Having moved house in November, I finally got around to opening up the second set of book boxes and filling the shelves of the Billy bookcases. Starship Titanic was one of the paperbacks I lifted out and set aside. It seemed an apt time to reacquaint myself with Douglas Adams’ 1997 vision of “the ship that cannot possibly go wrong”.
While Douglas Adams scripted the Starship Titanic computer game – significantly more advanced than the Infocom text adventure version of the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy – it fell to Terry Jones to write up the story as a novel.
The reader’s first sign that disaster may be looming comes with the realisation that Leovinus (the ship’s architect and designer) had “got into the habit of supervising the construction of his Starship by virtual reality and telepresence”.
It was a ship powered as much by data as by an engine.
Neuroconnectors … bifurcated into the memory bank and the sensation retrieval system … separators and trans-joiners linking and distinguishing those two vital processes: thought and feeling. His obsession was the heart of this Starship. He called her Titania.
While Belfast readers may think of Titania as the new sculpture outside the entrance of the Titanic Belfast centre, Adams’ Titania was the “massive cyber-intelligence system … imbued with emotions, with personality” that was to run the ship.
Dodgy builders, an unfinished vessel, Titania’s bits scattered across the ship, an insurance scam, a botched launch and a crash landing on the Earth all either led to or were caused by a SMEF: Spontaneous Massive Existence Failure.
Lucy, Dan and Nettie find themselves on board – along with ‘The Journalist’ and a parrot – with a bomb to defuse and a Titania to rebuild. They should head for the life-boats, but they’re in first class (which they’re not allowed into). But even if they got into first class …
… both [The Journalist] and Lucy discovered that while the Star-Struct Construction No. Inc. hadn’t skimped on the signs to the life-boats, they had economised on the life-boats themselves. In fact they had economised completely and utterly on them.
But in the world of Adams, maybe a counting down bomb can be negotiated with?
Frankly it’s a terrible read. The parallels with the real Titanic are there, but the plot evolves around a forced love triangle and a story arc nearly as thin as the walls fashioned by the shoddy starship builders. The only redeeming features of the book are that it’s a quick read and it highlights the brilliance of Adams’ more mainstream creations.
Starship Titanic – a book that no one will be celebrating on the hundredth anniversary of its publication.