Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is absurd, smart and hilarious. It’s this absurdity that I really found lacking in his first Dirk Gently book. It’s not absent by a long shot, just sub-par. Guide appeals to the silly, childlike, science geek in me, where the characters are accessible and fun. The main character in Dirk Gently, Richard MacDuff, is similar to Arthur but he’s never quite as endearing. Dirk himself, like many Sherlock Holmes inspired detectives, is a jerk. It’s tough to even create a solid opinion on Dirk, for he is only in about half the book. For those familiar, he could have easily been an incarnation of the Doctor from Doctor Who.

Douglas Adams is not necessarily great at plot. In his Hitchhikers novels they are secondary, if not tertiary, to everything else. I feel Adams comes up with themes, anecdotes, jokes and personal beliefs then creates a framework to house them all. In Dirk Gently, if you can accept and embrace the odd, disjointed, and enigmatic storytelling, I believe there are some amazing things to glean. Ultimately, I feel this is a book is Adams commentary on belief.

The first character we meet is the Electric Monk, a surrogate for belief, who is tragically underdeveloped as a character. This biological machine, which just happens to look remarkably similar to modern man, is broken.

Unfortunately this Electric Monk had developed a fault, and had started to believe all kinds of things, more or less at random.

In a beautifully Douglas Adams twist, an altogether different Electric Monk is seemingly the spark that brings life to Earth, thus, in fact, creating humanity in its image. It’s a brilliant commentary on the idea of why so many people mindlessly follow beliefs without question, or if they question, what brings them to believe they are right when so many others believe in something else? Are our belief system broken? Ultimately bringing us to the most important question, why do we believe anything? In what belief structure do we base our reality in? How do we understand this crazy world?

Richard continued, “What I mean is that if you really want to understand something, the best way is to try and explain it to someone else. That forces you to sort it out in your own mind. And the more slow and dim-witted your pupil, the more you have to break things down into more and more simple ideas. And that’s really the essence of programming. By the time you’ve sorted out a complicated idea into little steps that even a stupid machine can deal with, you’ve certainly learned something about it yourself. The teacher usually learns more than the pupil. Isn’t that true?”

Oh and then there is this:

“Oh, now, don’t underestimate the abacus,” said Reg. “In skilled hands it’s a very sophisticated calculating device. Furthermore it requires no power, can be made with any materials you have to hand, and never goes bing in the middle of an important piece of work.”

“So an electric one would be particularly pointless,” said Richard.

There are many, many other examples revolving around belief, including Dirk’s believing in the “fundamental interconnectedness of all things” blurring the line of the supernatural and charlatan.

For example a program designed to logically justify your beliefs.

“Well, Gordon’s great insight was to design a program which allowed you to specify in advance what decision you wished it to reach, and only then to give it all the facts. The program’s task, which it was able to accomplish with consummate ease, was simply to construct a plausible series of logical-sounding steps to connect the premises with the conclusion.”

This idea that we grow filters through life that narrow our way of thinking, so much so that Dirk with all his prowess, knows only a child’s is capable of seeing things with “perfect clarity.”

“Well, I think it’s childish,” said Janice Pearce frankly.

“But—but—but!” said Dirk, thumping the table in frustration, “don’t you understand that we need to be childish in order to understand? Only a child sees things with perfect clarity, because it hasn’t developed all those filters which prevent us from seeing things that we don’t expect to see.”

In the end Adams constructs a smart and absurd novel that is full of depth which will make you think if you can accept the murky, sometimes difficult plot that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Adams, like Kurt Vonnegut, requires you to occasionally pause and contemplate the enormity of an idea he just tossed in your lap. It’s a different type of reading experience. And in my opinion, one that is always worth the journey.