Finally, a reason to own an iPad. They've created an app that lets you access the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, that most indispensible resource, via your iOs device. It's basically an interactive edition of Douglas Adams' masterwork.
To celebrate, we had a nice chat with Simon Jones, the original Arthur Dent. Who told us how Douglas Adams predicted the iPad.
An interactive edition of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy sounds utterly indispensible, on the face of it. How else will you be able to discover helpful bits of information about the people of Golgafrincham whenever you need it? Or figure out how to negotiate the tricky Ningi-Pu exchange rate? The interactive version comes out this fall for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. According to the press release:
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy app is an authentic experience, allowing fans to feel like they're holding the device that Douglas Adams described over thirty years ago. Users can learn all about the importance of towels, vogons, Milliways, the Babel Fish, a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, how to survive in space, and more, all in this friendly app.
The release also quotes Hothead Games producer Joel DeYoung as saying, "We really focused on taking existing Guide entries and presenting them in a new, interactive way."
The release of this new interactive version now means that the Hitchhiker's Guide has been released in more formats than the works of Oolon Celuphid. There's the original radio show, the books, the television show, the 1980s computer game, the big-budget movie version, and probably a set of fizzy drinks that tell the entire story in bubble form.
This was a great opportunity to talk to Simon Jones, who played Arthur Dent in the original radio show and then went on to play the poor homeless galactic wanderer on television. Jones told us it's fitting that the Guide is coming out in this new, interactive format, "because Douglas [Adams] was a man ahead of his time, and he'd already envisaged the iPad years ago, when he invented the Hitchhiker's Guide."
Douglas Adams was an early adopter who loved computers, Jones added:
I remember him saying to me many years, ago... in the mid 1990s: 'You think computers are difficult now. It's like taking a light switch apart and putting it together every time you want to turn on the light, but I guarantee in 15 years, it'll be like turning on a light.' And in a way, he was a right. He was a whiz — he was the first to have an Apple computer, and he was always on the cutting edge. I'm really sad he's not here to see all this. He'd be tweeting from morning 'til night.
Can you imagine Douglas Adams' Twitter stream?
And it's also fitting because the Hitchhiker's Guide is "a science fiction comedy, of course, even though it's really a satire on bureaucracy," says Jones.
This new version will make the Guide much more accessible than it's ever been before, says Jones. "It will duplicate the experience of having the Hitchhiker's Guide in your hand, just as Ford [Prefect] looks up and shows Arthur Eccentrica Gallumbits, the Triple-Breasted Whore of Eroticon Six... You'll be able to look it up." And this carries on some of Adams' own preoccupations with creating a more interactive experience. There was the computer game, there was the 1995 interactive version, and there was the H2G2 website, which Jones describes as "an early user-contributed website, not a million miles away from Wikipedia. It's usually related to travel, much like the Hitchhiker's Guide would be, but people were encouraged to write in their own entries."
But even though the Guide has appeared in so many different formats over the years, Jones' favorite version is still probably the radio show. "Because it came first, and you can actually imagine it yourself," filling in the fantastic visuals with your imagination. He likes to hear how other people imagined those scenes taking place. "And there were certain episodes of the radio show that were never really duplicated anywhere else, like the whole scene where the gang of them were stuck in the Nutri-Matic cup floating in negative gravity."
The television show meanwhile, "cost unheard-of amounts at that time," and was a lavish big-budget production, that has not aged well. The "computer graphics were not computer graphics, they were done by hand," says Jones, and "they now look wonderfully tacky and sort of creaky, which is part of the humor." Despite having a bigger budget the Hitchhiker's TV series now looks like old Doctor Who, where all the scary unknown alien planets are the same bit of North Wales.
When I asked Jones what he remembered most about Adams, he said the main thing was his huge allergy to deadlines, which lead to him being locked in a hotel room with his editor, Sonny Mehta. "Yet another deadline had gone by, and they weren't prepared to wait any longer. Every page that was done, Sonny would stick it into a fax, and send it off the printer."
We think of the Hitchhiker's Guide as a finished work now, that's set in stone, but Jones said when they were making the radio series, the scripts were in flux up until the very last minute — and sometimes longer than that. If the producer, Geoffrey Perkins, said something like, "I wonder if we could change this joke?" then Douglas Adams would say "Sure," and go back and rewrite the entire episode from scratch.
At the end of the first series, I don't know if any of us knew how it was going to end. I don't think Douglas did either. [And then at the last minute] it somehow came together with weird bits of paper that Douglas thrust into our hands.
And somehow this all worked perfectly.
Here are some more screens from the interactive edition of the Guide: