I’ve just finished reading the first half of “And another thing”, the sixth book in “The Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy” written by Eoin Colfer.

First I’d like to thank Penguin and Eoin Colfer’s website for organizing this giveaway and for risking sending to fans half of the book three months before its publication (the 12th October). I always thought that was quite risky as they could get very bad reactions from the fans and utterly bad reviews on the net. Now here is the question: are they right to be so confident about the quality of Eoin Colfer’s new book? Just a few words first about the controversy between fans. Some of them really want to read this book and there are others who won’t read it even if their life was at stake and depended on it. Douglas Adams, the original author of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (H2G2) died in 2001. The last installment of H2G2 (“Mostly Harmless”) was published in 1994 and surprised and shocked a lot of fans because the end of the book was utterly dark. But those who understand Hitchhiker know that H2G2 was not founded on an optimistic and innocent kind of humour. A story which begins with the destruction of the Earth to make way for a bypass can hardly be called harmless. A few times, Douglas Adams expressed regrets for such a dark ending to his famous trilogy in five parts. He had a love/hate relationship with “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” which made him so famous, and felt trapped just like a rockstar who would be famous for just one song (or five). But he also was very protective regarding his work (as Howard Zimmerman explains in a foreword to the DC comics adaptation, “Essentially, Douglas wanted no changes to his original prose whatsoever…. The single, major concession I got from Douglas Adams was to allow us to Americanize the British spellings. And this was a hard won battle”). The five Hitchhiker’s books are all very different and it is not at all an homogeneous set. The first one is the closest to the original radio series (which for me remains the canon). The second book (“The Restaurant at the End of the Universe” has a lot of new stuff but remains very close to the spirit of the radio series and the first book (the reason why many fans think it is the best). The third one, “Life, the Universe and Everything” is based on a script Douglas wrote for “Doctor Who”. So it’s quite different from the two first books and has a plot! But it is also more classical stuff and lacks the sheer originality of the two first books. The fourth book (“So Long and Thanks For All the Fish”) is a love story on Earth! A lot of fans don’t like this book for this reason but it has always been a favourite of mine. And finally, the fifth book, (“Mostly Harmless”) is the darker book in the series and its end seemed to wipe out a possibility for a sixth book. So, everyone was quite taken aback when Penguin one year ago announced that there will be a sixth book of Hitchhiker and that it will be written by Eoin Colfer, an Irish writer well known for his best selling series for teenagers, “Artemis Fowl”. And quite a number of fans decided straight away that it was a terrible idea and that they won’t read a Hitchhiker book not written by Douglas. I feel myself uncomfortable with the concept, as Douglas Adams’ unique style of writing (including his penchant for run-on sentences) and sheer original ideas are quite an important factor in the pleasure you get from reading H2G2. But I love the characters so much that I couldn’t help but feel excited at the idea of having them back in new adventures. And I’m still happy when there are opportunities for a few headlines about Hitchhiker and Douglas Adams. I really hope that he and his work will be even more famous in 20 years than they are now. So I was quite happy to get last week a proof copy of this much awaited book. But now I have finished reading half of the book, which are my feelings on the subject? Well let’s get it straight, it’s not Douglas Adams. Eoin Colfer has his own sense of humour, and way of telling stories. Regarding our heroes. Well they are back (he resisted the temptation to get Marvin resurrected – in the first half at least) but of course sometimes they act and think differently than in Douglas’ books. So it can be disturbing the few times it happens. But mainly, I think he got it right. Eoin Colfer also brought back some of the excellent secondary characters you get in the Hitchhiker’s series. And he didn’t make bad choices. The plot. Hmm, I would say that the plot is also here very, very thin and to be straightforward not very interesting. There is a kind of plot but more like in the movie and less than in “Life, the Universe and Everything”. It’s more an excuse of for a plot. And Colfer is very Adamsy when he breaks the continuity of the story with a lot of extra stuff; guide notes, and so on… Is it funny? If you read Hitchhiker to have a good laugh, maybe you’re going to be disappointed. I didn’t find it very funny. There are some good funny moments (mainly at the beginning) but Colfer’s ideas being less original than Douglas’, you are less surprised. And he has not the same grip on comic timing than Douglas had. There are also some dialogues which are not Douglasy at all, like most of the stuff around Random’s teenage problems and the kind of love story between Trillian and °°°° (a legendary character of the Hitchhiker series, even if it’s the first time that we see him that much!). And some speeches are anyway a bit long. I didn’t find any great conversations like the ones between Prosser-Arthur, Marvin-Frogstar Robot or even Shooty-Bang Bang-Zaphod. I don’t want to give the feeling that it is a bad book. It is not. But maybe I was expecting too much. And let’s keep in mind the fact that it is just the first half of the book with all the transitional bits that were needed (this book has been written in a way that you could read it without reading the other books first – there’s a resumé of the previous book at the beginning – but I really, really hope that new readers will read the other books first, or at least afterwards). I don’t feel in anyway that it’s a shame, or an insult to Douglas Adams’ memory; it’s a nice fan fiction. Take it or leave it, but if you like Hitchhiker, give it a chance.
EDIT (the 23th august 2009) : I’ve been quoted on several websites saying that “The new Hitchhiker book is not very funny”. I feel a bit taken out of context (and most of these websites don’t even put a link back to my website so that people can read the entire review). Maybe some other people will find it very funny (I’m not the judge of what’s funny and what’s not) and it’s annyway not the main quality of the Hitchhiker’s series from my point of view. “So long…” and “Mostly harmless” are not funny books, there is a dark and sceptical tone in Douglas’writing that I love. And of course you can’t find exactly the same thing in Colfin’s writing.