Novel November

And Another Thing...

by Eoin Colfer

Reading Review by Michael Channing

And Another Thing... by Eoin Colfer

The first thing that struck me, and struck me hard, about this book was that was not written by Douglas Adams. But once you push past the loss and the knee-jerk resistance to another writer laying hands on this universe, you come to a simple realization: the book is actually pretty good. It's not some upstart attempting to cash in on the H2G2 brand. Colfer is a best-selling author with a long pedigree, and Adams' widow asked him directly write this book and gave it her blessing. And, most important of all, it's funny.

I've always found the ending of Mostly Harmless to be extremely bleak. Arthur, Ford, Trillian, and Arthur Dent's accidental daughter Random, are gathered by mysterious forces on the last remaining alternate Earth and vaporized. Then nothing else from Adams for years. He talked about another sequel, but would he ever get around to writing it? The answer became a resounding "No" when Adams suffered a fatal heart attack out of the blue. One day he was with us, the next he was gone and the world was a lot less funny. But then, nearly a decade later, And Another Thing... comes along to finally complete the series on a brighter note.

It starts at the exact moment the previous book ended. That moment is being artificially prolonged, the characters held between life and extinction in a virtual construct that shows each what he or she most desires. Arthur gets a deserted beach to rest on and enjoy not being threatened. Ford gets an endless supply of pan-galactic gargle blasters without the nagging hangover or perpetual death. Trillian has the fantasy of being the galaxy's greatest reporter, and Random (Trillian and Arthur's daughter) becomes president of the galaxy and marries a rodent. When the construct begins to break down, the four find themselves hoping against hope for rescue. But that would be highly improbable, wouldn't it?

If you're a fan of the H2G2 series, you know whose cue that is. Zaphod drops in right at the last second and saves the day in his usual stupid and cocky manner. But then his second head, which had been piloting the Heart of Gold, has an adverse reaction to the stupidity on the ship and freezes up. So now they're floating in space as death rays zip back and forth across the lingering debris of Earth, closing in on the ship. Then they are saved once again by Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged. You'll remember him as the one who gained immortality through a bizarre accident involving rubber bands and filled his endless centuries by insulting everyone in the universe, one at a time. He shows up to call Zaphod a "fat arse." During the following argument, it's revealed that Wowbagger is tired of being immortal and would gladly welcome death. Zaphod, who used to be Thor's manager, offers to have the thunder god bring his hammer down on Wowbagger's skull. In exchange for his death, Wowbagger agrees to transport them all away from theirs.

So there's the set up. The rest of the book involves Zaphod's attempt to reach and then persuade Thor to forgive him for ruining his career as a god, Trillian's struggle to reconcile the distance between her and Random, and Arthur's effort to overcome the loss of his love Fenchurch, who vanished suddenly due to some space-time wibbly-wobbly thing in mid-conversation in the previous book.

Zaphod gets the majority of the screen time, so to speak. He has a long and arduous adventure, conning his way into Asgard, dodging dragons, confronting gods. The rest of the cast stay behind on the ship and twiddle. This is probably where the book will win or lose you. Douglas Adams was never into writing epic scenes. Sure, he blows up the Earth a couple of times, Frogstar ships attack the home of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and the Disaster Area ship crashes into a sun, but most of the text is the lead up to those events. The action is over in a paragraph or two. Most of the space in the other five books in the trilogy is taken up with whimsical conversations. But here, we get several long battle scenes that play out very cinematically. You can tell Colfer is doing his best to tell a story with someone else's characters in his own voice all the while dropping in little homages to the original source material. Please feel free to applaud him for trying in the first place. For the most part, he succeeds. Occasionally I felt a scene dragged on too long. I also felt there were too many Guide entries. There's one every two or three pages, and they don't always pay off. We sometimes end up with over-long passages that are extended even further by having to pause every few paragraphs for a pointless aside.

Okay, okay. I can't stop myself from dwelling on the negatives. Let me regroup.

Something this book gets absolutely right--and I mean nails it to the wall and then puts another nail through the center of that nail--is the Vogons. They are large, moist, bureaucratic, proud of their adherence to contractual detail. Not evil, just unconcerned with how their duties effect others. And Colfer manages, in this sea of fan-required callbacks to another writer's untouchable genius, to create something we've never seen before: a sympathetic Vogon. That by itself makes this book a triumph.

I've always been a little uncomfortable with writers continuing the creations of other authors after they've joined the choir invisible. What makes you worthy enough to decide the fate of Tom Sawyer or Tarzan or Sherlock? To me that once seemed on par with writing the new adventures of Jesus. But just as fans of the big C have the right to ignore any further stories concerning him, fans of any character or property can stay as pure as they want to canon. Don't like the new book some upstart has penned about Dracula? Don't read it. That's the way it's been with comic books for years. Batman has been rebooted any number of times. You can simply pick which iteration you want and read only that. So if you feel only Douglas Adams should be allowed to utilize his characters and universe, then just ignore this book. Its existence does you no harm. But if you'd like to take one more trip on the Heart of Gold with the froodiest bunch of guys and gals, then put your money down. The multiverse is big enough for everyone. Maybe in an alternate layer, where The Beatles never broke up, Adams sees the asterisk next his to work in the Guide and smiles at the footnote, "A trilogy in six parts."

old timey typewriter

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