Tuesday, March 2, 2010

And Another Thing... The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy part 6 of 3 - a review

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I'm an enormous fan of Douglas Adams's Hitchhikers' trilogy*, and as any real fan will be aware, Mostly Harmless was a slightly depressing affair to end the series on - Adams himself expressed a desire to put this right with a sixth book. When he died in May 2001 it looked like this would never happen. And then, in October 2009, H2G2 part six of three was published by Penguin Books, written by Eoin Colfer.

The book was met with a predictable diversity of reaction: many fans stating before they'd even so much as seen the cover that it was an abomination and they wouldn't be going near it with somebody else's barge-pole; others prepared to feed a succession of grandparents to the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal in order to get so much as a featherlight touch of the dustjacket.

Me? I was somewhere between the two. DNA is a somewhat godlike figure in my eyes**, and it would be difficult for anyone but him to do justice to a continuation of the series. At the same time, however, Hitchhikers' is such a big thing in certain circles that if someone was going to dare to even consider thinking about attempting to do it justice, they'd be going all-out to give it a damned good stab.

Here's Colfer himself talking about Six of Three. There's not too much in the way of spoilers:

But enough backstory- what about the book?

Colfer's story telling ranges from inspired originality through enthusiastic fan-fiction to trying just a little bit too hard to make it sound like Douglas Adams has actually written it, and flicks between these three states with wild abandon. As a Hitchhikers' book it doesn't quite work on some level. Flicking through Adams's original books, you can stab your finger in at any point and be sure of hitting something funny or clever or both. Six of three has its moments, and the odd passage will find its way into H2G2 quotelore, but it doesn't achieve anywhere near the constant laugh-a-paragraph barrage of quotables that Douglas made seem so effortless.

Having said that, it's not bad. As a story it has pretty much everything you'd want, but it's just not Hitchhikers'. Some of the characters aren't quite right and the story itself just doesn't gel in the universe that DNA created: Arthur's himself, if a bit more laid back and accepting of what the universe has to throw at him; Trillian's o.k, considering that she's trying to take on a bit more of a mother-role with Random in the picture. Ford and Zaphod, however, just aren't themselves, and I can't quite put my finger on why. Without spoiling anything, Colfer has resurrected characters that worked wonderfully as throwaway anecdotes and side-jokes in the original books, but don't quite deserve a bigger role***. But it's still readable; I don't regret having asked for (and, evidently, received) it for Christmas; I don't regret starting to read it; I don't regret following it through to the end.

It's a light read that will either entertain or horrify depending on what you want to get out of it: Many hardcore fans may well hate it, but I can conceive of less insistent visitors to the franchise who may actually (brace yourself) prefer this outing to some of the others. It veers more towards the fantasy side of things and consequently doesn't have, for example, the fondly sardonic nods to technology that the first five books did, and the more fantastical asides from those books (such as gods and immortal beings) step forwards to fill in the gap. The writing is a lot simpler, and the missing layers of cynicism, irony, sarcasm and social commentary may displease many fans of Douglas Adams's storytelling. And Another Thing..., though, is easy to read, entertaining in its own right and, in my opinion, leaves our heroes**** in a much better place***** than Mostly Harmless did. And don't they deserve that?

I think the general gist of this review is that you'll have to read it and decide for yourself. Why couldn't I have come up with that seven paragraphs ago?

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As a special treat, a band called The Blizzards have released a single inspired by the book entitled And Another Thing... . They've disabled embedment, but you can watch it here.

* Yes: trilogy. According to Adams it was always meant to have three parts; he just forgot to stop writing.
** And that means a lot coming from a committed atheist.
*** O.k, so maybe Dirk Gently would have something to say about that...
**** And anti-heroes. And professional cowards.
***** Mostly...