large mattress, and probably one of quite high quality.
Very few things actually get manufactured these days, because in
an infinitely large Universe such as, for instance, the one in
which we live, most things one could possibly imagine, and a lot
of things one would rather not, grow somewhere. A forest was
discovered recently in which most of the trees grew ratchet
screwdrivers as fruit. The life cycle of ratchet screwdriver
fruit is quite interesting. Once picked it needs a dark dusty
drawer in which it can lie undisturbed for years. Then one night
it suddenly hatches, discards its outer skin which scrumbles into
dust, and emerges as a totally unidentifiable little metal object
with flanges at both ends and a sort of ridge and a sort of hole
for a screw. This, when found, will get thrown away. No one knows
what it is supposed to gain from this. Nature, in its infinite
wisdom, is presumably working on it.
No one really knows what mattresses are meant to gain from their
lives either. They are large, friendly, pocket-sprung creatures
which live quite private lives in the marshes of Squornshellous
Zeta. Many of them get caught, slaughtered, dried out, shipped
out and slept on. None of them seem to mind this and all of them
are called Zem.
"No," said Marvin.
"My name," said the mattress, "is Zem. We could discuss the
weather a little.
Marvin paused again in his weary circular plod.
"The dew", he observed, "has clearly fallen with a particularly
sickening thud this morning."
He resumed his walk, as if inspired by this conversational
outburst to fresh heights of gloom and despondency. He plodded
tenaciously. If he had had teeth he would grit them at this
point. He hadn't. He didn't. The mere plod said it all.
The mattress flolloped around. This is a thing that only live
mattresses in swamps are able to do, which is why the word is not
in more common usage. It flolloped in a sympathetic sort of way.
moving a fairish body of water as it did so. It blew a few
bubbles up through the water engagingly. Its blue and white
stripes glistened briefly in a sudden feeble ray of sun that had
unexpectedly made it through the mist, causing the creature to
"You have something on your mind, I think," said the mattress,
"More than you can possibly imagine," dreared Marvin. "My
capacity for mental activity of all kinds is as boundless as the
infinite reaches of space itself. Except of course for my
capacity for happiness."
Stomp, stomp, he went.
"My capacity for happiness," he added, "you could fit into a
matchbox without taking out the matches first."
The mattress globbered. This is the noise made by a live, swamp-
dwelling mattress that is deeply moved by a story of personal
tragedy. The word can also, according to The Ultra-Complete
Maximegalon Dictionary of Every Language Ever, mean the noise
made by the Lord High Sanvalvwag of Hollop, and he never married,
the word is only ever used in a negative or speculative sense,
and there is an ever-increasing body of opinion that The Ultra-
Complete Maximegalon Dictionary is not worth the fleet of
lorries it takes to cart its microstored edition around in.
Strangely enough, the dictionary omits the word 'floopily', which
simply means 'in the manner of something which is floopy'.
The mattress globbered again.
"I sense a deep dejectedness in your diodes," it vollued (for
the meaning of the word 'vollue', buy a copy of Squornshellous
Swamptalk at any remaindered bookshop, or alternatively buy The
Ultra-Complete Maximegalon Dictionary , as the University will be
very glad to get it off their hands and regain some valuable
parking lots), "and it saddens me. You should be more mattress-
like. We live quiet retired lives in the swamp, where we are
contents to flollop and vollue and regard the wetness in a fairly
floopy manner. Some of us are killed, but all of us are called
Zem, so we never know which and globbering is thus kept to a
minimum. Why are you walking in circles?"
"Because my leg is stuck," said Marvin simply.
"It seems to me," said the mattress eyeing it compassionately,
"that it is a pretty poor sort of leg."
"You are right," said Marvin, "it is."
"Voon," said the mattress.
"I expect so," said Marvin, "and I also expect that you find the
idea of a robot with an artificial leg pretty amusing. You should
tell your friends Zem and Zem when you see them later; they'll
laugh, if I know them, which I don't of course - except insofar
as I know all organic life forms, which is much better than I
would wish to. Ha, but my life is but a box of wormgears."
He stomped around again in his tiny circle, around his thin
steel peg-leg which revolved in the mud but seemed otherwise
"But why do you just keep walking round and round?" said the
"Just to make the point," said Marvin, and continued, round and
"Consider it made, my dear friend," flurbled the mattress,
"consider it made."
"Just another million years," said Marvin, "just another quick
million. Then I might try it backwards. Just for the variety, you
The mattress could feel deep in his innermost spring pockets
that the robot dearly wished to be asked how long he had been
trudging in this futile and fruitless manner, and with another
quiet flurble he did so.
"Oh, just over the one-point-five-million mark, just over," said
Marvin airily. "Ask me if I ever get bored, go on, ask me."
The mattress did.
Marvin ignored the question, he merely trudged with added
"I gave a speech once," he said suddenly, and apparently
unconnectedly. "You may not instantly see why I bring the subject
up, but that is because my mind works so phenomenally fast, and I
am at a rough estimate thirty billion times more intelligent than
you. Let me give you an example. Think of a number, any number."
"Er, five," said the mattress.
"Wrong," said Marvin, "you see?"
The mattress was much impressed by this and realized that it was
in the presence of a not unremarkable mind. It willomied along
its entire length, sending excited little ripples through its
shallow algae-covered pool.
"Tell me," it urged, "of the speech you once made, I long to
"It was received very badly," said Marvin, "for a variety of
reasons. I delivered it," he added, pausing to make an awkward
humping sort of gesture with his not-exactly-good arm, but his
arm which was better than the other one which was disheartingly
welded to his left side, "over there, about a mile distance."
He was pointing as well as he could manage, and he obviously
wanted to make it totally clear that this was as well as he could
manage, through the mist, over to reeds, to a part of the marsh
which looked exactly the same as every other part of the marsh.
"There," he repeated. "I was somewhat a celebrity at the time."
Excitement gripped the mattress. It had never heard of speeches
being delivered on Squornshellous Zeta, and certainly not by
celebrities. Water spattered off it as a thrill glurried across
It did something which mattresses very rarely bother to do.
Summoning every bit of its strength, it reared its oblong body,
heaved it up into the air and held it quivering there for a few
seconds whilst it peered through the mist over the reeds at the
part of the marsh which Marvin had indicated, observing, without
disappointment, that it was exactly the same as every other part
of the marsh. The effort was too much, and it flodged back into
its pool, deluging Marvin with smelly mud, moss and weeds.
"I was a celebrity," droned the robot sadly, "for a short while
on account of my miraculous and bitterly resented escape from a
fate almost as good as death in the heart of a blazing sun. You
can guess from my condition," he added, "how narrow my escape
was. I was rescued by a scrap-metal merchant, imagine that. Here
I am, brain the size of...never mind."
He trudged savagely for a few seconds.
"He it was who fixed my up with this leg. Hateful, isn't it? He
sold me to a Mind Zoo. I was the star exhibit. I had to sit on a
box and tell my story whilst people told me the cheer up and
think positive. "Give us a grin, little robot," they would shout
at me, "give us a little chuckle." I would explain to them that
to get my face to grin would take a good couple of hours in a
workshop with a wrench, and that went down very well."
"The speech," urged the mattress. "I long to hear of the speech
you gave in the marshes."
"There was a bridge built across the marshes. A cyberstructured
hyperbridge, hundreds of miles in length, to carry ion-buggies
and freighters over the swamp."
"A bridge?" quirruled the mattress. "Here in the swamp?"
"A bridge," confirmed Marvin, "here in the swamp. It was going
to revitalize the economy of the Squornshellous System. They
spent the entire economy of the Squornshellous System building
it. They asked me to open it. Poor fools."
It began to rain a little, a fine spray slid through the mist.
"I stood on the platform. For hundreds of miles in front of me,
and hundreds of miles behind me, the bridge stretched."
"Did it glitter?" enthused the mattress.
"Did it span the miles majestically?"
"It spanned the miles majestically."
"Did it stretch like a silver thread far out into the invisible
"Yes," said Marvin. "Do you want to hear this story?"
"I want to hear your speech," said the mattress.
"This is what I said. I said "I would like to say that it is a
very great pleasure, honour and privilege for me to open this
bridge, but I can't because my lying circuits are all out of
commission. I hate and despise you all. I now declare this
hapless cyberstructure open to the unthinking abuse of all who
wantonly cross her." And I plugged myself into the opening
Marvin paused, remembering the moment.
The mattress flurred and glurred. If flolloped, gupped and
willomied, doing this last in a particularly floopy way.
"Voon," it wurfed at last. "And was it a magnificent occasion?"
"Reasonable magnificent. The entire thousand-mile-long bridge
spontaneously folded up its glittering spans and sank weeping
into the mire, taking everybody with it."
There was a sad and terrible pause at this point in the
conversation during which a hundred thousand people seemed
unexpectedly to say 'whop' and a team of white robots descended
from the sky like dandelion seeds drifting on the wind in right
military formation. For a sudden violent moment they were all
there, in the swamp, wrenching Marvin's false leg off, and then
they were gone again in their ship, which said 'foop'.
"You see the sort of thing I have to contend with?" said Marvin
to the globbering mattress.
Suddenly, a moment later, the robots were back again for another
violent incident, and this time when they left, the mattress was
alone in the swamp. He flolloped around in astonishment and
alarm. He almost lurgled in fear. he reared himself to see over
the reeds, but there was nothing to see, no robot, no glittering
bridge, no ship, just more reeds. He listened, but there was no
sound on the wind beyond the now familiar sound of half-crazed
etymologists calling distantly to each other across the sullen
Since Stefan and myself really decided to dedicate this issue to
Douglas Adams a mere few weeks ago, we didn't have much time to
gather information on this man, let alone get him interviewed.
Only a couple of days ago I heard that a friend of my sister in
law's had worked for him as his Secretary, and that she had
recently seen him in a London bookshop signing his books. Darn!
Blast! If she woulda known earlier, I would have had signed books
as well as that interview I wanted!
The only information I can now give is some of which is printed
at the start of most of his books, namely that he was born in
Cambridge in 1952, educated at Brentwood School, Essex, and St.
John's College, Cambridge, where he read English. And of course
that he's not married, has no children, and does not want to hear
from any Surrey estate agents.
I am terribly afraid that I will have to leave the rest up to
Stefan (in HIS article about Douglas Adams). I can only supply
you with the names of the "Hitchhiker" books he published, which
are "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", "The Restaurant at
the End of the Universe", "Life, the Universe and Everything" and
"So long, and thanks for all the Fish".