“Garble yabble blarb bleg rrrrgurgle uurrgh yarlble gaaaarbl should have a good time” is one of my earliest memories. I was between three and seven: my brother may have existed at the time, but he didn’t figure yet. The Vogon announcement was coming out of the speakers of a grey Volvo on its way to Maine, and the speakers were instructed by a thin magnetic tape unspooling through a plastic container labelled “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” that one of my parents had inserted into something called a tape player. Tape players were important to cars back then.
It took me an improbable number of years to get all the jokes I heard during that three- to sevenish-year-old memory. And not because I didn’t know the text: the tapes were the only consistent balm for the nightmares and insomnia that ate my life from ‘86 to ‘96. From The Guide to The Fish, I listened to a piece of the story every night for ten years, and grew up with the firm knowledge that I lived in the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the galaxy.1 I remember early 90s late nights as a series of eurekas about things like Arthur’s morphing bag being a joke about air travel, and the identity of the man who got nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be for people to be nice to each other for a change. Somebody had to explain to me why Ford Prefect’s name was nicely inconspicuous, but I think most Americans had that problem.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide informed my early writing style, my sense of humor, and doomed me to the life of a nerd, which ended up being okay because the machines enslaved us in 2003 and nerds could volunteer as prison camp guards. It taught me to accept an absurd universe and find humor in the absurdity.
Audio tapes are in that odd category of physical goods that take more damage from being used for their intended purpose than from being kicked down a staircase. Ten years of constant listening gradually turns the content into untranslated Vogon. By 1997, trying to listen to them was worse than trying to download porn gifs on mercurial dialup connections. Fortunately, I lost my virginity that year, and had a distracting list of new things to think about at three in the morning.
We picked up a new version of the tapes read by Douglas Adams, I ran off to college, and time did its thing.
The version on the destroyed tapes didn’t enter my mind until one of the lonelier nights of my first year in Brooklyn. I couldn’t sleep, and I all I wanted was that British voice and that perfectly restrained use of sound effects describing Arthur’s improbably unlucky life.
“This should be easy,” I thought, “now that this fancy new internet has replaced most of my brain. I should have a copy in twenty minutes.”
Stress and nervous tension are now serious social problems in all parts of the galaxy, and it is in order that this situation should not in any way be exacerbated that I will reveal that it took me ten years to find this recording.
It doesn’t take ten years to find anything anymore. It took the LHC half that time to find the goddamn Higgs boson. The situation was complicated by the fact that The Hitchhiker’s Guide has so many mutant forms it’s hard to know what you’re looking at: there’s the original radio play, the books adapted from the radio play, then the abridged Stephen Moore audiobook, followed by the BBC television series, then Douglas Adams read an unabridged version of the books, then there were more radio plays released adapting the story content after the first two books, then there was a movie and another unabridged edition of the first book by Stephen Fry and the next four books by Martin Freeman.
After wading through this nightmare googling, and eventually actually reading multiple wikipedia pages start to finish,2 I figured out I wanted the abridged Stephen Moore version. Sweet! I’ve got a name, that should speed things up.
Turns out Stephen Moore is as dedicated to the series as Douglas Adams. Aside from the book, he starred in the original radio play as Marvin, Gag Halfront, the whale, The Ruler of the Universe, and one of the mice, then stayed on as Marvin for the BBC series, and came back for the new radio adaptations, and it doesn’t help that another Stephen of the Fry variety got mixed up in all of this by doing a book and voicing the Guide in the movie. Typing “Stephen Moore Hitchhiker’s Guide” into google is about as useful as typing “Douglas Adams Hitchhiker’s Guide.”
I had an ISBN number for the version I wanted, and still couldn’t find it. I also had a small collection of audio tapes bought by well-meaning friends and family, and thank you guys, I thought we had it too, but they all turned out to be partial radio plays.
I had given up. I drunkenly wrote an email to the listed addresses for Stephen Moore and the website admin of this hilariously awful archived website. It bounced. The next morning, despairing and hungover, I typed in a google search I can’t remember at work while my coffee set in. The familiar list of purple links showed up, along with a blue one to SoundCloud. I clicked through and played yet another radio play for a minute, then, in the last twenty seconds of my allotted dicking-around-in-the-morning-at-work time, searched SoundCloud for “the hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy audiobook.”
Sorry old friends, sorry mom and dad, and sorry bro, but if I have an electronic thumb handy when the world ends, I’m taking Gavin with me. Gavin knows that when all else is dust and despair, there might be a torrent from Brazil that can complete your quest, and that’s the kind of hoopy frood you need to have along when you’re exploring the galaxy.
Gavin sent me the files. He had them all, and I wondered why he hadn’t put them all up on SoundCloud, but it turns out you need a pro account to put up more than a hundred-something minutes. Since, over the past decade, people have given me more money per year (cough) than a pro account costs (ahem) I went for it and put the entire thing up (cough cough hack snort cough), so the next person on this mission doesn’t have to do quite as much work.
And now the tricky part.
I clearly do not have the rights to this, and as an author I absolutely respect the copyright I am certainly violating. Via SoundCloud’s terms of service, I didn’t make it downloadable, because I don’t own the work. Oh publishing gods, send me a notice and I will take this down faster than Abraham whipped out the knife for Isaac. I’m putting this out there because I would have paid a meth-addict amount of money for this recording, had I been able to find it for sale. It seems no publisher made the effort to rapture it into the digital ever after, so I’m assuming nobody cares. If the publishers do care, I only ask that you put out a version I can buy. If the publishers don’t care, but Stephen Moore does, I’ll send every donated (AHEM) penny to him, and take it down on his request.
As for the mp3 files on my personal computer, you can pry them from my cold, dead keyboard.