Review: And Another Thing…

And Another Thing…is Irish YA writer Eoin Colfer’s sequel to the late Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker trilogy (which actually consists of five novels. Yes, it’s a joke). I’ve resisted reading it for some time, mostly because I only really like the first two Hitchhiker novels. Everything after that feels like nihilism for the sake of nihilism.

But: here we are. And Another Thing…starts where the last of Adams’ Hitchhiker novels, Mostly Harmless, finishes, with Arthur, Ford, Trillian and Random in an exclusive London club and the Earth about to be blown up to make way for a hyperspace bypass. Again.

It’s a million-to-one chance that Zaphod will turn up in the Heart of Gold to rescue them in the nick of time. And so, of course, he does exactly that.

But even the coolest ship in the Galaxy isn’t quite enough to escape the attentions of the Vogons (well, actually Grebulons this time, but the Vogons are behind it). For that, they need the help of Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged, who I have a soft spot for mainly because I once named a particularly stroppy stray kitten Wowbagger. In return for his help, Zaphod offers the immortal-and-bored-of-it Wowbagger a chance to be killed by the god Thor.

And so our heroes go careering off through the galaxy again.

In his foreword, Colfer essentially describes his novel as fanfic. Adams’ novels, he says, are like

a lengthy article [in the fictional Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is to say, the publication that Ford Prefect writes for], accompanied by many hours of video and audio files and some dramatic reconstructions featuring quite well-known actors.

Whereas the present volume is

a text only appendix with absolutely no audio and not so much as a frame of video shot by a student director who made the whole thing in his bedroom and paid his drama soc. mates with sandwiches.

Which is, handily, pretty much all I have to say about And Another Thing…I found it tedious and irritating and more interested in planting fannish Easter eggs than responding fruitfully to the original texts. But, mostly, I found it frustratingly, puzzlingly sexist.

Arthur…would have paid a large sum of money to have somebody with soft bosoms hug him and tell him that things were going to be all right.

Contrary to an almost universal norm, it is the male flaybooz who nurtures the young.

Colfer also seems to have a slight but disturbing obsession with Eccentrica Gallumbits, the three-breasted prostitute who’s a throwaway joke in Adams’ novels (as far as I remember) but who crops up everywhere in And Another Thing…

I mean, it’s not particularly surprising that a piece of mainstream comedic SF is sexist. It’s just…this is a galaxy where literally anything can canonically happen. The text both of the originals and of Colfer’s novel is littered with tangential entries from the Guide that literalise absurd metaphors used in the main plot. To take three examples at random from And Another Thing…, this is a galaxy that contains a popular reality TV series about quantum behemoths fighting for world domination, a kind of fish that will explode in the pursuit of sex, and a Cult of Ridiculousness from Santraginus V. And yet, its sexual norms are those of a single society on a single planet orbiting a small unregarded yellow sun far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy.

Yeah, right.

I guess this points to a larger structural problem with the book, which is that it’s a novel about the sheer, beautiful, pointless randomness of the universe which nevertheless has a plot that operates on the usual logics of cause and effect. In other words, it’s set in a galaxy in which theoretically anything can happen, but in practice there’s a very limited range of things that the author will allow to happen.

Which is frustrating.

Or, in other words: don’t read this. No, really. Don’t bother.

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