Trying something new this week, Hypothetical Audience, and one I’ve threatened for some time now. You may remember I’ve called myself something of a “Media Soak,” as in I tend to absorb media from all kinds of sources and formats, gaming, books, films, the lot. It’s kind of a hobby, you see? Anyway, with this in mind I thought I’d put this media absorption to good use and share some of my opinions with you lot as a way of giving recommendations (or otherwise) to the internet masses. Yes, it’s kind of a cheap way to fill blog lines, but thats the way things are. So, without further ado let’s jump into the first of probably many and have a look at And Another Thing, book six of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy trilogy by Eoin Colfer.
Like many other people of a somewhat nerdy persuasion, I have, over the years, been heavily influenced by the works of Douglas Adams, specifically the Hitchhikers Guide series. I wouldn’t call them my all time favourite books, but certainly ones I am incredibly fond of, to the point where I now time train journeys on how long it takes me to re-read my battered first edition paperback of book one end-to-end (Roughly three and a half hours in case your interested). Unfortunately I got into the books only slightly before the author’s death in 2001, which understandably put something of an end to the series on something even the author considered a low note apparently. Fast forward about 8 years and another book in the series was released with Adams’ estate’s blessing, this time written by Eoin Colfer of the highly acclaimed Artemis Fowl series. Fast forward to this past week, and after owning a copy for well over a year I finally got around to reading it. And here was are.
Spoiler Free Synopsis Time: The story picks up where the previous one does, with most of the main cast standing in the ruins of a bar while Vogons destroy the Earth. Again. It makes sense in context, or at least it does if you’ve read Mostly Harmless, the fifth book in the trilogy. After experiencing an artificially simulated lifetime inside the Guide 2.0, a major plot device from previous, they discover they’re about to be spat back into the real world with only a few seconds to live before the world they’re on is totally vaporised. Which is, of course, when Zaphod Beeblebrox turns up with his improbability-powered spaceship and rescues them (albeit leaving the guide 2.0 to be totally irrelevant in this story by dying with the second Earth). From this point on the actual plot settles in, where an immortal who goes around insulting people from a previous book has enlisted Zaphod to help him bring an end to the tedious business of immortality (which Zaphod enlists Thor, yes that Thor, to help. Who also appeared in a previous book). Meanwhile a small colony of humans who escaped the Earth (possibly 2) before it was destroyed to an artificial planet are having a minor civil war that would be solved with one side enlisting a major deity apparently, which leads to a small Cthulhu cameo. While all this is going on, Vogons are closing in on this colony to finish the job in Vogon fashion, and there’s also a love plot between Trillian and aforementioned immortal. And the whole thing comes together with an alarming inevitability.
Let me start by using that age old copout that And Another Thing is by no means a terrible book. Eoin Colfer is certainly a very capable writer, but when compared to the older ones, well… I didn’t enjoy this one half as much. There’s enough going on to keep my attention to the end, certainly, but something feels very off for me as a fan of the previous books. The pacing seems very off to me, especially compared to the frenetic, straight from a radio show, first three novels. The best example of the pace change would be the extracts from the guide. In the Addams novels they were essentially filler, yet worked themselves really well into the narrative and provided the feeling of a greater universe. Here they pretty much drag you out of the narrative to provide background exposition in a rather clunky manner, and rather than being inserted into the narrative as-is, they’re rather awkwardly signposted with “Guide note:” every single time. Yes, even when there are multiple on a single page, to the point that it’s even lampshaded at one point.
Then theres the characters. For someone who’s read the whole series this far, the main cast feel far more simplified and exaggerated than they were previously (or Flanderised, to use a TVTropism). Zaphod Beeblebrox acts more ditzy, Arthur Dent more uptight and Ford Prefect more Zany Alien. At least Zaphod has the excuse of having his second head removed (yes, this was after the movie) which doubles as a way of introducing an almost entirely superfluous extra character. As for the side cast, there are a few who see their series debut here, and they’re undoubtably the highlight of the story, but the vast majority are returning characters from past adventures. Indeed, three key characters, namely Thor, Wowbagger the infinitely prolonged and Prosthetnic Vogon Jeltz, are important to the plot, however the rest are throw away lines. This becomes particularly galling with The Guide 2.0, which was a major plot device one book previously, manages to save the day and then left to get vaporised with the Earth (the second one, sort of) just a couple of chapters into the plot. While I get this is an attempt to foster some kind of familiarity and continuity with the earlier books, one of Adams’ great strengths in previous books was to be able to create colourful new characters almost on command that made the universe seem much larger than what we were reading.
This is not to say there aren’t good bits in the book. The whole sub-plot with Jeltz’s son, the one good Vogon in the universe is actually pretty good, since it gives a viewpoint from within the series’ favourite villainous bureaucrats, the Vogons. Similarly the goings on on Nano, the last-and-only human colony, which consists mostly of rich old folks, their servants and their con-artist leader. Both sub plots notably feature the only major characters completely new for this novel, I might add. Then there’s the continuing story of the wonderfully name Random Frequentflyer Dent (daughter of Arthur), a personal favourite character of mine from the later Adams novels. She actually gets a bit of genuine character development as the plot progresses, ending the story a bit less angsty at the universe than previously. Also, during the artificial world the Guide 2.0 creates at the beginning she’s implied to have fallen inlove with a virtual psychic space hammster. Which is an incredibly fun phrase to use in casual conversation.
And Another Thing ends with a fairly obvious sequel hook, and honestly I don’t see this as a bad thing. I am genuinely curious where Colfer, or indeed any other writer who wants a crack at it, takes the universe next. While, as a fan of the series, I would only recommend this novel for completions sake, it is at least nice to know the world of the Hitchhikers Guide didn’t die with it’s creator. Maybe with a little more experience with the characters, Colfer might be able to recapture the magic from Adams’ novels, but right now we’ve got a book that’s only passable, as opposed to the sheer delight its forebears brought people like me.
And, for the entirely inapropriate score, I give And Another Thing by Eoin Colfer 21.5 Babel Fish out of a possible 42 to 1 Against in the Infinite Improbability Drive.
Until Next time, folks,
–Knows where his towel is.