Tag Archives: fiction

The Dirk Gently Omnibus

By Douglas Adams

Dirk Gently, private detective, offers unique investigational services. When probing unexplained circumstances, Gently finds answers in not only the highly unlikely but also the downright impossible, for whatever cannot possibly be done must therefore be impossibly done. His bills are equally holistic, including anything and everything remotely connected to his methods of detection because at the root of it all, everything is fundamentally interconnected. Though unusual in the extreme, his antics are also extraordinarily effective. When first introduced to Gently, he picks up a case concerning a salt cellar in a Grecian pot, human suggestibility to do things one is not typically wont to do, and the unexpected death of a leading tech entrepreneur. In the second installment, Gently finds himself questioning an act of God (but which god, and why), tormented by a particularly persistent eagle, tracking down potatoes, and evading his egregiously disgusting fridge. His apparent bumbling and missteps, all of which can retroactively be deemed intentional whether they were intentional in the first place or not, lead to unbelievable conclusions that neatly explain everything and justify (almost) every charge on his bills.

The Dirk Gently Omnibus contains the first two Dirk Gently stories: “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” and “The Long, Dark Tea-Time of the Soul,” both by the unparalleled Douglas Adams (the third book in the series was unfinished at the time of Adams’ death, portions of which are published in the posthumous “Salmon of Doubt”). As with all other writings from Adams, the Dirk Gently novels are rambunctious, unpredictable, and laugh-out-loud funny. I would even go so far as to say they cause ROFL. Gently approaches his cases with such an open-minded perspective that his decisions and actions seem entirely absurd, yet also completely rational. He blatantly and directly questions behaviors that go unquestioned (and therefore unexplained), which makes his statements both unusual and completely obvious. It also forces characters (and readers) to examine their reasoning and explain unquestioned behaviors. Throughout it all is a supremely healthy sense of fun. The whims and instincts that guide Gently’s investigations are narrated by light-hearted satire that pokes fun at British (and U.S.) institutions, cultural quirks, and bureaucratic nightmares without edging into a mean or cynical tone. Gently’s internal monologue, and sometimes his conversation with others, reflect this by stating those thoughts we all have that just might be better left unsaid. Except when provoked.

The Dirk Gently novels are, in my humble opinion, highly underestimated and unfortunately sidelined by the greater prominence of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” despite being more entertaining (in my humble opinion). I have read both books multiple times, and I actually recommend starting with “The Long, Dark Tea-Time of the Soul” because “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” goes through a lot of backstory and exposition that tend to cause some drag in the early parts of the story. I cannot recommend enough reading both of these books, and then doing it again. And again!

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Mother Night

By Kurt Vonnegut

Howard W. Campbell, Jr. is one of the most wanted, treasonous war criminals from WWII. As a U.S. writer in Germany, Campbell made his living writing plays that made small syndication and novels that didn’t make it past drafts until the Nazis come to power. Campbell became one of the most prominent propagandists for the Nazi party with broadcasts heard around the world, and for that he is a wanted man. Or is he? Campbell’s version of the story relates a tale in which he only took on this role as a spy who conveyed secret messages to U.S. forces by changes in tone, emphasis and other verbal cues. The problem is that nobody knows the man who recruited him to do his spy work. At war’s end, he takes refuge in New York hoping both to lose himself and find himself among the masses. Having lost his wife, his passion and his reputation to the war, he tries desperately to reconnect with something, anything that will bring him meaning. As he grows a small network of personal connections, his truth becomes entangled in a snarl of complicated cover-ups which could ultimately lead to his capture and persecution.

“Mother Night” by Kurt Vonnegut is the story of a man who tells tales for a living, both in his presumed proper career as well as his undercover career. The layers of story and meaning intertwine and overlap to the point that truth and fiction become indistinguishable, revealing every aspect of the story to be fiction in one way or another. In this way, multiple and conflicting truths are able to coexist without needing to be reconciled. Every character and the backstory to go along with them has pieces of stories that are true and pieces of stories that are blatant lies, which begs several questions: when is it helpful and when is it harmful to believe the lie despite knowing the truth? What is the cost of living a constant deception? Is it ever possible to live in the truth when there are so many different truths? Perhaps the only way to maintain sanity and integrity in such a convoluted mess is to remain true to your own self and your own story, as Campbell does. Written with classic Vonnegut wit, “Mother Night” is told with the sting, hilarity, and incisive point-making of his best satire.

I enjoyed this story. In some of his works, I feel Vonnegut writes with excessive satire to the detriment of his content, but I felt this book had an appropriate and highly entertaining level of satire. The story jumps around a lot and can be difficult to keep track of if you don’t pay attention while reading, so it does require some degree of focus. Overall, I would say this is one of the better novels from Vonnegut. Quick and easy to read, worth the time it takes.

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