I’ll admit when I heard that Eoin Colfer was ghostwriting a sixth Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy volume, nine years after the death of original visionary Douglas Adams, I fired up the torches and pitchforks and got me a good old fashioned village mob together. It’s more than the fact that handing the reins over on signature projects is, in general, a horrible idea; it’s that Hitchhiker’s was a brilliant trilogy* that spawned very good radio and television serials, and eventually a middling big budget movie. The Law of Diminishing Returns did not offer a kind projection on Colfer’s chances.
And Another Thing… starts much as Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy did, with situational heroes Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect et al. in imminent danger from aliens contracted to destroy the Earth because it’s ‘in the way’. But where Adams populated this scenario with fresh characters and immediately riffed off the ensuing chaos, Colfer is obliged to prove to the fans his familiarity with the inhabitants of the Galaxyand ability to handle same. Cue forty pages of bickering and Adamsesque observations which fail to mask that the story isn’t actually going anywhere quickly.
Things pick up, though, as things usually do. There are some inspired sequences featuring Gods struggling through job interviews, and mobs of personal trainers who have run off from their resorts and turned feral in the bush. Colfer stays faithful to Adams’ style without being toofaithful (a critical distinction), and his dry, self-deprecating humour is well judged, much of the time. He admits to crippling doubt as he was writing the novel, to the point that he began to steer clear of the fan backlash brewing online. This, however, did not save him from the ravages of Facebook, which one day merrily suggested that he join the ‘The Stop Eoin Colfer Writing Hitchhiker’s Society’. Not only did he join, but began to post messages along the lines of, ‘Yes, Eoin Colfer is an arsehole. I’ve known him for many years and I don’t like him’ – messages that eventually won him letters of support from the very people who hoped to stop him.
It’s impossible to think of the Hitchhiker’s series without comparing it to its fantasy equivalent, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. But where Pratchett wrote stand-alone books featuring very different sets of characters that could be largely picked up in any order, And Another Thing…cannot be recommended to the casual reader. It’s a novel for fans familiar with the backstory who long to visit Adams’ mindspace again, and on this note, it delivers. However, I can’t help wondering what Colfer might have achieved if he was allowed to leave Arthur, Ford, Zaphod and Trillian on the shelf and write a Hitchhiker’s Guide sequel that was truly his own.
* In five parts! Aren’t the English absurd?
Rhys Tate has never been into space, not even in a story, and thus feels entirely unqualified to review science fiction.