When we last left our "intrepid" "heroes" - Arthur Dent, Trillian Astra, Ford Prefect and Arthur and Trillian's daughter Random Dent - they were being destroyed by Grebulons on the last version of Earth still extant in the Multiverse, lured there by the evil Vogon-owned Mark II version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. They have not suffered, however; the bird-shaped, psychic, time-travelling Guide has plugged their minds into itself, allowing each to live out an entire lifetime in the seconds they have left in the real Universe. But now the Guide's batteries are running flat and it's time to go back to inevitable doom. Or is it? In what seems to be becoming a habit, Zaphod Beeblebrox arrives in the Heart of Gold to save them, though that salvation is short lived and they soon need rescuing by a familiar surly immortal. While tensions between and within our protagonists mount, we soon discover that - despite the lack of Earths - it seems there are still surviving human beings - and the Vogons already know about them...
Yes, today I finally finished Eoin Colfer's Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy sequel, And Another Thing..., which follows on from the end of Mostly Harmless. It's left me feeling pretty ambivalent, to tell the truth.
For one thing, it feels like fan fiction. Well written, sometimes funny, and novel-length fan fiction, I grant you; but it's still a sequel to a much loved cult series of books, radio programmes, television series and feature films, and as such there's a ring of the "why bothers" about it. Adams himself joked that he'd killed off all the characters at the end of Mostly Harmless so he'd know where to find them all when he wrote a sequel, but a sequel never seemed as much on his mind as further alternate versions of the main story (many of the new ideas in the surprisingly good 2005 Hollywood treatment were his).
Mostly Harmless itself, published eight years after the other four books, shares quite a bit in common with And Another Thing...: it's a direct sequel picking up from what seemed a perfectly good ending in the previous book; it has more-or-less a single storyline, rather than being a string of disparate sequences; it develops a small number of ideas further rather than throwing a hundred ideas at the reader for as long as they're funny; and most fans of the series won't like it. (Now I think of it, almost all of those things could also be said of volume four, So Long and Thanks For All the Fish, but everyone likes that one.) So it seems a bit unfair of me to be so indifferent to Colfer's effort, especially when - at age 13 - Mostly Harmless was the first hardcover novel I ever bought, almost as soon as it was released, and devoured on the car trip back from somewhere with a bigger book store than my home town.
If I'm honest, that emotional connection to the last of Adams' books in the series - it was the first thing of any kind I ever knew and cared about before it existed, back in the days before the Internet made waiting for things that don't yet exist almost inevitable - is probably a large part of why I like it so much more than most fans, but I guess it's also why I wanted to give Colfer a chance. But the deck is stacked against him, not least because he loves the series himself. References to the originals drip from every paragraph; hardly a single Guide entry in the novel doesn't use a planet, species or character name invented by Adams, and there are precious few characters in the book who we've not met before, with only one - the fairly unlikeable Hillman Hunter, nominally the man in charge of the last human settlement in the Galaxy - getting much fleshing out.
A notable absence, though, is Ford. He's hardly in it. Whole scenes go past in which he is in attendance but has no input. While I appreciate that describing Ford Prefect as a protagonist is like calling Peter Garret a champion of the environment, he's always been my favourite character, so having him around but doing nothing is much worse than his absence in So Long. (His return in Mostly Harmless was yet another reason I enjoyed it.) There's also relatively little for Arthur to do, although he gets a fair bit of moping in, almost as though he hadn't spent the previous novel dealing with what he'd lost in the one before that. Zaphod dominates the narrative, though for some reason without one of his heads (the smarter one, in fact, though there was never any indication that he had two personalities previously), though Trillian, Random and a couple of previously minor characters from the series also feature heavily.
No-one would argue, I think, that Adams was a master of plot or characterisation; it was his prose and his ideas and his wit that made him wonderful. Yet his successor is Eoin Colfer, whose prose is witty, whose jokes are (mostly) funny, and whose plotting is pretty good. I'm not sure he was the best man for this job, but then I'm not sure this was a job that needed doing, and in the end I think I can safely say that while I enjoyed And Another Thing... - enough that I'd give Colfer's other books a go - it's not all I hoped it might be.