And Another Thing . . .
by Eoin Colfer
(Hitchhiker’s Trilogy, Book 6)
Reviewed by Christopher DeFilippis
“In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”
–The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
It has been nine years since the death of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (H2G2) author Douglas Adams, and 18 years since the final H2G2 book Mostly Harmless, in which the Vogons permanently removed the Earth from the Whole Sort of General Mish Mash, resulting in the apparent death of most every main Hitchhiker’s character.
But author Eoin Colfer has come swooping in at the 29th second, rescuing Arthur, Ford, Trillian and Random from oblivion, and continuing their adventures anew in the Hitchhiker’s trilogy’s sixth novel, And Another Thing…
The title, taken from a passage in So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish (the fourth H2G2 book) speaks volumes about Colfer’s pragmatic approach to taking up the Hitchhiker’s mantle, a respectful and self-deprecating hedge against negative backlash from fans who’d argue whether anyone but Adams is worthy of writing a Hitchhiker’s book:
“The storm had now definitely abated, and what thunder there was now grumbled over more distant hills, like a man saying ‘And another thing…’ twenty minutes after admitting he’s lost the argument.”
Unfortunately, Colfer does lose the argument for the most part. And Another Thing… isn’t particularly bad, but nor is it particularly inspired. To put it in Hitchhiker’s terms, it’s Mostly Unnecessary.
Picking up right where Mostly Harmless left off, And Another Thing… has Arthur, Ford, Trillian and Random improbably rescued from the final destruction of Earth by none other than Zaphod Beeblebrox and the Heart of Gold. But Zaphod (being Zaphod) botches the rescue, forcing them to seek help from Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged, who just happens to be passing by Earth to deliver some more insults. Wowbagger reluctantly saves them, and the story spirals out from there.
It’s a farfetched opening, even taking into account the residual effects of the Infinite Improbability Drive. But despite this, it’s easy to reason why Penguin and Hyperion decided to bet on a new H2G2 book and why the Adams estate sanctioned it. Money, sure. But who can resist a smile at the prospect of getting reacquainted with characters that most every Science Fiction fan (me included) has loved for decades?
Unfortunately, once this initial rush has subsided, and you get on with the task of actually finishing the book, its shortcomings become apparent. Not to say that the novel isn’t enjoyable at times; many of the individual character bits are dead on, evoking more than a few laughs. But in the end, And Another Thing… suffers from two key failings.
The first is in its treatment of Arthur Dent. Colfer does a fine job with Arthur’s characterization. Arthur acts and sounds like the Arthur we know and love. But that actually winds up working against Colfer as the novel progresses.
In Arthur, Adams created the ultimate passive protagonist. He is a character who essentially does nothing but react—oftentimes poorly—to the mayhem unfolding around him, yet he somehow remains the focus and driving force behind the plots of five novels. That Adams was able to successfully perform this narrative sleight of hand time and again illustrates his considerable writing talent.
Colfer clearly understands that this inherent, fatalistic inactivity is what makes Arthur tick, and he appropriately has Arthur doing very little and expecting the worst. But as a result, he can’t think of anything to do with Arthur, and Arthur kind of stays in the wings, moping about on Wowbagger’s ship and pining for Fenchurch.
Into this narrative void steps the book’s true main character, Zaphod. Zaphod’s schemes give And Another Thing… its narrative drive, and Colfer once again writes him very well. But Zaphod’s lunacy is most effective when it’s juxtaposed against the comparatively rational behavior of the other H2G2 characters. Colfer’s choice to make him the book’s lead borders on fannish overindulgence—too much of a good thing.
The second of And Another Thing…’s key failings are the Guide entries themselves. From its inception, the Hitchhiker’s Universe has been presented through the narrative lens of the Guide, which paints the cosmic backdrop through which Arthur and Ford tramp, and explains the strange things they encounter along the way. As a result, the Guide acts as an omni-present narrator, and its entries are an organic and crucial element in the storytelling (with the additional benefit of being hilarious). It once again points out the narrative complexity that underpins Adams’s seemingly simple comic romps.
Colfer brings none of this subtlety or cohesiveness to his Guide entries. Instead, they are literal asides, dropped into the text wherever he thinks they might make a good joke. As a result, his Guide entries are more distracting than enlightening, bordered blurbs that sit on the page like narrative speed bumps.
Still, the absence of Adams’s masterful panache isn’t a deal breaker. Taken on its own terms, And Another Thing… is a fun book packed with plot and fully steeped in H2G2 lore. Colfer clearly holds the source material in reverence and doesn’t introduce anything apocryphal to Adams’s creation in an attempt to put his own stamp on it.
So if you’re an open-minded H2G2 fan, it can’t hurt to give And Another Thing… a try. If the worst happens, and you hate it, it still doesn’t take one iota away from Douglas Adams’s legacy. And if the infinitely improbable comes to pass and you love it, you’ll be heartened by the fact that Colfer leaves room at the end for the story to continue.
However, I feel pretty confident that most readers will emerge from the final chapter in a state of utter ambivalence, which is still a kind of win for Colfer, since they likely wouldn’t be adverse to trying further sequels.
But there is undoubtedly a contingent of hardcore H2G2 fans out there who refuse to read And Another Thing… because of what they perceive as Colfer’s most glaringly unforgivable sin: he is not Douglas Adams. If you count yourself in that camp, and insist on ranking And Another Thing… on the spectrum of Hitchhiker’s disappointments, then you probably won’t find it any worse than Mostly Harmless.