A Redditor found a fax sent from Douglas Adams' to Byron Preiss in a copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Apparently Byron edited a version of the book. I wonder if it was the version I fell in love with when I was a teen.
Fax from Douglas Adams to US editor Byron Preiss
Monday, January 13th, 1992, 5:26pm
Thanks for the script of the novel… I’ll respond as quickly and briefly as possible.
One general point. A thing I have had said to me over and over again
whenever I’ve done public appearances and readings and so on in the
States is this: Please don’t let anyone Americanise it! We like it the
way it is!
There are some changes in the script that simply don’t make sense.
Arthur Dent is English, the setting is England, and has been in every
single manifestation of HHGG ever. The ‘Horse and Groom' pub that Arthur
and Ford go to is an English pub, the ‘pounds’ they pay with are
English (but make it twenty pounds rather than five – inflation). So why
suddenly ‘Newark’ instead of ‘Rickmansworth’? And ‘Bloomingdales’
instead of ‘Marks & Spencer’? The fact that Rickmansworth is not
within the continental United States doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist!
American audiences do not need to feel disturbed by the notion that
places do exist outside the US or that people might suddenly refer to
them in works of fiction. You wouldn’t, presumably, replace Ursa Minor
Beta with ‘Des Moines’. There is no Bloomingdales in England, and
Bloomingdales is not a generic term for large department stores. If you
feel that referring to ‘Marks & Spencer’ might seriously freak out
Americans because they haven’t heard of it… we could either put warning
stickers on the label (‘The text of this book contains references to
places and institutions outside the continental United States and may
cause offence to people who haven’t heard of them’) or you could, I
suppose, put ‘Harrods’, which most people will have heard of. Or we
could even take the appalling risk of just recklessly mentioning things
that people won’t have heard of and see if they survive the experience.
They probably will – when people are born they haven’t heard or anything
or anywhere, but seem to get through the first years of their lives
Another point is something I’m less concerned about, but which I
thought I’d mention and then leave to your judgement. You’ve replaced
the joke about digital watches with a reference to ‘cellular phones’
instead. Obviously, I understand that this is an attempt to update the
joke, but there are two points to raise in defence of the original. One
is that it’s a very, very well known line in Hitch Hiker, and one that
is constantly quoted back at me on both sides of the Atlantic, but the
other is that there is something inherently ridiculous about digital
watches, and not about cellular phones. Now this is obviously a matter
of opinion, but I think it’s worth explaining. Digital watches came
along at a time that, in other areas, we were trying to find ways of
translating purely numeric data into graphic form so that the
information leapt easily to the eye. For instance, we noticed that pie
charts and bar graphs often told us more about the relationships between
things than tables of numbers did. So we worked hard to make our
computers capable of translating numbers into graphic displays. At the
same time, we each had the world’s most perfect pie chart machines
strapped to our wrists, which we could read at a glance, and we suddenly
got terribly excited at the idea of translating them back into
numeric data, simply because we suddenly had the technology to do it…
so digital watches were mere technological toys rather than significant
improvements on anything that went before. I don’t happen to think that
that’s true of cellular comms technology. So that’s why I think that
digital watches (which people still do wear) are inherently ridiculous,
whereas cell phones are steps along the way to more universal
communications. They may seem clumsy and old-fashioned in twenty years
time because they will have been replaced by far more sophisticated
pieces of technology that can do the job better, but they will not, I
think, seem inherently ridiculous.
One other thing. I’d rather have characters say ‘What do you mean?’
rather than ‘Whadd’ya mean?’ which I would never, ever write myself,
even if you held me down on a table and threatened me with hot skewers.
Otherwise it looks pretty good […].