Open Letter Prof. Emeritus Paul Brians

Open Letter — Professor Emeritus Paul Brians — Washington State University — Department of English


Several years ago, I came across the book “Common Errors in English Usage” by Paul Brians. After reading it, I took the time to look up the author on the Internet and came across a wealth of information on his homepage. For readers as well as authors, his homepage offers extensive materials and resources on science fiction. Since Prof. Paul Brians developed the Online Graduate-Level Science Fiction Course (Teaching Science Fiction in High School Classes no longer being offered), which has “Solaris” by the Polish author Stanislaw Lem listed, I thought it would be a great idea to engage with someone who is not only familiar with the genre science fiction as a reader, but also as a teacher. Since Stanislaw Lem was one of Douglas Adams’s favorite authors, I was hoping to engage Prof. Brians as a contributor for a blog entry about parallels of Lem’s and Adams’s writings. Sadly, Prof. Brians declined, since he is not teaching anymore, but he is still involved with the Science Fiction Museum inside the Experience Music Project at the Seattle Center in Seattle, Washington.

Prof. Brians gave me the permission to publish his reply on my blog. He also included a poster of an upcoming Star Wars Event for publishing (see below). In addition I linked to the third edition of “Common Errors in English Usage”. If you have the time, check out the links to materials and resources of science fiction (The Douglas Adams and h2g2 community sites are also back-linked). Information also includes science fiction films.


Dear Ms. Russell,


Thanks for the comments. 

Did you know that a new, expanded third edition of Common Errors was published last year? I’m pretty proud of it. 

I really like Douglas Adams, but for me the “real” HHG story is the original version broadcast by BBC radio. I now give tours at the Science Fiction Museum inside the Experience Music Project at Seattle Center, and I start by talking about HHG. 

But I’ve really read very little SF in recent years. Now that I’m retired and moved away from the campus library I’m into other things: mainly photography, contemporary non-SF fiction, and collecting and reading classic comic strips (not comic books, newspaper strips). 

I admire Lem and have read all of his books which were translated. I’ve often wished there were new better translations directly from the Polish (most of the English versions are done from previous French translations). Solaris and Fiasco are my favorites. The impossibility of truly knowing the other, combined with his sardonic, pessimistic sense of humor, is what it seems to me Lem and Adams have in common. 

A Polish woman who came into the museum one day was disappointed that we didn’t have a display relating to Lem. 

But I don’t feel up to writing something like this up in any detail. I’ve just been unplugged from those books too long and am concentrating on other things. 

My latest project before I retired was creating a detailed analysis of the influences of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon on George Lucas’ first three Star Wars films, complete with video clips of all the relevant scenes. I’ve shown it several times to various audiences. 

Best wishes, 

Paul Brians

About The Book
The third edition of Common Errors in English Usage has been revised and expanded by 20 percent. It remains a useful and fun guide to mixed-up, mangled expressions, foreign language faux pas, confusing terms, and commonly mispronounced words.
About The Author
Paul Brians (1942-) earned his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at Indiana University and joined the Department of English at Washington State University in 1968. He taught literature, interdisciplinary humanities, and world civilizations courses. He is most widely known for his Web site “Common Errors in English Usage,” which provided the material for the book and calendars by the same title. His Common Errors in English Web site has been recommended by BBC Online, Writer’s Digest, Yahoo! Internet Life magazine, USA Today,, the Seattle Times, and many other periodicals and publications.
This book is available in print and as an e-book on Amazon.



4 thoughts on “Open Letter Prof. Emeritus Paul Brians

    • I read a few Lem books back in school. I’m thinking about rereading them and the others that I haven’t covered yet. I just recently ordered the print edition of your book and I’m looking forward to reading it. h2g2 has lots of philosophical elements. I can go on about S.E.P. for hours. I was thinking of presenting it for Towel Day 2015 and was wondering if you would be interested. Can I contact you through your blog?


    • I’ll contact you through e-mail (blog). I read some of the things you wrote on your blog (
      Some philosophical topics in Hitchhiker’s). I “missed” the Marvin’s Descartes reference “I ache, therefore I am.” But then, what you wrote what you wrote was a short list. BTW, it was also in the original scripts and as far as I recall, Deep Thought said “I think, therefore I am”. Although, Deep Thought was still the typical computer, CPU-based, whereas Marvin as an android (CPP) reflects the human part (“I think you ought to know I’m feeling very depressed.”, “I don’t think it even occurred to them that I might have feelings”, “You think you’ve got problems.”, “It gives me a headache just trying to think down to your level”) on an extensive level.

      Liked by 1 person

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