So Long, And Thanks For All The Bacon
Posted to %afda by Kibo on 13th May 2001
My hastily written, poorly edited, mostly harmless tribute to Douglas Adams, who was unfortunately rendered completely harmless yesterday at the age of 49.
SO LONG, AND THANKS FOR ALL THE BACON
Copyright (C) 2001 James "Kibo" Parry
Arthur Dent adjusted his tattered bathrobe and tried to remember what had happened. The word "bacon" registered with his mind somehow, but he couldn't quite trace where it came from. Then he remembered. He was the sole survivor of the Earth, which had been demolished by the Gorfon Bacon Service, and now here he was on the planet Doodilwumbus listening to the two greatest Doodilwumbrian scientists explaining it to him.
"So you see," said the first scientist, "The Gorfon fleet had to demolish your home planet so they could lay the final bacon pipe to connect all the civilised worlds of the Galaxy, enabling everyone to have an unlimited supply of delicious bacon from their kitchen faucets."
"But that's silly," said Arthur, "That's a very stupid way to move bacon."
"I believe you had some similar arrangement on your planet, involving water."
"Yes, but water was usually liquid on our planet, while bacon, correctly-made, is a crispy solid."
"You of Earth know nothing of bacon. Here, taste this." The scientist turned a knob and a helical spigot dispensed a coil of bacon. It came out so rapidly that it was still rotating after he handed it to Arthur, who gladly ate it, as it was the only food he had had since the Earth and all its Starbucks blew up.
"Thank-you very much for the bacon," said Arthur with his mouth full.
"I can only hope that, in small part, the knowledge that the Galaxy is assured of a steady supply of bacon makes up for the destruction of your home planet."
"Oh, yes, very," said Arthur dryly.
"That is good," said the scientist.
"I was being sarcastic. Back on Earth we had a thing called sarcasm."
"Well, then, I suppose it's just as well that it got blown up with the rest of your planet. You should not fret over the loss of a single planet. Planets get blown up every day! And while your civilization may have been quite pathetic by most any standard, the way in which it met its end was not as pathetic as many others. Let me tell you the story of the planet Turpiburf."
Arthur pulled up a two-legged Doodilwumbrian chair and sat as the scientist began to rattle on about some planet he hadn't heard of. He checked his digital watch and it was still stuck on "42:42", where it had frozen when the Earth exploded.
The scientist solemnly recited, "Turpiburf was an ancient and peaceful planet. However, their civilization met an untimely end through a means so pathetic that even the smallest atoms in the Universe would demonstrate their sympathy if they could. You see, on Turpiburf, there was a writer. He wasn't the best writer there was. And his humour was funny, but he wasn't the funniest. But he wrote funny science fiction, and he was beloved because his lighthearted prose contained more clever science-fiction ideas per square inch than most 'serious' science fiction, and was funnier as well. People recognised his wit and talent even though he was humble enough to try to mask his brilliance by giving all his characters names like Pootidootdoot T. Tugboatfoot and Doidywugfuggler."
"Doidywugfuggler? That's the stupidest name I ever heard!"
"It so happens that my parents thought very highly of that name when they gave it to me."
"Oh. What I meant to say was that it is a very fine name and I have nothing against people with names of that sort."
"Yes, I am sure you had many friends with silly names on Earth, assuming you had any friends before the Earth blew up."
Arthur made a mental note not to ask the other scientist his name. The first scientist said, "If I may continue with my story now, this author who wrote amusing science fiction tales was known for peppering his stories with terms which would become popular catchphrases across all the continents of his world. He got people to giggle as they said 'So long, and thanks for all the fish' to each other, or 'We apologise for the inconvenience', 'Oh no, not again!', 'Don't Panic', 'Mostly Harmless', or even 'Forty-Two'. Now, '42' is perhaps the most effective meme in the known universe. It took real literary genius to pack an entire virally-transmitted comedy catchphrase into just two digits."
Arthur checked his watch again. It said "42:42". He figured this must mean something.
The scientist droned on. "But what nobody knew was that while this author was Xeroxing the first draft of his first manuscript, he was also playing with the copy machine, trying to produce a distorted copy of his face. He leaned forward just a little too far, and the glass shattered. He recovered from his injuries after a few weeks and forgot about the incident. However, he did not notice that by inserting his head into the copying machine, he had accidentally given it direct access to his brain...
"Later that night, in accordance with Her Majesty's government's standard procedures, a representative from British Telecom came about to collect the microfilm. All copy machines on the planet Turpiburf were designed to store tiny photographs of all the documents they copied, and rolls of microfilm were delivered to British Telecom headquarters each night. However, in this case, when the spool of microfilm was placed on the Telecom Director's desk, it got knocked into the wastebasket while he was chasing his secretary around the desk, as he was wont to do. That wastebasket was then accidentally delivered to Eyre Methuen publishing, which printed the author's book. Of course, because the copy machine had copied thoughts directly out of his brain, the author's work was now tinged with his thoughts. Every copy of his book contained extra-effective catchphrases because there was a tiny portion of the author in each copy, and reading them enabled his thoughts to take residence in millions of other people's brains."
"No, actually, it was quite a pleasant experience. People enjoyed reading his eccentric humour, or hearing it on the radio, or seeing it on the telly, or being frustrated by it in computer games, and this caused a few of the author's thought processes to live on in other minds, some of which even went on to infect other people with tawdry imitations of his prose. Be that as it may, the important point is that this technological accident increased the potency of the author's catchphrases and caused many people to consider the idea of '42' to be the most hilarious joke ever created. Mathematicians, scientists, and even lowly waiters were unable to think of the number 42 without thinking of the author's wacky stories, so all mathematical and scientific progress came to a halt when the people found themselves incapable of working with the number 42. For a time, they tried to carry on by restricting themselves to the numbers 1 to 41, but even thinking of 41 made people giggle because it was so close to 42. So then they limited themselves to the numbers 40 and under."
"It must have been tragic for those who were having their 42nd birthday," said Arthur.
"Not really. They were painlessly euthanised. In any case, the author's world struggled along gamely, but nothing could be accomplished. Nobody ever had more than 40 quid in the bank. Computers were inoperable due to their 40-hertz processors and 40-key keyboards. Their civilization withered, collapsed, died, and then exploded. Today there is only a floating cloud of ashes where their planet once was. They are forgotten as all records of their existence were destroyed."
"Then, how do you know this story?"
"Oh, the author himself wrote a science fiction story with that very premise and posted it on the Whizzella Wacky-Media Trans-Galactic Network before he and his planet were obliterated. Thus, in our modern time, everyone knows the sad story of the planet that has been forgotten."
"Yes," said the second scientist, speaking up for the first time, "The memory of this author will live on forever. He wasn't the greatest, but he was good enough to accidentally destroy his civilization, which makes him right important in my way of thinking."
"And what was the name of this author?" asked Arthur.
"You tell him, Doidyfugwuggler," said the second scientist, "as my memory seems to be failing."
"Very well," said Doidyfugwuggler. "The name of the author was--" But he was unable to complete his sentence as a malfunctioning artificially intelligent door sealed him into a closet. All Arthur could hear was the door saying "Thank you for letting me mistakenly lock you in the closet!" over and over. He turned to the second scientist.
"So what was his name?"
"His name was... you must forgive me, it is hard to remember these details due to the time-reversed brain damage I will suffer next year when experimenting with time travel... his name was... was... Oh, fiddlesticks. You'd better just look it up yourself in this library computer, which contains all the knowledge of the galaxy."
He tossed what looked like a strip of bacon to Arthur, who was about to eat it when he noticed it had tiny push buttons and a little brownish screen. He carefully pushed a few of the buttons and wiped the grease off the screen. "It says that the name of the author was... Douglas Adams."
"What a dull name!" said Fartzonsmurves.
And then a giant mouse ate them.