Douglas Adams’ dissatisfaction with his last published novel was well known. Mostly Harmless, the fifth and final part of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy ‘trilogy’ was, he said, ‘very bleak’, and he often spoke of his plans to amend the story with a further book. Alas, in 2001, Adams suffered a heart attack and died, leaving behind a grieving widow and millions of frustrated fans.
Eight years later, however, and those fans have been provided the opportunity to re-enter the Hitchhiker universe, in the form of And Another Thing… by children’s author Eoin Colfer. Well-known for his Artemis Fowl series – featuring a young criminal mastermind who battles and then befriends the high-tech
fairy society living beneath our feet – Colfer is no stranger to strangeness. An expert in combining the genres of fantasy, comedy and science fiction, he appears to be perfectly qualified to take the Hitchhiker baton and run with it.
Unfortunately, while Adams was content to stroll leisurely along with the story, Colfer tries to go too quickly, fumbles the changeover, drops the baton, and ends up tripping over his own shoelaces. Thanks to this increased pace, Colfer doesn’t really leave himself with much time to build up anything closely resembling a plot. This is despite And Another Thing… being more than twice the length of the first Hitchhiker novel.
He opts for an inexplicably odd tale featuring Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged, as well as Thor, the Norse god of Thunder. A lot of time is also devoted to the Vogons – grotesque, foul-tempered aliens who continuously try to wipe the last remaining humans from the sky – as well as Ameglian Major cows, who literally ask to be cooked and eaten. None of these ever played more than passing roles in Adams’s books, yet for some reason Colfer decides to formulate a story around them. But there is only so much an author can get out of a suicidal bovine species, resulting in a lot of repetition and very little substance.
To try to hide this from the reader, he scatters wacky words and names with reckless abandon: some of them nod to the original series, but many of them are his own invention. But where Adams would seamlessly weave a few lines of relevant (or totally irrelevant) detail about the exotic species and characters into the story, Colfer either leaves them unexplained and undeveloped, or drops into our lap the occasional ‘guide note’, a stodgy block of facts that brings everything to a standstill.
And herein lies the problem. Colfer claims his intention was never to imitate Adams’s style, but it still feels like a fake Rolex, or a poor quality translation off Babel Fish (the website, not the actual creature from the Hitchhiker universe). There’s something cheap and tacky, and to be honest, slightly pitiful about the whole thing. The first five novels were characterised by Adams’s ability to mix flashes of comic genius with bizarre, baffling, colourful nonsense. Unfortunately, Colfer completely forgets to add the first ingredient and instead fills the book with a murky, gelatinous porridge of charmless oddities.
It truly is a shame – there was life left in the Hitchhiker series. Now, I fear, it has been killed off for good.