Artemis Fowl author Eoin Colfer had some Zarquon-sized shoes to fill when he agreed to write And Another Thing…, the sixth book in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. I am not an expert on Douglas Adams, so if you want a hypercomplex ultradetailed megacomparison, go away. I’m just this big fan dude who made Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters with absinthe*. To further proclaim my ignorance, other than this book I’ve never read Colfer. Hell, I just learned how to pronounce his first name. (My assumption had been overly Tolkienesque.)
Perhaps, were I a bona fide Adams expert, rather than an enthusiastic, um, enthusiast, I’d be up in arms about how Colfer doesn’t sound like Adams (witness the whole Sanderson-isn’t-Jordan kerfuffle). But my arms are not up-in, because Colfer did not write, nor did he intend to write, as if he were channeling the late great. This is made clear early on, as the first thing Colfer did was quote Douglas Adams in big letters, as if to declare to the reader: “I’m not Douglas Adams. This other guy was. Wasn’t he a hoopy frood?”
And that’s fine by me. In an interview with Jeff VanderMeer, Colfer was asked if he had any notes or fragments left by Adams, to which Colfer responded, “Nope. Nothing. All rash Irishman.”
There is—and VanderMeer notes this as well—a marked decline in comedic scope and sense of spontaneity when comparing So Long and Thanks for All the Fish and Mostly Harmless with the three books preceding. Given that Colfer picks up the story after, let’s be honest, its least shining moment, I don’t mind that the narrative voices are not identical.
Allow me to provide an example of how Colfer’s voice is distinct, but of the same narrative universe as the other books:
“The notion that religions can be useful tools for keeping the rich rich and the poor abject has been around since shortly after the dawn of time, when a recently evolved bipedal frogget managed to convince all the other froggets in the marsh that their fates were governed by the almighty Lily Pad who would only agree to watch over their pond and keep it safe from gurner pike if an offering of flies and small reptiles was heaped upon it every second Friday. This worked for almost two years, until one of the reptile offerings proved to be slightly less than dead and proceeded to eat the gluttonized bipedal frogget followed by the almighty Lily Pad. The frogget community celebrated their freedom from the yoke of religion with an all-night rave party and hallucinogenic dock leaves. Unfortunately the celebrated a little loudly and were massacred by a gurner pike who for some reason hadn’t noticed this little pond before” (pp. 90-91).
I will say, though, that the greatest and most visible difference between Colfer’s writing style and that of Adams is that Adams made just about every single line a joke, even while propelling the plot, and Colfer on many occasions chooses brief, non-humorous exposition over outright lunacy all the time. This choice is not to the detriment of the story, but it creates a different rhythm than in Adams’ books.
Questions of inauthentic authenticity thus put to bed, I move on to the important questions: what happens, and is it funny when it happens?
The story, steering clear of big spoilage, reunites the principle characters of the first three books, and a couple from the fourth and fifth books. Arthur, though marginally better prepared for galactic inconvenience, is still generally the living embodiment of turning left after being tapped on the left shoulder by someone standing behind the right shoulder. Ford is kind the same genial, somewhat self-centered vagabond observer he’s always been. Trillian, well, I never could get into Trillian as a character, and I still can’t. And Zaphod is just this guy, you know?
There’s also Random Dent, Arthur and Trillian’s daughter. I have one gripe about Colfer’s take on Random. He refers to her as a Goth and then provides a description of Goths as follows: “The ‘Goth’ phenomenon is not confined to the planet Earth. Many species choose to define their adolescent periods with sustained truculent silences and the heartfelt belief that their parents took the wrong baby home from the hospital because their natural parents could not possibly be so mind-warpingly dense and boooring” (pp. 28-29). As a so-called eldergoth, I feel it’s my duty to point out that this is far more stereotypically Emo than stereotypically Goth, and may I spend eternity tortured in a My Chemical Romance concert if I lie. Goths are velvety and mysterious, the stylistic equivalent of the very best dark chocolate. Emo kids are Reeses Peanut Butter Cups of self-loathing and narcissism, two bitter tastes that go humorlessly together. So there, thank you very much.
I shudder to think that there are Emo kids all over the universe.
My enormous and obvious biases aside, back to the story. After escaping the destruction of earth yet again, thanks to virtual reality suspended animation matrixy stuff followed by an appearance of the Heart of Gold, Ford then messes up the Heart of Gold and then they meet up with a suicidal immortal who likes to insult people and then there are Vogons and Trillian falls in love (not with the Vogons), Cthulhu flubs a job interview and Thor gets involved.
You know what? Never mind summarizing the plot. Can you summarize a Hitchhikers’ Guide plot? You could sooner be a ringside announcer at a mongoose fight. I’ll conclude by saying I was happy, and in no way disappointed, but this return to the old, familiar madhouse of skewed physics, philosophy, satire and goofy superlative prefixes. I laughed out loud many times (a claim I can make about very few books) and now want not only to re-read everything by Douglas Adams I also want to read Colfer’s other books. He obviously knows what he’s doing, and has fun doing it.
* (Hey, did you know that in German they call it a Pangalaktisher Donnergurgler? Doesn’t that sound even drunker?)
When Jason Henninger isn’t Googling himself in German, reading, writing, juggling, cooking or raising evil genii, he works for Living Buddhism magazine in Santa Monica, CA.