Book Review: And Another Thing, by Eoin Colfer

Mama Fisi
Mama Fisi's picture

In the realms of science fiction and fantasy writing, there are no hard and fast rules, but one; Fan Fiction Is Bad.

Eoin Colfer's "Hitchhiker's Guide" sequel, "And Another Thing..." reads like fan fiction.

And not very good fan fiction, either.

Now, I have a soft spot for the original "HHGTTG" series, because it was how I met my husband, which is a rather long and convoluted story, which I will not get into here, but suffice it to say that "Hitchhiker" is rather like the "our song" that gets most people all wisty and nostalgic whenever they hear it.

So of course I hated the recent movie, and did not have very high hopes for anything that came after "The Restaurant At The End of the Universe" because by that time, Douglas Adams had kind of lost interest in the series, and was not just telephoning it in, but was actually sending it in via small capsules strapped to the leg of a Abercroombian Fitchie-bird from Zanthrax VII which, since they are flightless, takes rather a bit of time to accomplish and gets a lot of muck on it in the process. I had tried reading some of the later books, and do not have a clear memory of finishing any of them, which proves that lightning in a bottle can actually lose its charge. I mean, one book was even a recycled Doctor Who script, for crying out loud, and the fifth book completely forgot that HHGTTG was supposed to be humorous in tone--even Douglas Adams felt that it was "dark and depressing," and that the series needed a more upbeat ending.

Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack before he could write it.

A friend of mine sent me "And Another Thing..." which purports to be "Part Six of Three" in the Hitchhiker series. I've not read anything else by Eoin Colfer, but he's the writer behind the "Artemis Fowl" books. That he is a fan of the HHGTTG universe is clear, as he not only states as much in his acknowledgements, but is sort of implied by the fact that he managed to get comissioned to publish this book. Plus he apparently had help from Douglas Adams' widow.

Now, I won't say this book is terrible, because it isn't. It has some rather clever and funny bits in it. But it commits one of the most grievous sins of fan fiction, which is to try to put every single character and catchphrase from the original story into the narrative. The only character that doesn't get a mention is Marvin the Paranoid Android, unless you assume the cane Arthur Dent is using as the story opens is made from Marvin's leg. Even those cows who were bred to want to be eaten get extended speaking parts in this one. They were originally a throw-away gag, for Pete's sake!

The second sin of fan fiction that Colfer commits, is in making the main characters into one-dimensional caractatures, because he either doesn't want to develop them, or is afraid to develop them. Therefore, Arthur is a pessimistic grump who can't find anyone to love him in any dimension, Ford is a hedonistic drunkard, Trillian is an emotional mess, Random (Arthur and Trillian's artificially-conceived daughter) is a stereotypical emo teenager, and Zaphod is just zis guy, you know?

Truthfully, Zaphod's the only character that seems to have any spark in him, and the book could have been strictly about Zaphod, but the other characters had contractual obligations to come along for the ride.

The only really original character in the story is Hillman Hunter, a sometimes-Irish real estate promoter who is trying to establish a colony of elderly, wealthy Earthlings on a small planet

Zaphod bought from the Magratheans (who build custom planets) and who is having a hard time getting everybody to cooperate due to some bizarre theological schisms. Hillman has decided he needs to hire a God, and is conducting auditions, with beings like Gaia and Cthulu showing up to apply. Hillman may be the "Mary Sue" character--another sin of fan fiction--because it's this segment, that takes place on Nano (named after Hillman's grandmother, but it could also describe the size of the planetoid) that has an original plot to it. This is probably the story Colfer wanted to write, then stuck Zaphod & Company into it to get himself a guaranteed audience.

The first part of the book involves a recap of the five previous books in the series. Then it tries to establish its cred by making references to every popular HHGTTG meme, from Pan-Galactic Gargleblasters to Eccentrica Gallumbits. It also sets up--and summarily dispenses with--the concept that the four main characters survived the disaster of the fifth book, and went on to lead somewhat successful, or at least happy, lives, by revealing that the last 70 years was all a construct created by the sapient Hitchhiker's Guide Mk II, which is in the form of a bird, with the powers of a TARDIS, and which has been programmed by the Vogons (you knew there would be Vogons, didn't you?) to gather every last Earthling in one place so the Vogons can successfully discharge their commission to destroy the Earth in every dimension. Random had argued that she deserved to live her life, so the Guide had given them all some sort of trance where Random was able to grow up to become President of the Galaxy and marry a small furry telepathic yo-yo. When it ran out of battery power, the Guide returned them all to the Earth as the death rays were starting to slice it up.

Of course, then Zaphod providentially (and improbably) arrives in the Heart of Gold spaceship to rescue them yet again, and reveals that he's had his smarter head removed to plug it into the ship's systems in place of the insuffereably chipper Eddie, the Shipboard Computer. That Zaphod had a smarter head comes as a bit of a shock. It can't be too smart, however, because as they're plotting an escape route, it gets locked into a logic loop and the Heart of Gold is dead in the atmosphere.

They are then even more improbably rescued by Bowerick Wowbagger, an accidentally-immortal green alien who amuses himself by sailing around the cosmos in a Viking longship-shaped star cruiser that he stole from the god Thor, insulting people. Wowbagger actually wants to die, and Zaphod assures him that he can manage it, because he's close personal friends with Thor himself.

On the way to meet his destiny, Wowbagger falls in love with Trillian, in spite of her sulky daughter's disapproval, and changes his mind about dying. However, Zaphod has already talked Thor into not only whacking Wowbagger with his magic hammer, but becoming the God of the colony on Nano.

Just as the battle is engaged, the Vogons show up, and after managing to seperate Wowbagger from his immortality with the help of two mystical rubber bands provided by Random, who bought them off uBid because she had read they could be used against Wowbagger, Thor goes to save Nano from the missiles of the Vogons.

The Vogons, however, have a secret weapon, which apparently is able to blow gods to tiny bits of ineffecence. It looks pretty bleak for the Nanites, until Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz's evolved and compassionate son, Constant Mown, in a bid to spare the Earthlings, argues successfully that the colonists are no longer "Earthlings" per se, but "Nanites," and furthermore, they owe back taxes. It would be against the rules to kill them, and Jeltz reluctantly agrees with Mown and calls off the extermination.

Trillian and the now-mortal Wowbagger go off on their honeymoon, Arthur and Random discover a new bond and apply for citizenship on Nano, Ford goofs off, and Zaphod takes the Heart of Gold (and a large sack of the same) off on some new adventure.

Oh, and spoiler alert, Thor didn't die. You can't kill a god. Especially if you're setting up a sequel.

In between all of this, Colfer throws in passing references to all sorts of popular cultural touchstones, from Doctor Who to My Little Pony. And his frequent "Guide" excerpts just aren't all that witty.

Although they say "you can't judge a book by its cover," I think in this instance, you can. Over the background of a nebula, there's a large and tatty-looking neon sign with several blown-out letters that reads "And Another Thing..." This sign is seemingly sprouting out of the back (or top deck) of a silvery Viking longship with a stylized goat's head for a prow, and complete with shields and oars on the side. And the ship also has a set of metallic wings that look like an afterthought.

It's as if three people all had an idea for what should be on the cover, and they decided to use all three ideas mashed together. It may supposed to be "quirky and offbeat" but it ends up looking like "what were they thinking?"

That pretty much sums up this book.