And Another Thing… A Totally Improbable Review
Douglas Adams created the Improbability drive on the Heart of Gold for a reason, to make the improbable, probable. In reading And Another Thing… by Eoin Colfer, the 6th book in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, that’s what you have to remember. Everything that is happening is highly improbable, which is why it’s completely probable and to that end - believable. I mean, as far as a fictional universe goes. Or multiple fictional universes.
As I read through And Another Thing… I quickly realized how hard it was going to be to write a book review without giving too much of the story away. Then I remembered how improbable (a word I will be using a lot in the following paragraphs) the story is, and how improbable it would be that anything I say would make any sense when taken out of the context of the story. If I told you that cows that begged to be eaten were somehow able to construct the dexterity to lay out a napkin on Arthur’s trouser leg so they can serve themselves, would you believe that was even in the book? It’s like trying to comprehend why an Agnorkian theme train would even stop to re-fuel.
Guide Note: Agnorkian theme trains run solely on the imaginations of their passengers, who never get off the train. Most theme trains run for several lifetimes, only stopping when the population on the train has become too large to remain on the train or to offload the dead. However, no one ever gets on the train as they have failed to come up with an accurate system of taking on new passengers due to faulty math in the higher levels of the reservation department for the theme trains. Therefore, there is a waiting list several lifetimes long that never grows shorter. There is one instance however of an Agnorkian theme train stopping to re-fuel with fresh imaginations. It was because the train had become infested with Moreanian spore worms, who eat into the brain and make every one a complete bore. It is unknown how the spore worms got onto the train in the first place, but several bat like creatures were seen giggling hysterically near the windows of the train after the incident.
Before he died, Adams was vocal about his desire to continue telling the story of Arthur, Zaphod, Trillian and the others. Especially considering how overcast (with a chance of rain and fog) Mostly Harmless was. Adams, “I suspect at some point in the future I will write a sixth book. People have said, quite rightly, that Mostly Harmless is a very bleak book. And it was a bleak book. I would love to finish Hitchhiker on a slightly more upbeat note, so five seems to be a wrong kind of number; six is a better kind of number.”
Sadly, Adams died without finishing the sixth book. He had compiled a good stack of notes before his trip into the depths of the universe. It was these notes that prompted his wife and daughter to recommend that the sixth book be written. Enter Artemis Fowl author Eoin Colfer. Colfer was tasked with the heavy mantle of taking over an iconic work of fiction, much to the chagrin of the hardcore Hitchhiker fanboys. To them, it was improbable that another author would be able to capture the wit and dry sarcasm that inhabited the series, not to mention the ability to constantly create a universe with infinite depth. All of which of course made it very probable for such a thing to happen.
Armed with Adams’ notes, an established wit and a vast amount of improbability Colfer did write the book. Now, let me preface this by saying that Adams was a great writer, but he had written himself into a corner with the Hitchhiker’s series. Not a corner with no possibilities, but a corner with endless possibilities. The universe he had created was constantly changing, he could add in whatever he wanted and take out whatever he wanted, just by writing some improbable reason for it happening. In this style, it would be easy for another author to take over without having to stick to a preset canon and getting heat for it.
Colfer has continued and created a new universe in the Hitchhiker’s series. In reading the book, I cannot tell what may have come from Adams’ notes and what may have come from Colfer’s head. In its own strange way, the book makes sense. We all know what happened at the end of Mostly Harmless (Earth is destroyed again, multiple universes and so on,) but in the universe that Adams created it doesn’t matter much. The improbable will and can happen, and it does. Colfer has that storyline wrapped up and moved on within the first chapter. In a sense, similar to the trend of late of rebooting franchises it can be surmised that now this franchise too has been rebooted.
Guide Note: Many things in the history of the universe have been rebooted. This is not a concept new to the universe, however within the entertainment industry in 21st century Earth, it seemed to be. Even though Earth itself was rebooted several times across several different dimensions, most famously by the Magratheans. This type of rebooting is not be be confused with that of a cobbler, who simply makes new boots when the old ones have worn down.
Colfer has done a good job of creating a new storyline with the same characters (and a few new ones) that have been imperative to the Hitchhiker’s universe. Zaphod is the same self obsessed half moron he’s always been (with a slight twist, I’ll leave that for you to find out.) Ford is well written as well, oblivious to most events or at least passively accepting of whatever fate feels necessary to dish out. Arthur is still the same lovable Englishman, searching for a good cup of tea and generally nervous about any type of activity that appears too good to be true. Trillian and Random round out the group with an interesting mother/daughter relationship based on a reality that neither truly experienced.
Throw in a god, an immortal with a god’s ship, a planet full of rich people and their house servants and then of course, the Vogon’s, and you have all the ingredients for an improbable adventure.
Warning - possible spoilers. This is the part where I talk about the plot.
As for the plot, well it’s quite simple really. Arthur, Ford & the two women are saved from a currently “in destruction” Earth by the improbable arrival of Zaphod in the Heart of Gold. Then they in turn are saved by the improbable arrival of the immortal alien (though once off the planet, no one is any longer an “alien”) Wowbagger, who is on a cross universe mission to insult every one in existence. He takes them aboard his ship composed of dark matter, which used to be owned by the Thunder God Thor, under the condition that Zaphod recruit Thor to kill Wowbagger as he’s pretty much tired of existence. The book then follows Zaphod on his quest to Asgard, and the relationship between the humans and Wowbagger. Oh, there is also the planet Nano which is looking for a god to control the population and of course - the Vogons on a mission to eradicate the human’s from all dimensions. Predictably (and improbably) all the storylines converge at the end.
End of spoilers. You may continue reading.
Colfer has melded his style with Adams’ very cohesively, though I’m sure there will be some detractors who will refuse to accept that. While it can serve as a stand alone story there are so many in-jokes and references to the storylines in the other books that it would be hard to read if you don’t know say, who Fenchurch is. Or if halfway through the book you wonder, “where’s Marvin?”
The narrative is broken up with entries from the Hitchhiker’s Guide itself, entries which may or may not have been written by Ford Perfect. It’s doubtful as he spends a great deal of time drinking alcoholic beverages and averting disaster or saving Arthur from it with his trusty towel. The guide entries are interesting and are a clear test of Colfer’s ability to pretty much make up whatever he wants. Like I mentioned, in the universe Adams has created, it’s possible to create fiction on top of fiction.
Guide Note: It’s also possible to create non-fiction on top of non-fiction, romance on top of romance, science fiction on top of science fiction, humor on top of humor, science fiction on top of romance, mystery on top of non-fiction, self-help on top of humor, romance on top of non-fiction, romance on top of humor, mystery on top of science fiction and non-fiction on top of mystery. However, it is not possible to create romance on top of self-help as one must come before the other.
The puns in the book are handled quite well by Colfer. The general problem with puns is they have a tendency to be over the top and more than obvious (like in the Xanth books.) Thankfully Colfer continues the British tradition of puns that are drier than clay in the desert covered in crushed concrete. Oh, and the desert is in a vacuum. This makes them not only tolerable, but enjoyable as well. I found myself smirking more than once at a subtle pun.
This helps to set the overall tone of the book, which is a very light and amusing tone. I wouldn’t say it’s drop dead funny, none of the books were ever that, but between Zaphod’s antics and some of the more unexpected background character behavior it is quite amusing. If you were left a bit on the cold side after reading Mostly Harmless this book will help you feel a little bit better about the fate of our intrepid space travelers.
Wired: Overall, I enjoyed the book and about midway through completely forgot that it was written by someone other than Douglas Adams. It was a thoroughly entertaining and sharply written account of another improbable tale in the improbable journey of Arthur Dent and those around him. That it wasn’t written by Douglas Adams may hurt the book initially, but the fanboys will come around. The fact that Eoin has never written a book aimed at adults didn’t seem to be a factor as this was great subject material to start with. With the franchise rebooted, I’m looking forward to a sequel. To sum it up in one word: froody.
Tired: Some of the jokes and situations were a bit cliche. Cows that begged to be eaten? Funny as a one liner, but beaten to death just a bit. However, this doesn’t hurt the overall story or plot, just some bits felt like filler and some of the Guide entries were a couple sentences too long. But then, the Guide does tend to be a bit long winded.
Colfer, Eoin. (2009) And Another Thing…. New York, NY: Hyperion Press
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