Feb 23, 2008

Douglas Adams's Starship Titanic by Terry Jones

The Starship Titanic was the ship in which nothing could possibly go wrong. It was the greatest ship that had ever been built, and it was designed by the greatest genius the universe had ever known. On the night before the launch, said genius, Leovinus, decides to visit the ship in private one last time. To his increasing panic, he realizes that corners have been cut in the its construction: things are still unfinished, systems are not working properly, and, worse of all, Titania, the ship's artificial intelligence, is half dismembered.

When the time for the launch comes, the unfinished ship undergoes Spontaneous Massive Existence Failure and disappears before the eyes of millions of Blerontians. What they don't know is that the Starship Titanic reappears in another corner of the universe, landing on a little planet called Earth. Three humans, Dan, Lucy and Nettie, board it before it departs again. And that’s when the story really begins.

The existence of the Starship Titanic began as a side note on Douglas Adams' Life, The Universe and Everything. It was at first just a quick digression, but Adams ended up developing a full plot based on it. The plot was turned into a computer game, and when Adams suggested a novelization to the publishers, he was told that the game and the novel would have to be released at the same time. Being busy working on the game, he couldn’t write the novel, and that’s how he ended up asking his friend Terry Jones of Monty Python fame to write it. As a result, Terry Jones wrote, Adams says in the introduction, “an altogether sillier, naughtier and more wonderful novel than I would have done”.

I am a fan of both Terry Jones and Douglas Adams, so there was no doubt in my mind that something that was the product of both of their efforts would be wonderful. I do prefer Douglas Adams as a writer, so I couldn’t help but wonder what the novel he would have written would have been like, but that isn’t to say that Terry Jones didn’t do a wonderful job with it.

The mood of this novel is a little reminiscent of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but at the same time it’s undoubtedly its own thing. Allow me to share the first few paragraphs, which convey the tone of the book perfectly:
“Where is Leovinus?” demanded the Gat of Bleorontis, Chief Quantity Surveyor of the entire North Eastern Gas District of the planet of Blerontin. “No! I do not want another bloody fish-paste sandwich!”

He did not exactly use the word “bloody”, because it did not exist in the Blerontin language. The word he used could be more literally translated as “similar in size to the left earlobe”, but the meaning was much closer to”bloody”. Nor did he actually use the phrase “fish-paste”, since fish did not exist in Blerontin in the form in which we would understand them to be fish. But when one is translating from a language used by a civilization of which we know nothing, located as far away as the centre of the galaxy, one has to approximate.

Similarly, the Gat of Blerontis was not exactly a “Quantity Surveyor”, and certainly the term “North Eastern Gas District” gives no idea at all about the magnificence and grandeur of his position. Look, perhaps I’d better start again.
So the story begins, and it develops into a hilarious (of course), engaging and fast-paced adventure involving heroic parrots, love triangles and love-stricken aliens, snobby robots, bombs that deep down don’t really want to explode, and the concept of ironic architecture, among many other things.

This story was just the kind of thing I was in the mood for. I have mentioned before that sometimes I have a little trouble getting into science fiction worlds, but that was not at all the case with this book. It sucked me in right away, and even though I haven’t been having as much time to read as usual, I could not put it down. I’m really curious about the video game now.


  1. Definitely have to read it. I played the computer game and loaned the accompanying audio tapes to a friend because it was such a riot. I'm an avid Adams fan and have been writing a bit of silly sf of my own. We can never have too much sillyness. Thanks for the tip.

  2. Man I have never heard of this book, how did this get past my radar! It's Alex's birthday at the end of March so this is going on his list for sure. The opening is very like Hitchikers you are right, but it's cool that it develops its own feel as it goes on. Thanks for sharing :)

  3. I got share a story with my husband that he hadn't known. :-) He likes Douglas Adams and Terry Jones, but hasn't read the book. He has played the game. I'll have to look for this one. I'm not too familiar with Terry Jones, I admit, other than as a part of Monty Python. Another great review, Nymeth.

  4. This sounds awesome! I've never heard of this before! Where do you find these things? Definitely have to keep an eye out for this...I could use something light like this.

  5. Ann: I agree that we can never have too much sillyness! I enjoy silly sci-fi (and fantasy) a lot myself. I really look forward to playing the game!

    Rhinoa: It doesn't seem to be as well known as it deserves to be, which is a shame. I hope Alex enjoys it!

    Literary Feline: Thanks :) I have read a few of Terry Jones' children's books and I really enjoy his writing. I really recommend his Fairy Tales!

    Chris: I found it at this AWESOME used bookshop that I unfortunately (or fortunately :P) only discovered some two weeks before leaving Nottingham. I was vaguely aware that it existed, mostly as a game, but when I saw the novel I had to grab it right away. Do keep an eye out for it...I really think you'd enjoy it!

  6. Gee, I've never read any Terry Jones as far as I know. Hahaha! But those paragraphs read like Adams! Sounds like one hell of a trip to the hilarious side of science fiction!

  7. Am I the only person left in the universe who hasn't read the Hitchhiker series?

    This book sounds great. I'll have to see if I can't locate a copy.


  8. nice nice, sounds really funny, seems like something I would definitely enjoy!

    and btw, nice new background!

  9. Lightheaded: The start of the book really reads like Douglas Adams, but Terry Jones' voice becomes more and more visible as the story progresses. I think that in some ways he is more daring than Adams. I really do recommend his books. Plus, he wrote the script to Labyrinth! How come one not love him? :P

    CJ: You're not the only one, I'm sure :P But I do recommend the series - it's one of my favourites. I hope you can find this one too. It's a lot of fun.

    Valentina: I think you would too. And thanks, I'm glad you like it! It's a transition layout, as I'm toying with a whole new one at the moment, but I might return to it later.

  10. so funny that you were reading this while i was reading the 3rd and 4th hitchhikers...

    glad you enjoyed it!

  11. I have to read this book now. Loved the Hitchhiker books, they are favorites. So many quotable lines. So many silly scenes.

    I'm adding it to the list now.

  12. JP: This one I actually read a couple of weeks ago, I was just very late posting about it :P the one I read while you were reading Hitchhiker's was Dirk Gently, which I will hopefully post about later today. But yeah, I did enjoy them both!

    Kim: You'll enojy this too for sure then! Happy reading!


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