Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
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Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency


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Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

Copyright © 1987 by Douglas Adams

Note (Hal’s):
The plot of this novel has much to do with “Kubla Khan” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

— end note


The Electric Monk was a labor-saving device, like a dishwasher or a video recorder. Dishwashers washed tedious dishes for you, thus saving you the bother of washing them yourself, video recorders watched tedious television for you, thus saving you the bother of looking at it yourself. Electric Monks believed things for you, thus saving you what was becoming an increasingly onerous task, that of believing all the things the world expected you to believe.




[...] it was none the less a perfectly ordinary horse, such as convergent evolution has produced in many of the places that life is to be found. They have always understood a great deal more than they let on. It is difficult to be sat on all day, every day, by some other creature, without forming an opinion about them.

On the other hand, it is perfectly possible to sit all day, every day, on top of another creature and not have the slightest thought about them whatsoever.





The more Susan waited, the more the doorbell didn’t ring. Or the phone. She looked at her watch. She felt that now was about the time that she could legitimately begin to feel cross. She was cross already, of course, but that had been in her own time, so to speak.

CHAPTER 4 Professor Urban Chronotis, the Regius Professor of Chronology, or “Reg” as he insisted on being called, had a memory that he himself had once compared to the Queen Alexandra Birdwing Butterfly, in that it was colorful, flitted prettily hither and thither, and was now, alas, almost completely extinct.



These two were busy explaining to the harassed man that the phrase “too much Mozart” was, given any reasonable definition of those three words, an inherently self-contradictory expression, and that any sentence which contained such a phrase would be thereby rendered meaningless and could not, consequently, be advanced as part of an argument in favor of any given program-scheduling strategy.

“Well, what we called a computer in 1977 was really a kind of electric abacus, but ...”

“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.



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?”

“It would be hard to learn much less than my pupils,” came a low growl from somewhere on the table, “without undergoing a prefrontal lobotomy.”



Computer programming

CHAPTER 6 The reader clearly belonged to the school of thought which holds that a sense of the seriousness or greatness of a poem is best imparted by reading it in a silly voice. He soared and swooped at the words until they seemed to duck and run for cover.
CHAPTER 8 “Port perhaps? Or brandy? The port I think is the better bet, laid down by the college in 1934, one of the finest vintages I think you’ll find, and on the other hand I don’t actually have any brandy.”



“It’s funny how many of the best ideas are just an old idea back-to-front. You see there have already been several programs written that help you to arrive at decisions by properly ordering and analyzing all the relevant facts so that they then point naturally toward the right decision. The drawback with these is that the decision which all the properly ordered and analyzed facts point to is not necessarily the one you want.”

“Yeeeess ...” said Reg’s voice from the kitchen.

“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.”

“And I have to say that it worked brilliantly. [...] The entire project was bought up, lock, stock and barrel, by the Pentagon.”

“Darjeeling will do fine,” replied Richard [...]

“Milk?” called Reg.

“Er, please.”

“One lump or two?”




CHAPTER 14 “How can you have the gall to stand there with two arms, two legs and a head as if you’re a human being? This is behavior that a bout of amebic dysentery would be ashamed of.”



CHAPTER 16 “I believe, as you know, Mrs Sauskind, in the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. Furthermore I have plotted and triangulated the vectors of the interconnectedness of all things and traced them to a beach in Bermuda which it is therefore necessary for me to visit from time to time in the course of my investigations. I wish it were not the case, since, sadly, I am allergic to both the sun and rum punches, but then we all have our crosses to bear, do we not, Mrs Sauskind?”


Fakin’ it

“I live in what are known as hopes. I hope for fascinating and remunerative cases, my secretary hopes that I will pay her, her landlord hopes that she will produce some rent, the Electricity Board hopes that he will settle their bill, and so on. I find it a wonderfully optimistic way of life.”



CHAPTER 19 His own greatest satisfaction still remained that of throwing himself into a muddy ditch and firing a machine gun for at least a minute, and he didn’t think that the British newspaper and publishing industry, even in its current state of unrest, was likely to afford him that pleasure, at least until some more Australians moved into it.



[...] he was listening to the music.

A bewildered look crept slowly across his face as he realized that he had never done this before. He had heard it many, many times, and thought that it made a very pleasant noise. Indeed, he found that it made a pleasant background against which to discuss the concert season, but it had never before occurred to him that there was anything actually to listen to.



The things by which our emotions can be moved—the shape of a flower or a Grecian urn, the way a baby grows, the way the wind brushes across your face, the way clouds move, their shapes, the way light dances on the water, or daffodils flutter in the breeze, the way in which the person you love moves their head, the way their hair follows that movement, the curve described by the dying fall of the last chord of a piece of music—all these things can be described by the complex flow of numbers.

That’s not a reduction of it, that’s the beauty of it.

Ask Newton.

Ask Einstein.

Ask the poet (Keats) who said that what the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth.




CHAPTER 20 “Let us think the unthinkable, let us do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.”




“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.”




If ever she was feeling emotional or upset she could sit and play some music with utter concentration and emerge seeming fresh and calm.

The next time she played the same music, however, it would all burst from her and she could go completely to pieces.

He continued, “It disturbs me very greatly when I find that I know things and do not know why I know them. Maybe it is the same instinctive processing of data that allows you to catch a ball almost before you’ve seen it. Maybe it is the deeper and less explicable instinct that tells you when someone is watching you. It is a very great offense to my intellect that the very things that I despise other people for being credulous of actually occur to me.”


“And Mrs Roberts? How is she? Foot still troubling her?”

“Not since she had it off, thanks for asking, sir. Between you and me, sir, I would’ve been just as happy to have had her amputated and kept the foot. I had a little spot reserved on the mantelpiece, but there we are, we have to take things as we find them.”

“I would have thought it was quite obvious. Anyone could have thought of it.”

“Ah,” said Dirk, “it is a rare mind indeed that can render the hitherto nonexistent blindingly obvious. The cry ‘I could have thought of that’ is a very popular and misleading one, for the fact is that they didn’t, and a very significant and revealing fact it is too.”


“Certainly better than television and a great deal easier to use than a video recorder. If I miss a program I just pop back in time and watch it. I’m hopeless fiddling with all those buttons.”

Dirk reacted with horror at this revelation.

“You have a time machine and you use it for ... watching television?”

“Well, I wouldn’t use it at all if I could get the hang of the video recorder.”


Time Travel


text checked (see note) Jul 2006

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