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New Leaf October 2019 Discussion • Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
#31  gmw 10-17-2019, 08:28 PM
Yes, I do think the "Door" etc., and indeed quite a lot of the early chapters, were rather heavy-handed, but I also think it was probably intentional. Whether the reader finds it amusing will, of course, vary with the reader.

There were similarities between the ghost and the Ancient Mariner - at the very least the lugubrious (more with the heavy hand ) tone, and the demanding that others hear his sad tale - and there may be more if you bother to re-examine the work. I wasn't familiar with Kubla Khan anyway, so may have missed some elements of that. I hadn't even remembered it was that poem that was unfinished due to interruption, so the punch line delivered in the book didn't quite have the effect that might have been expected.
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#32  fantasyfan 10-18-2019, 03:59 AM
The novel postulates an alternate reality without J. S. Bach. Was there one in which Kubla Khan was no longer just a magnificent fragment but was complete?
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#33  latepaul 10-18-2019, 04:31 AM
Quote fantasyfan
The novel postulates an alternate reality without J. S. Bach. Was there one in which Kubla Khan was no longer just a magnificent fragment but was complete?
Yes. I can't recall the exact details but I think the reason Dirk goes back to become the Person from Porlock is to stop Coleridge writing the full poem which has information about the space ship etc, and they don't want that to be available. Although I seem to remember the logic doesn't hold if you examine it too carefully.
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#34  gmw 10-18-2019, 06:07 AM
Quote latepaul
Yes. I can't recall the exact details but I think the reason Dirk goes back to become the Person from Porlock is to stop Coleridge writing the full poem which has information about the space ship etc, and they don't want that to be available. Although I seem to remember the logic doesn't hold if you examine it too carefully.
Indeed, there are a few aspects of the novel that do not bear close scrutiny, even according to its own explicitly defined rules. eg: We are told that personal memories are retained, despite time paradoxes ("we will each remember whatever it is that has happened to us individually"), so this must include the ghost they have just sent back 4-billion-years - whose own very recent memory has him set on destroying life on Earth* ... however, we might argue that the paradox in this case is saved by the hand-wavium of what Reg describes as "The complexities of cause and effect defy analysis."

* This conundrum is why I thought we had Gordon the ghost still hanging around, but it was not to be.
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#35  Bookpossum 10-18-2019, 06:26 AM
But then Reg had gone back while Dirk was visiting Coleridge, and destroyed the spaceship, so perhaps that meant that the ghost and his team never managed to land in the first place.

Of course none of it bears too much analysis!
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#36  issybird 10-18-2019, 07:14 AM
The time travel paradoxes are labeled as such because they can't be resolved! But it's the journey and not the arrival that matters (and also why the resolution to most time travel tales (and it's a genre I love) is always at least faintly unsatisfactory.
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#37  gmw 10-18-2019, 10:14 AM
Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency is a little unusual as far as time-travel stories go in that it explicitly allows paradox to remain both remembered and unexplained/unexplainable (or so Reg tells us). Sure, paradox is labelled as such because it can't be fully resolved, but most garden-variety time-travel stories attempt to wrap things up cleanly as far as possible, either by wiping memories or forming self-contained loops in which everything happens because everything else happened.


If you like the time-travel genre (I don't, particularly, but liked this), you might want to try The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas. I found it a fairly original take on travel travel, and it struck me as realistic in a way that time-travel stories rarely are. It's a science-fiction/alternative-history story mostly framed around a murder mystery.

For a person that doesn't go out of their way for time-travel stories I seem to have stumbled over a few interesting ones in recent times. Just a week or so ago I read a short story called Thought Experiment by Eileen Gunn (2011) that had a very neat twist in the tail (I read it in a collection called Eclipse Four, edited by Jonathan Strahan, but probably available elsewhere too). Besides having read this recently, I also think it sprang into mind because it was the sort of twist I would have loved to have found with Dirk Gently (clever, obvious in retrospect, and wryly funny).
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#38  WT Sharpe 10-19-2019, 03:08 PM
Like fantasyfan, I really loved the book. I thought I had read it before, but couldn't find it in any of my lists.

How many nods to THHGTTG series did everyone catch? Two jumped out at me. The first was Richard’s obvious “Do you always carry a towel around in your briefcase?” question to Dirk, and the second was this less obvious comment from Reg: “[T]he actual distance between two points in the whole of the space/time continuum is almost infinitely smaller than the apparent distance between adjacent orbits of an electron. Really, it’s a lot less far than the chemist, and there’s no waiting about at the till.” The second seems to be in contradiction (although I can see how the two are really different ways of seeing the same thing) with the HHGTTG’s claim that “Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mindbogglingly big it is. I mean you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

So how many did I miss?
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#39  gmw 10-20-2019, 10:36 AM
Quote WT Sharpe
How many nods to THHGTTG series did everyone catch? [...] So how many did I miss?
The towel was the only one that stood out for me. What sort of mind is preoccupied with the distance to the chemist?

But maybe a nod THHGTTG explains the opening sentence in DGHDA: "This time there would be no witnesses."

The last time Adams destroyed the Earth he left witnesses.
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#40  Bookworm_Girl 10-20-2019, 04:39 PM
I'm sorry I'm late to the discussion. I've been traveling a lot this past month for work and pleasure and recently returned from my latest adventure.

I really like the time-travel genre. This book was a re-read for me. I read both this and the next in the Dirk Gently series in the early 90s. I must have liked it since I read the second book. I've also read The Hitchhiker series. However, I remember nothing about any of the books other than 42.

Quote latepaul
One of the things I like about Adams writing is that a lot of his jokes, which I merely thought of as funny when I was young, I now realise are astute and clever too.
I'm glad that I took the time to research Coleridge and the two poems. Otherwise, I would not have understood "the Man from Porlock" punch-line. Considering there was no Wikipedia when I read the book last time (and I unlikely visited the library for research), I probably missed most of this meaning and just thought it was plain funny. Although I would have gotten more of the references to THHGTG since I read all these books in the same general time period.

One of the items that I found fascinating in my research of Coleridge is that he introduced the term suspension of disbelief in 1817. The Wikipedia article is very interesting. It also includes a discussion of the contrast with J.R.R Tolkien's paradigm of secondary belief in the reality of the fictional world and that suspension of disbelief is only necessary if the author fails to achieve secondary belief for the reader.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suspension_of_disbelief
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The traditional concept of the suspension of disbelief as proposed by Coleridge is not about suspending disbelief in the reality of fictional characters or events but the suspension of disbelief in the supernatural. This can be demonstrated in the way the reader suspends his disbelief in ghosts rather the non-fictionality of the ghosts in a story. According to the theory, suspension of disbelief is an essential ingredient for any kind of storytelling.
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