The Carillon, Vol. 52, Issue 11 | Nov. 19 – 25, 2010
In a classic Dilbert strip from 2004, Scott Adams’ eponymous engineer describes how to make money off his company’s deceased founder: wrap the body in copper wire and replace the tombstone with a giant magnet. “With any luck,” he says, “our business practices will make him spin in his grave and generate electricity.”
With the publication of Eoin Colfer’s And Another Thing, we could probably power a small city with Douglas Adams’ spinning corpse. Colfer’s addition of a sixth book to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series is a major disappointment. While there are a few good jokes and some flashes of what made the Adams series a brilliant read, overall the book is dull and unoriginal, with shallow dialogue and sloppy pacing.
Adams’ comedy science-fiction series, spanning five books, follows neurotic protagonist Arthur Dent. After the demolition of the Earth by aliens for the purpose of making a hyperspace bypass, Arthur finds himself adrift in an anarchic universe populated by strange (often absurd) aliens. The Hitchhiker’s Guide itself is an electronic guidebook that provides information on virtually everything, typically with overtones of sarcasm, irony, or social commentary.
Given that Adams ended the series with a literal bang – a planetary explosion that kills almost every major character – one could argue that the project should never have been attempted in the first place. However, prior to Adams’ death in 2001, he had expressed interest in writing another book. It just shouldn’t have been this one.
It almost seems as though Colfer went through the original series, cut out passages that he liked, and then cobbled them together in a literary scrapbook. Some recycled jokes are used more than once. While Colfer’s narrative style is faithful to the original series, his lack of originality strips away any sense of natural progression. It reads more like Frankenstein’s monster.
Characters that were one-off jokes in the original series have been dragged into the limelight; they now span entire pages that read more like fanfiction than serious literary attempts. In the Adams books, Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged is funny when he arrives at random intervals to insult people; however, he flops as a major character, since Colfer fails to flesh him out properly. Even when Colfer has a brief flash of originality, he drags out the joke until he’s just beating a dead horse, such as a painfully drawn-out scene with H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu in a job interview.
And Another Thing could easily have been improved with some aggressive editing; many of the narrative interjections by the Guide (or “Guide notes”) miss the mark and are simply not funny. If the book was pared down from 288 pages, and the dialogue and narration were tightened up, it might be a decent addition to the canon. Unfortunately, the final product looks like a first draft. Although Colfer started the project well aware of fans’ high expectations, he has produced a stunningly mediocre book.