Wait, So We Aren't Dead?
And Another Thing...
As I noted in my review of Mostly Harmless, the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series ended on something of a down note. A real dark and depressing note, which marked something of a tonal change for the series which, while weird and even dark at times, was still generally happy-go-lucky fare. Mostly Harmless was different, written at a self-professed low-point for author Douglas Adams, and it was a book he regretted. He wanted to find a way to redeem the series, to eventually write a sixth book (whenever he got around to it) so he could give the series the ending it truly deserved. Sadly he died before he could write that story, leaving Mostly Harmless as the definitive ending for the franchise.
However, just because a series has ended due tot he death of an author that doesn't mean the series has to stay done. Plenty of book series have been picked up by other writers (just look at any of the books in the continuing Clancy-verse or all the authors that have written Jason Bourne book after Ludlum passed, to say nothing about the continuing adventures of James BondThe world's most famous secret agent, James Bond has starred not only in dozens of books but also one of the most famous, and certainly the longest running, film franchises of all time.). Fans wanted more Hitchhiker and even if we ignore the capitalistic ends (another book means more money) there was reason to make a sixth (and final) book in the Hitchhiker Trilogy. Adams's widow worked with Eoin Colfer, an author she liked, to get the book going, and eventually it came out as And Another Thing....
As far as continuations going, And Another Thing... does the exact job author Colfer set out to do: it takes the man characters of the Hitchhiker series who all were basically facing certain death within mere seconds at the end of Mostly Harmless and it gives them (yet another) get out of death free card. It then sends them on a whirlwind adventure, once again, as they work to stop the Vogons and save the remnants of humanity before the whole of the human race is well and truly wiped out from the galaxy. This was the task Colfer had to tackle, and he wrote a book that did just that.
Of course, getting the characters out of what was effectively the most down-note cliffhanger ending is the absolute minimum the book had to accomplish. As far as being a "proper" sequel to the Hitchhiker's Guide series, though, the book doesn't really achieve that goal. You can tell Colfer tried but he doesn't have the right writing style to nail Adams's tone and humor. No one was going to be able to match Adams (the only author I think that could have done it was Terry Pratchett and he had his own fantastic DiscworldAt first blush, the Discworld series seems like just a parody of fantasy literature. Dig into any of the books, though, and you'll find deep and funny tales of a world just slightly off from our own. A world that, yes, is a flat disc carried through space on the backs of four elephants that, in turn, ride on the back of a giant space turtle. series to watch over), but I really don't think Colfer was up to the task.
This isn't to disparage Colfer as an author in general. I know he's found great success writing the Artemis Fowl series (and all its related works), and he's continued to crank out books at a regular clip. Most of them are Young Adult novels, but he has written other, more mature works. He's an accomplished author with a large following and his attempt here, And Another Thing... is competent to be sure. There is a spark that's missing, though, and that's what holds the book back.
It's pretty obvious early on that there's something off about the novel, especially when you read it soon after the other books in the series. Adams regularly scattered asides in his novels, describing the universe in these books and giving details that were funny, but pertinent, to the story at hand. These were sometimes, but not always, pitched as entries from the titular "Hitchhiker's Guide", as if a narrator was reading from the book and commenting on it as well. it added a nice bit of color to the novels, keeping the narrative interesting.
Colfer's book has the asides, too, but here they're very much pitched as coming right from the "Guide" itself. This is a little weird on its own as its a bit of a structural change. Worse, though, is that the asides very rare add anything to the actual narrative. Sometimes they provide a tidbit that useful, occasionally they're funny, rarely they're both, and more often than not the asides are just page filler. Its clear that Colfer wanted to mimic Adams's style but his writing style didn't mesh right in this context.
It's also possible that Colfer tried too hard to copy the humor of Adams that he completely missed the mark without realizing it. Humor is hard and it's way to easy to force comedy such that it's no longer funny. Colfer certainly seems like he wants to copy Adams but the way he tries to insert humor doesn't feel natural, at least not when coming from his authorial voice. Again, I'm sure Colfer can be a very funny writer but he didn't write a Colfer book here but an Adams book filtered through Colfer's voice and the humor is lost in translation. This is one of the least funny books in the series, and that includes Mostly Harmless.
I'm sure it was hard to come up with the material to make this book. There likely weren't a lot of notes on what Adams had planned to write for this sixth book in the series -- everything he had been writing up to that point was included in the collection The Salmon of Doubt, including a partially-written novel that started as a Dirk Gently novel but likely (as per Adams) was going to evolve into a Hitchhiker's novel. Whatever was left that hadn't already been published was what Colfer had to work with and I suspect that wasn't much at all.
Frankly, while the author said he had "notes" to work from I'd be surprised how much there really was to actually use. The book reads like a fan-fiction version of Hitchhikers with the heroes being rescued by the villain (the Guide 2.0) that tried to kill them, then being rescued by Zaphod, then being rescued by Wowbagger. Then the book largely ignores Arthur, Ford, Trillian, and Random (the only major characters from the last book) so it can focus on Zaphod having an adventure with Thor for a while. And then everything resolves itself via a young Vogon that doesn't actually want to kill who convinces all the other Vogons that the Earthers are a protected species. And that's it. None of the actual characters we've been following this whole time so anything to save themselves and the book then ends. It's weird and feels totally tangential to the whole series.
I just... didn't like the book. Like, it's fine, but it's not really Hitchhiker's Guide. Colfer did his best, I'm sure, and the book is perfectly readable once just to see what happens. But as far as being a proper entry in this seminal series, And Another Thing... falls very, very short.
Of note, while the book fails there is another version out there (because it wouldn't be Hitchhiker's Guide without conflicting versions). As the radio series, over time, adapted each of the books to come out (after the first radio series were originally then adapted into the first books), there is a sixth phase of the radio series adapting And Another Thing.... This series has more of the creative voices that made the radio series popular, and is apparently a much better "final chapter" for the series. If you're lucky enough to be able to listen to it that might just be the conclusion you really wanted.