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Review: And Another Thing

I cannot say that I wanted to like this book, the supposed sixth book of Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's "Trilogy". Primarily, I further admit, this is because it was not written by Douglas Adams but Eoin Colfer, he of the Artemis Fowl series. I had not read a word of what Colfer had written prior to this sequel (approved, for come reason, by Adams's widow) but could name without hesitation three other authors who could have done a better job dipping their toe in Adams's universe (Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Terry Jones again).

I will concede that most fans were not going to like the book no matter what Colfer wrote out of loyalty to Adams - though Adams was plain when it came to a set canon to his universe, specifically that there wasn't one amongst the books, radio shows, mini-series, and movies. I know I was put off by the more recent H2G2 movie, however adorable I find Zooey Deschanel, even though Adams had put some work into it prior to his untimely, treadmill-borne death.

I understand that many fans felt let down with the ending of Mostly Harmless as (spoiler warning) an alternate Earth and everyone on it - including Arthur, Trillian, Ford, and Random - are obliterated by the amnesiac Grebulons under the orders of Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz. Adams himself admitted that the ending is something of a downer and I am given to understand that more than a few people saw this as Adams giving his fans a hearty "sod off and leave me alone about these books". Adams half-apologized that he was going through a major depression and writing a comedy novel with that as a backdrop simply did not work out. As point of fact as to Adams rejection of canon, the radio version of Mostly Harmless has the Babelfish in every major characters' ear warp them off the planet just before it was destroyed because the fish are distantly related to dolphin. (If you've read the novels, you will understand that the dolphins flew away when the original Earth was destroyed to make way for a hyperspace bypass. If you haven't, dolphin can fly into space. Go with it.)

And Another Thing opens in the seconds before utter destruction. Because Random evidently regretted not living out a full life and the Hitchhiker's Guide Mk. II is still willing to oblige her, it created a virtual lifetime for the rest of the characters before exhausting its batteries. Arthur becomes a hermit on a beach, Trillian becomes a famous but much abused reporter (with few of her original parts), Ford spends much time on a resort planet, and Random becomes the President of the Galaxy and falls in love with a telepathic gerbil called a flaybooz. Then they wake up after dozens of pages and it is revealed that none of that was real. This is not unlike the verboten creative writing class twist of having the whole story be a dream. At least, to Colfer's limited credit, this virtual reality impacts the characters after they wake up. To his discredit, this makes Random - already the character I most detest in Adams books - even more insufferable, as she whines with the strength of thirteen adolescents how much she misses her rodent husband and her presidency. Trillian and Arthur cease to be the characters we have known and instead focus their attention on being good parents to Random (when the former is not busy falling in love with Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged and the latter, Thor's ship computer wearing the face of his evanesced lover Fenchurch). It should be noted, if just as sneering speculation, that Colfer primarily writes books for teenagers and might have been inclined to waste our time making Random such an important character for this very reason. Ford is just Ford, though much less witty.

Just as the lasers are obliterating the world around them, Zaphod (now absent one head, which is encased in a glass bubble and referred to as Left Brain and which constitutes a completely different character) appears in the starship Deus Ex Machina... I mean, Heart of Gold and rescues the characters. He does not rescue Trisha MacMillan (who is an alternate Earth version of Trillian and who was standing right next to her at the time) and she is forgotten about. Much of the rest of the book is through Zaphod's perspective. The charm of Adams's books, which I believe passed beneath Colfer's notice, is that the reader follows the everyman character of Arthur Dent through the universe. Whatever incredible thing happens, we can be assured that Arthur is put-off by it and wants a cup of tea. Zaphod may be cool enough to store meat in, but he is not a protagonist. In such incredible circumstances, we the readers want someone to whom we can relate and such a character is not provided in this book.

Despite how tetchy the above may read, I did not much mind the contrivances to reopen the story, quietly hoping they would be worth the effort of suspending my disbelief in an already ridiculous universe. I was even willing to overlook and endure how obnoxious the Guide Notes were, especially given that they interrupted what little flow was building and generally boiled down to "something funny just happened! Did you see it? Aren't I so quirky? Alien names are hilarious!" What annoyed me beyond endurance was Colfer's assumption that every reference to characters and events in the original books constituted jokes. Eccentrica Gallumbits was brought up again and again, though she never appears and had no bearing on the plot. The word "frood" and its derivatives are pounded into our heads on almost every page as though Ford and Zaphod are Smurfs. Yet the author didn't see a reason to mention Marvin at all. Perhaps Colfer only read Mostly Harmless.

The challenge has been leveled against the book that it is glorified fan fiction. I disagree on at least two points. One, it is far from glorious. Two, I don't think a fan would have written this book. Possibly someone who read/watched/listened to every bit of Douglas Adams material in one weekend, just before the deadline to turn the book in. Even absent those preferred authors above listed, I think any competent Adams fan writing today (and there are many) could have done a better job capturing the feel of the original novels.

Critics have suggested that this might have been a more successful endeavor had Colfer attempted to write original characters (or expand minor characters, as he did well with Wowbagger) into the Hitchhiker universe rather than dealing with Arthur, Ford, Trillian, and Zaphod at all. (He is welcome to Random, as I dislike her and never thought she had much of a personality beyond her adolescence.) It seems he began to do this with the colony of Nano, but couldn't commit to the conceit and therefore made the passages about this colony only worthy of being skipped over so we can see what the other characters are doing. If, in ten years, someone else feels the need to write a Hitchhiker book, I hope they leave the established characters alone and flesh out something seemingly minute (I happen to like the novel Starship Titanic, which was built off of a passing mention in one of the original novels and which does not concern itself with Zaphod misadventures). Ideally, though, I would advise authors to stick to universes where the original author is still alive enough to protest.

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings.

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