The greatest proof of Douglas Adams' genius is that his anarchic comedy seems effortless. But when anyone else tries to do it, they crash and burn. Exhibit A: And Another Thing..., the new Hitchhiker's novel that comes out next week.
Oh, and this is a completely spoiler-free review, apart from one quote from the book which doesn't reveal anything.
This will also be a fairly short book review, because I don't have much to say about And Another Thing... The publisher, Hyperion, gave us a copy of the first half of the book at Comic Con. I sort of expected we'd get a copy of the whole book in the mail at some point, but it never showed up. In any case, I've read the first half of And Another Thing... twice, not because it was so brilliant — but because I could not remember anything about it, when I sat down to write this review the other day. It was a total blank.
And Another Thing... is the continuation of Douglas Adams' indispensible Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy series by Eoin Colfer, whose Artemis Fowl books I haven't read but have heard great things about. When we met Colfer at Comic Con, he seemed aware of what a tremendous undertaking he'd taken on, and said he'd only agreed to do it because Adams' wife and daughter had both asked him to. And he's definitely put his all into trying to conclude the saga of Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, Zaphod Beeblebrox and Trillian. The book "feels" like a Hitchhiker's book, with the periodic interjections from the Guide, and there are a few genuinely clever bits, most of them revolving around Zaphod.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with And Another Thing... If you want to revisit the universe Douglas Adams created, this book will give you more of the same. It definitely subscribes to the "more of the same" view of sequels. All of the characters are recognizably themselves, and all of the tropes are there, from Vogon poetry to the Heart of Gold's Infinite Improbability Drive.
The main problem with Colfer's cover version of Adams is the humor: it falls incredibly flat, at least to me. Humor is incredibly subjective, so your opinion may vary. But Colfer's jokes feel simultaneously as though they're trying much too hard and also not quite trying hard enough. Where Adams' humor was subversive and weird and kept you constantly off balance with its cleverness, Colfer's feels labored and a bit too dependent on puns and sharp-elbowed nudges.
Here's a random entry from one of the book's Hitchhiker's Guide segments (not spoilery at all, but bear in mind I have an unfinished proof and the book may have been tweaked slightly before publication):
Guide Note: The notion that religions can be useful tools for keeping the rich rich and the poor abject has been around since shortly after the dawn of time, when a recently evolved bipedal frogget managed to convince all the other froggets in the marsh that their fates were governed by the almighty Lily Pad who would only agree to watch over their pond and keep it safe from gunner pike if an offering of flies and small reptiles was heaped upon it every second Friday. This worked for almost two years, until one of the reptile offerings proved to be slightly less than dead and proceeded to eat the gluttonized bipedal frogget followed by the almighty Lily Pad. The frogget community celebrated their freedom from the yoke of religion with an all-night rave party and hallucinogenic dock leaves. Unfortunately they celebrated a little loudly and were massacred by a gunner pike who for some reason hadn't noticed this little pond before.
The irony is so thick, you could... get bogged down in it, I guess.
After re-reading the first half of And Another Thing... and still being left with a very vague sense of empty calories, I started to wonder if I was viewing the original through a haze of nostalgia — was Adams really that much funnier? I flipped to a random page in Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, and it was actually sharper and more subversive than I'd remembered. Honestly, if you're jonesing to visit the Hitchhiker's universe again, you're way better off rereading Adams' first couple of novels, when he was at the top of his game.