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By Elwyn B. White, Katharine S. White

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There was something very slightly odd about him, but it was difficult to say what it was. Perhaps it was that his eyes didn’t seem to blink often enough and when you talked to him for any length of time your eyes began involuntarily to water on his behalf. Perhaps it was that he smiled slightly too broadly and gave people the unnerving impression that he was about to go for their neck. He struck most of the friends he had made on Earth as an eccentric, but a harmless one—an unruly boozer with some oddish habits.

He liked science fiction, although he was never a fan. He supported himself through this period with a variety of odd jobs: he was, for example, a hired bodyguard for an oil-rich Arabian family, a job that entailed wearing a suit and sitting in hotel corridors through the night listening to the ding of passing elevators. In 1977 BBC radio producer (and well-known mystery author) Simon Brett commissioned him to write a science fiction comedy for BBC Radio Four. Douglas originally imagined a series of six half-hour comedies called The Ends of the Earth—funny stories which at the end of each, the world would end.

M. on Wednesday, March 8, 1978, in a huge blaze of no publicity at all. Bats heard it. The odd dog barked. After a couple of weeks a letter or two trickled in. So—someone out there had listened. People I talked to seemed to like Marvin the Paranoid Android, whom I had written in as a one-scene joke and had only developed further at Geoffrey’s insistence. Then some publishers became interested, and I was commissioned by Pan Books in England to write up the series in book form. After a lot of procrastination and hiding and inventing excuses and having baths, I managed to get about two-thirds of it done.

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A Subtreasury of American Humor by Elwyn B. White, Katharine S. White


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