Douglas Adams's Starship Titanic

BOOK: Douglas Adams's Starship Titanic
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Copyright © 1997 by The Digital Village and Simon and Schuster Interactive, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Published by Harmony Books, a division of Crown Publishers, Inc., 201 East 50th Street, New York, New York 10022.

Random Houser, Inc. New York, Toronto, London, Sydney, Auckland

HARMONY and colophon are trademarks of Crown Publishers, Inc.

Printed in the United States of America

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Jones, Terry, 1942-

Douglas Adams's Starship Titanic / Terry Jones. – 1st ed.

p.     cm.

Novel based on the CD-ROM by Douglas Adams.

I. Adams, Douglas, 1952-     Starship Titanic.     II. Title.

PR6060.0588D68          1997

823'.914–dc21        97-27862


ISBN 0-609-60103-2


10  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1

First Edition



The idea for
Starship Titanic
first surfaced in the way that a lot of ideas originate, as a mere couple of sentences out of nowhere. Years ago it was just a little digression in
Life, the Universe and Everything
. I said that the
Starship Titanic
had, shortly into its maiden voyage, undergone Spontaneous Massive Existence Failure. It's just one of those bits that you put in while you are waiting for the plot to develop. You think, 'Well, I'll develop another quick plot while I'm about it.' So it sat there as a couple of sentences in
L, U & E
and after a while I thought, 'Well, I think there is a little bit more to this idea,' and tossed it around for a while. At one point I even considered developing it as a novel in itself and then thought, no, it sounded too much like a good idea, and I'm always wary of those.

In the mid eighties I did a text-only computer game version of
The Hitchhiker's Guide
with a company called Infocom. I had a lot of fun working on it. The player gets caught up in a virtual conversation with the machine. In writing such a thing you are trying to imagine and prepare for the reactions of a virtual audience. There's a lot you can do with text, as several thousand years of human culture can attest, but it seemed to me that what the computer enabled us to do was to reach back to the days before printing and recreate the old art of interactive storytelling. They didn't call it interactive in those days, of course. They didn't know of anything that wasn't interactive, so they didn't need a special name for it. When someone stood up and recounted a story, the audience responded. And the storyteller responded right back at them. It was the coming of print that took away the interactive element, and locked stories into rigid forms. It seemed to me that interactive computer-mediated storytelling might be able to combine some of the best of both forms. However, while the medium was still in its infancy, along came computer graphics and killed it off. Text may be a very rich medium, but it looks boring on the screen. It doesn't flash and hop about and so it had to give way to things that did.

Early computer graphics, of course, were slow, crude and ugly. As a medium it didn't interest me, so I thought I'd sit things out and wait till the graphics got good. Ten years later they were good. But interaction had largely been reduced to pointing at things and clicking. I missed the conversations that text games used to engage you in. Maybe, I thought, it would be possible to combine both…

At about this time, I was involved with a group of friends in the setting up of a new digital media company, The Digital Village (
). I began to cast around for a good subject for our first big project, a CD-ROM adventure game that would combine state-of-the-art graphics with a natural language parser which would enable the player to engage the characters in conversation. Suddenly,
Starship Titanic
stood out from the pack.

As we embarked on what grew into a huge project, the subject of novelization came up. Now, writing novels is what I normally do, and here was a peach because, in an amazing departure from my normal practice, I had developed a story which not only had a beginning but also a middle and (phenomenally enough) a recognizable end. However, the publishers insisted that the novel would have to come out at the same time as the game to enable them to sell it. (This struck me as odd since they had managed previously to sell books of mine without any attendant CD-ROM game at all, but this is publisher logic, and publishers are, as we all know, from the planet Zog.) I couldn't do both simultaneously. I had to accept that I couldn't do the novel except at the cost of not doing what I had set out to do in the first place, which was the game. So who could possibly write the novel?

About this time, Terry Jones came into the production office. One of the characters in the game is a semi-deranged workman's parrot which had been left on board the ship, and Terry had agreed to play the voice part. In fact it was clearly the part he had been born to play. When Terry saw all the graphics and character animations we had been creating over the previous months he became very excited about the whole project and uttered the fateful words.

'Is there anything else you need doing?' I said.

'You wanna write a novel?' and Terry said.

'Yeah, all right. Provided,' he added, 'I can write it in the nude.'

Terry is one of the most famous people in the known universe, and his bottom is only slightly less well known than his face. It has, of course, only been displayed when strictly necessary on artistic grounds, but such is the nature of his art that this has turned out to be extraordinarily often. From Naked Man Playing Organ and Man in Bed with Carol Cleveland from the
Monty Python
TV show, to Naked Hermit in Pit in
Monty Python's Life of Brian
(a movie that he directed naked, while the rest of the cast remained largely clothed), the creative life has been one long nudist romp for Mr Jones. He is also renowned as a film and TV director, scriptwriter, medieval scholar, author of children's books, including the award-winning
The Saga of Erik the Viking
, but none of these activities provide quite enough sheer kit removal opportunities for him. Hence his stipulation that he would write
Starship Titanic
in the nude. In comes all the freshness, lightness, and lyrical vulnerability of a man sitting at his word processor butt-naked.

I've always wanted to collaborate on something with Terry ever since I first met him almost twenty-five years ago, wearing a pretty floral dress and heaving a small tactical nuclear device on to the back of a cart in a leafy suburban street in Exeter. As you are about to discover, he has written an altogether sillier, naughtier and more wonderful novel than I would have done and in doing so has earned himself an altogether unique credit — "Parrot and Novel by Terry Jones."

—Douglas Adams


here is Leovinus?' demanded the Gat of Blerontis, 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 do not exist on 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.

'Where is Leovinus?' demanded the Gat of Blerontis, the Most Important and Significant Statesman on the entire planet of Blerontin. 'The launch cannot proceed without him.'

Several minor officials were dispatched to search for the great man. Meanwhile the vast crowd simmered with mounting impatience in front of the grand Assembly Dock, where the new Starship stood veiled in its attractive pink silk sheeting. Not one member of the crowd had glimpsed even so much as a nut or a bolt of the ship, but already its fame had swept the Galaxy from spiral arm to spiral arm.

Back on the launch podium, the great Leovinus had still not been sighted. A minor official was explaining yet again to the Gat of Blerontis why the 'fish-paste' sandwiches were essential.

'Normally, Your Stupendous And Most Lofty Magnificence, you would be quite right in supposing that the mere launch of a Starship would not be marked out by such distinguished observances. But, as you are aware, this Starship is different, This Starship is the greatest, most gorgeous, most technologically advanced Starship ever built — this is the Ultimate Starship-the greatest cybernautic achievement of this or any other age, and it is utterly indestructible. The Inter-Galactic Council therefore thought it suitable to declare it a "fish-paste sandwich" event.'

The Gat's heart sank. His last line of defence shrivelled before his eyes and he knew he was condemned to eat at least one 'fish-paste' canapé before the launch was over. The taste, he knew, would endure for months. And a Blerontin month was equivalent to several lifetimes if you happened to come from Earth. Which, of course, nobody there did.

In fact nobody, in that entire throng of some fifty million Blerontinians who had turned up to see the launch of the Greatest Starship in the History of the Universe, had ever even heard of the Earth. And if you'd asked them they wouldn't have been able to understand you because translation blisters were not allowed to be worn on a 'fish-paste' event. It was another of those stupid little traditions that made the Gat furious.
[The Blerontins insist on serving so-called 'fish-paste' sandwiches during Festivals and Important Book Launches, despite the fact that all Blerontins find them disgusting. It is a tradition that dates back to a time when Blerontin was an impoverished planet living on the edge of starvation. Having run out of every other kind of food, the Blerontin team were reluctantly forced to offer up 'fish-paste' sandwiches as their entry for the Centennial Inter-Galactic Canapés Championship. For some unaccountable reason, the 'fish-paste' appealed to the jaded palates of the judges, clinched the championship for Blerontin, and paved the way for Blerontinian domination of the entire Galactic Centre for aeons to come.]

And still Leovinus did not appear.

'Everyone here is holding their breath and keeping their fingers crossed,' whispered the Head Reporter of the Blerontin News Gathering Bureau into his invisible microphone. 'No one has yet even caught so much as a glimpse of the fabulous Starship, but everyone is certain that it will not only be the most technologically advanced but also the most beautiful Starship ever to have been created. It is, after all, the brain-child of Leovinus, to whose architectural genius we owe the great North-South bridge that now links our two polar caps, to whose musical inspiration we owe the Blerontin National Anthem "Our Canapés Triumph Daily", and to whose unsurpassable mastery of ballistics and biomass energetics we owe our third sun that now shines above us with its own famous on-off-switch… But there's news just coming in that… what's that? Ladies and gentleman and things, it appears that the great Leovinus has gone missing! Nobody has seen him all day. Surely they can't start the launch without him… but the crowd are beginning to demand some action… And uh-oh! What's that?'

A sour note had swept through the crowd, as a band of short individuals, dressed in ragged overalls and flat caps, suddenly forced their way into the spectators' area. They were shouting in a language no one could understand (because of the ban on translation blisters) and they were brandishing indecipherable placards.

'It looks as if the Yassaccan delegation has managed to gain entry!' An edge of alarm had entered the Head Reporter's voice. This was mainly because he had his entire commentary written down in advance — as he always did. The thought that an unforeseen turn of events might now force him to look at what was actually going on and then improvise was a nightmare that had dogged his sleep for all the years that he had been in the reporting business.

'Um!' said the Head Reporter. He felt his head going light.'Er!' He fought for breath, as he felt his bowels starting to move. 'Oh! Ahm! What can I say?' He was praying that the words would come to him. In his recurring nightmare — the one that he always had after eating snork chitterlings — he was in this very situation — something unforeseen had occurred — his script was whisked away by some unseen hand, and the words just never came.

It has to be explained, in defence of the Head Reporter, that unforeseen circumstances seldom occurred during public events on Blerontin, owing to the fact that the authorities exerted a pretty tight control over these things.

'It coming yust out who!' exclaimed the Head Reporter. At that moment an unseen hand whisked away his script, and the Head Reporter felt a warm sensation all over his lower abdomen.

'I've done it! I mean! It's definitely Yassaccans! I can see them now!' That was practically two whole sentences! He
do it! 'They've purpley pinchburps! Oh damn!' It was one thing not to be able to think of anything — but how could he possibly come out with utter nonsense? That hadn't been in his nightmare. It was worse!

The truth is that this personal disaster for the Head Reporter was just one in a string of disasters that had dogged the building of the Starship. There had been rumours of corners cut: the cybernet pigeon cursors had been below-spec, the great engine had been mislaid, Leovinus himself had quarrelled with the Chairman of Star-Struct Inc., there had been arguments between Leovinus and his manager, Brobostigon, there had been quarrels between Brobostigon and Leovinus's accountant, Scraliontis, there had been arguments between Scraliontis and Leovinus — and so on and so on.

The fact of the matter was that the construction of the Starship had brought financial ruin on almost everybody involved, including one entire planet. Yassacca had been, hitherto, a flourishing resort of industrious folk, with the most efficient and dependable construction industry in the Central Galaxy. Yassacca had enjoyed centuries of quiet prosperity and a high reputation. They never over-charged. They always delivered on time. They never cut corners. They were a race of proud craftsmen who had nothing to do with Inter-Galactic Canapés Competitions, and thus were able to devote their wealth to the well-being of their own people.

That was until they undertook the construction of Leovinus's masterpiece — the crowning achievement of his career — the Starship that even now stands hidden from sight in its launching bay, awaiting the unveiling ceremony.

'Give us back our happy life-style!' shout the Yassaccan demonstrators unintelligibly to the Blerontinian onlookers.

'Planets not Starships!' roar their placards — to the baffled crowd.

'Get those bastards out of there,' growls Flortin Rimanquez, the Chief of Police and Rabbits.

'Where is Leovinus?' groans the Gat of Blerontis.

BOOK: Douglas Adams's Starship Titanic
8.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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