« a. ArianeB | Main | c. The Sandbox Of God »


Dirk Gently's Holistic Radio Appearances

Entry 345

BBC radio with Above The Title productions have made a six-episode radio play called Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency based on the Douglas Adams novel.

As the plot involves a desperately confusing time-travelling solution I am eager to find out how the time paradoxes will get dealed with on the audio play. As the BBC also adapted the ending of the Hitchhiker series on the radio they may be toying with this book as well. (As a matter of fact a rather particular hint in the beginning of the book has already been altered and is now the subject of a discussion an alt.fan.douglas-adams.)

The actual episode of Dirk Gently will stay a week on the Beeb's website for online listeners.

And if you are confused about the time paradoxes in the novel you may have a look at my previous entries where I tried to assemble the different theories about what does really happen in the book. Please do not read this before you attack the book or the radio play, as it will take out all the fun.

The Dirk Gently Time Travel Thread on this website combines the following posts (the amount alone shows you how many possible explanations and/or theories are floating around on the web):

Gentle Ghosts 
Tukler's Time Treatment 
2001: A Time Odyssey 
Mrs Sauskind's Cat And Other Relevant Facts 
The Wrath Of Kubla Khan 
Tukler's Revenge 

If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: So Long


The Dirk Gently Time Travel Thread

Entry 287

If you happen to read this blog on a regularly basis, what I don't believe at all by the way, then you may have seen, and probably not read, several posts about Douglas Adams. In Dirk Gently's first adventure the holistic detective meets

A: a retired time lord who isn't called a time lord for copyright reasons so I assume (Douglas Adams used to write for Doctor Who at the Beeb.) and;
B: a few ghosts:
B stroke 1: one pathetic one who tries to phone home to whisper a last message to his sister and;
B stroke 2: another ghost who tries to travel back into time to undo the things that turned him into a ghost to begin with.

Now a blog is a bit like a timeline: things that were published a while ago are canned inside the archives, while things that have been posted recently are flourishing in the 'present' section of the blog.

This is of course utterly confusing as my thread about Dirk Gently started with a problem in the past while possible solutions have been posted in the immediate future, that has become the past as well now that you read this. If you start reading the top story in the Dirk Gently category you will find out after some time that it is really the wrapping up from the posts before, so you better start reading from bottom to top if you catch my drift.

Not to confuse you even more, gentle reader, I put here the threads in ascending chronological order: first post first, last post last. Or is that descending? One never knows with these time paradoxes. Anyway you may read from top to bottom here, I guess.

Gentle Ghosts 
Tukler's Time Treatment 
2001: A Time Odyssey 
Mrs Sauskind's Cat And Other Relevant Facts 
The Wrath Of Kubla Khan 
Tukler's Revenge 

In my search for possible theories about Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency I stumbled upon this, so if you still haven't got enough of it, here it is:
An Invalid Ending

If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: The Abandon Earth Kit aka How To Leave The Planet


Tukler's Revenge

Entry 286

Tukler was one of the people who gave me an answer on the How Does Dirk Gently Really Ends question and when I replied that I didn't buy that explanation, he came up with this. (The underneath text has been edited a bit)

S P O I L E R S  A H E A D

I understand your point of view and agree that it is possible to think that when travelling forward in time they would be travelling in an earth which is already de-humanized by the ghost.

But... who are we to state this? Do we have any knowledge at all about time travelling? I do not think so... I think nobody could say what would happen in this kind of situation if it does not happen and is studied. So I don't think we could criticize DNA because he wrote something that doesn't perfectly fit into the way we imagine things could happen, especially if we are not sure at all about it.

  • He writes about ghosts although many of us don't believe in them, he writes about possessed people although many of us don't believe in it,
  • he writes about Richard who got hypnotized and then throws himself on a river out of the blue when he hears a certain sentence,
  • he writes about time travels, aliens, electric monks,
  • he writes about Reg who lived for an unspecified number of years..

...and we complain about an incongruence in something we think would happen in another way? I think we are all intrigued by time travels, their mechanics and how everything fits at the end of the story in many books and movies about it, but we can't argue about time travel philosophy and say that something is wrong..

By the way, I think that from what we know (almost nothing) time travel mechanics could also work in the way they do in the book. I am total ignorant in quantum physics, but one implication of it is that you can not guess the state of something until you actually verify it. Until that moment it could be in every possible state and it only acquires one in the moment you verify it. (Actually DNA talks about Schrödinger’s Cat... could it be an hint about the way we should understand the final?)

I am starting to believe in it like an electric monk.

Therefore, nor our heroes nor the time travel nor the time travelling mechanics who are withstanding the Ka-Boom timeline could exactly know if the ghost is going to succeed in avoiding the explosion...

  • he could be killed by the atmosphere (would the scuba diver suit really protect him?),
  • he could change his mind and walk away,
  • he could be killed by himself (what was he actually going to do? Meet himself and tell him not to try to start the ship?),
  • he could simply not be believed, or anyway
  • he could succeed and the ship could be blown away by something other...

I mean, nobody and nothing could be sure that the ship wasn't going to blow until these two minutes (at least) would pass, so the time travel would happen in an aleatory moment, and going forward in time you would arrive, in the uncertainty, in a safe-state-world which is the one that would exist without the aleatory action.

I know that this argument doesn't sound as something that could obviously work, but for me it is as good as the "he was going to do it, so if we travel in a future world we would see a world with all the aftermaths of it" argument... they could both be true or false because we don't know anything about it.

Comment from Felix Atagong.

I like this explanation. A time traveller is like Schrödinger's cat, and as long he is travelling and altering time-space-whatever you cannot be sure of the outcome. I still do not fully understand it but my soul is now finally at peace.

Bye bye and till the next time.

If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: This Satanic Trip


The Wrath Of Kubla Khan

Entry 285

This is another episode from my quest for the ultimate answer on the question: 'How Does Dirk Gently Really Ends?' 

I may not have been the only gentle reader with this question and several answers have already been published on this site, some dating from 1995. But sorry mates, I cannot ‘believe’ these explanations. Let me explain, but before I forget…

S P O I L E R S  A H E A D

Most of the book runs in an alternative timeline that has an extended Kubla Khan poem by Coleridge but has no knowledge of Johann Sebastian Bach. It is the top line from the figure underneath.

What happens in the novel is that Dirk Gently, a retired time lord and an extra-terrestrial ghost go back in time to a point of about 4 giga-years ago, just a few minutes before life on earth started. This is represented by the Ka-Boom branch on the time tree below.

Dirk Gently Timeline

The ghost starts walking towards the spaceship and from that moment on the timeline has already been changed. The only thing the ghost has to do is to to prevent the explosion that will cause life on earth. After that (non) event the timeline will change irreversibly into the bottom No Ka-Boom branch.

What Douglas Adams conceives is this: our heroes, who have realized their mistake, hurry back forward to Coleridge in 1797, protected by some space-time-warp-bubble inside the time machine and by changing the poem of Kubla Khan they not only change the future but also the past?!

This is simply not possible in a time travelling story where time has a linear structure, because when they arrive in 1797 they will find no Coleridge, no Cambridge, no United Kingdom. They will not find a single human soul alive simply because humankind will never have existed. All they will find in 1797 is an earth inhabited by intelligent tentacle things who took our planet as their holiday resort and who will go yummy yummy when they organize a big Dirk Gently barbecue.

If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: Gentle Ghosts


Mrs Sauskind's Cat And Other Relevant Facts

Entry 282

This is another answer on my question: How Does Dirk Gently Really Ends? 

An explanation by Glyn (1995-ish)

A spaceship comes to earth to colonise it. The entire crew make a preliminary landing in a landing craft, which is damaged by a meteorite on the way down. The pilot makes some repairs, but relies on his Electric Monk to verify that it is safe to take off. Unfortunately the Monk trusted a little too much - the landing craft blew up. In addition, the explosion caused the start of life in the river of sludge in the valley where the spaceship stood. That life eventually became man.

Fast forward.

The pilot has become a ghost since he has an unfinished task - he needs to reverse the explosion and stop man being created (man occupied the planet the alien and his mates wanted). His strength and influence fade in and out.

In the eighteenth century it is particularly strong. The ghost inhabits Coleridge - quite easy since Coleridge frequently uses laudanum allowing for manipulation of his mind. While in Coleridge's body it visited Reg (they lived in the same college) and came across the time machine. It now realises that it might be possible to correct the mistake, so as insurance against a time when the ghost may be weaker and able to remember less it gets Coleridge to write down the launch check instructions in the form of a poem. The poem, Kubla Khan describes the site of the spaceship (valley, river etc.), and the second verse contains the engine-check/flight details. The ghost's miserable existence also becomes the essence of a poem, The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner.

The ghost loses its power for two hundred years. However, in 198* it regains enough power to have a stab at occupying Reg and persuading him to go back to a time before the explosion, in the time machine. The ghost isn't strong enough to manipulate Reg (or Richard for that matter) but hits pay dirt with Michael Wenton-Weakes. By reading Rime, Wenton-Weakes becomes aware of the ghost's plight, and in identifying it with his own situation attunes his mind to that of the ghost, allowing him to be totally possessed. The ghost then prepares him for the task ahead by getting him to read Kubla Khan.

Therefore, they all go back in time.

Then Dirk realises that if the explosion doesn't occur then neither will humankind. Therefore, he travels to Coleridge's house and disturbs him and the ghost long enough to prevent the second verse of Kubla Khan being written. Without the aid of these instructions Wenton-Weakes is unable to prevent the explosion and humankind is saved. This doesn't get rid of the ghost, but there now exists a time loop between 1798 and 198* which forever eradicates the ghost's ability to correct its mistake. The ghost lives on but is powerless to change things.

And just to make absolutely certain that the ghost can't ever get back to the mother ship, while Richard waits for Dirk to emerge from Coleridge's cottage Reg sneaks off and destroys it. (Note: In real life there is no second part of Kubla Khan. Coleridge genuinely was interrupted by a visitor while writing it, and was detained long enough that he couldn't remember what came next so it was never finished.)

Now the albatross. Part of the same time loop. The ghost inspired Coleridge to write Rime. In the ghost's story a meteorite struck the ship. It doesn't have the Albatross. (And consequently doesn't have the main point about redemption and finding the slimy things to be beautiful). The joke here is that Richard didn't understand Rime so he asked Dirk to question Coleridge on the meaning of The Albatross. However, Coleridge wrote Rime after Khan, so he didn't understand the question. He hadn't written the poem yet. Dirk's question actually inspired it! Richard's non-understanding of the albatross was what created it. When the ghost as Wenton-Weakes reads the poem he doesn't like that bit since it messes up his own story.

Finally Bach. In the alternate reality Bach is unknown. Reg went back to the mother ship to destroy it; he also copied some of the music from the ship (this takes some considerable amount of time, which is why Richard noted that he'd gained), and gave it to Bach who subsequently passed it off as his own work. This explains why Richard hadn't known about Bach before when he finds the sheet music in Susan's flat.

It also explains the comment about "a major season of Buxtehude is clearly long overdue". Bach and Buxtehude were once competitors for the post of resident organist and composer at the cathedral in Leipzig), a competition which at the time Buxtehude won hands down. Of course, Bach is now one of the best-known composers and Buxtehude is relatively obscure, and in our world would be much less likely to merit a major season. Without Reg's intervention it seems Buxtehude continued to be regarded as the major composer of his day.

Oh, and since you asked about Mrs Sauskind's cat, in the alternate reality Dirk was hired to find the missing cat. In changing the past they wiped that sequence of events and when Dirk tries to chase Mrs Sauskind for his bill he finds she never hired him and her cat had died several years ago.

If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: This Satanic Trip

2001: A Time Odyssey

Entry 281

This is another answer on my question: How Does Dirk Gently Really Ends?.

Of course the time paradox from the Dirk Gently novel has been discussed before in the past, although in the past may be quite a subjective term when discussing time paradoxes. Tukler (remember him from the previous entry?) gave me a link to a discussion from 2001 that I represent here in Reader’s Digest form.

Tom Wyant

Q: How did they save the world?

A: If you already know all about Samuel Taylor Coleridge, skip the next paragraph. Coleridge was a real person, and his poem Kubla Khan (which is read in Chapter 6) is a real poem. The story about this poem is that it came to Coleridge in a drug dream. He was in the middle of writing it down when a person (later described as a Person from Porlock) came to visit unexpectedly. By the time Coleridge got rid of his visitor, he had forgotten how the rest of his poem went.

You will recall in Chapter 6, there is a Coleridge dinner, at which it is traditional to read Kubla Khan. Quotes from the poem appear throughout the chapter. And at the end of that chapter, we find the reader beginning on the "second, and altogether stranger, part of the poem." So, the world of Dirk Gently, at that point in the novel, is NOT world we live in, because in that world the Person from Porlock never visited Coleridge, and the whole poem got written down. This is important to realize, or the end of the book makes no sense.

Well, in Chapter 36, we learn that the second part of the poem contains all the instructions necessary (to building the Professor's time/space machine), if you know what you're looking for. So the second part must be suppressed. They achieved this by having Dirk Gently be the Person from Porlock, visit Coleridge, and talk to him until he couldn't remember the last half of the poem. Because the instructions did not get written down, the Professor's machine could not be built, and so the ghost was powerless to get sent back in time.

Q: Why did the Professor grow a beard?

A: To quote the novel, "Carelessness." But this doesn't make a lot of sense until you have the answer to the next two questions.

Q: Where did he go?

A: You have to infer this from the last three paragraphs of chapter 35, as well as the answer to your last question. I infer from those last three paragraphs that the Professor destroyed the Mother Ship. The light in the sky would the ship exploding (though Douglas Adams never says this explicitly), and the "Sorry, Richard" because Richard had been to the Mother Ship, and heard the music playing. That music (or at least most of it) was now lost to the world. The world did not know its loss, but Richard did.

Q: Why was Richard surprised to hear Bach?

A: Because, in the world in which Richard grew up, Bach was not a composer. Notice that Bach is not mentioned before Chapter 36; Susan Way plays Mozart instead. The act of saving the world turned it into the world we now live in, where Kubla Khan has no second part, and Bach was a famous composer.

How did Bach come into it? Well, apparently (and Adams only hints at this) before the Professor destroyed the Mother Ship, he spent some time on it (enough time to grow a three-inch beard) transcribing the music. Then, he gave that music to Bach as a way of preserving it. As the Professor said to Dirk, "It was rather more than one man could actually do in a lifetime, but I don't suppose anyone will look at it too seriously."


Q: But if the time machine never got built... Then how did the Professor go back in time to give the music to Bach?

A: Time is a lot like a gigantic puzzle, in a way that a lot of gigantic puzzles aren't. Basically it looks confusing when viewed one way, and then you realize that all you have to do is turn the piece in front of you one hundred twenty degrees to the left and it transmogrifies into the very piece you've been looking for during the past four hours. Time is like that, but without the puzzle or the piece or the ability to turn anything anywhere for any period of time.

One theory suggests that by going back in time Dirk & co. created an alternate timeline in which there is no such thing as a time machine, and where Coleridge never finished his poem. So the professor could easily travel for as long as he wanted where and when he wanted -- as long as he never returned home. For as soon as he materialized his dorm back where it rightfully belonged, the timeline he helped create would grab a hold of him and promptly erase all traces of any time-travel technology in a valiant attempt to restore sanity to the universe once more.

Which is why the professor's time machine no longer worked at the very end of the book, and why his phone did.

Dirk Gently Time Paradoxes

Comments from: Felix Atagong

Can I say that I'm not completely happy with the above explanations? It still doesn't explain how Dirk Gently saved the world, and it brings in a complete new theory, namely that the second part of the Kubla Khan poem contained the plans to build a time machine.

If this theory is correct: who built the time machine then? Coleridge couldn't have done it, because he was mostly under the influence of drugs. And Reg (or Professor Urban Chronotis, the Regius Professor of Chronology) was never long enough under the influence of the ghost to build it.

But more of that all at another moment in time.

If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: Nomen Est Omen: Starship Titanic


Tukler's Time Treatment

Entry 280

Tukler was one of the people who gave me an answer on the How Does Dirk Gently Really Ends? question through the Douglas Adams NG.

S P O I L E R S  A H E A D

When they discovered they had 2 minutes left, they didn't to anything to stop the ghost at that time, but activated the time machine and travelled forward in time to Coleridge's time, and prevent Coleridge to write the second part of Kubla Khan.

Another theory, which I support, about its meaning in the book is that it doesn't have a real meaning in itself but it was a test who the ghost was making on Coleridge to see if he was easy to possess, like the others he made with Reg and Richard, and then make him do something other, like visit Reg's time machine, like Reg said.

In some way this lead the ghost to not be able anymore, in the future, to remember that he had to come back in time with Reg's time machine. Besides Reg destroyed the ghost's ship (this is what almost everybody thinks the flare in the sky, Reg's "sorry" to Richard and the Reg's giving the music to Bach for not to lose it forever means) and dismantled his time machine, so the ghost would have had anyway no reason and no way to go back in time.

When they went back to the standard time and everything was resolved, and those "2 minutes" would not have happened. If we think that a ghost, which stays still in the Earth because he has some mission to accomplish, could go away, besides fulfilling his task, even if he has no way at all to manage to do it, maybe the ghost would have been disappeared.

This story presents some little time paradoxes, but if we stick to DNA's way and think only about the current universe in which the current characters are currently living, it kind of works. We don't have to bother what happened when the ghost tried to stop life to begin, because in the present universe it just didn't happen.

Now, in my current universe and in my current time zone, it's 2:45 and it's time to sleep.

I hope I have been clear and have not confused you more.

So far Tukler's comment that I appreciate very much, the following days I will publish some more answers from the past (Google is really a time machine you know), including some nitty witty time paradoxes I still can't live with...

If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: The Abandon Earth Kit aka How To Leave The Planet


Gentle Ghosts

Entry 274

I have (re)read Douglas Adams' Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency for about the fourth time now and still I'm puzzled. I really don't understand the ending and maybe some helpful ghost could give me a call to clear things up a little...

Attention: if you haven't read the book...

S P O I L E R S  A H E A D

When the ghost from the planet Salaxar (who hijacked the body of Michael Wenton-Weakes) arrives in Cambridge he has a chat with Dirk Gently who says at a certain point: "I've never cross-examined a four-billion-year old ghost before." How does Dirk knows the ghost is that old, wouldn't it be more logical to assume that the ghost is of Coleridge's time period (some 200 years ago). It is only in the next chapter that the ghost reveals that he (she? it?) is a space traveller who roamed the earth before life on it started. But that is only a minor point.

The time machine is then used to transport the ghost-Michael-Wenton-Weakes entity back in time so that he (she? it?) can prevent his spaceship from exploding. Only when it is nearly too late the holistic detective finds out that the spaceship explosion will trigger life on earth. Although he has travelled a few billion years back in time he has now only 2 minutes to save the world.

What happens in those two minutes? Do they kill Michael Wenton-Weakes (with the space travelling ghost inside) while he is walking towards the ship? If yes, how? Do they shoot him although I don't recall a gun? They can't run into the poisonous atmosphere and grab Michael Wenton-Weakes so they need to stop him another way.

There is a two minutes unexplained gap in the book.

In the following chapter the gang of time travellers (minus Michael who is apparently dead) are already back in Coleridge's cottage and change the Kubla Khan poem, this to prevent that the two Salaxar ghosts (thanks to the time paradoxes the amount of living ghosts has doubled) will remember how to destroy life on earth once again (or again and again).

Can someone provide me with the What and Where and When and How and Why and Who of this All?

If you are confused by this post you'll know exactly how I felt after reading the book.

If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: So Long