The Hitchhiker’s books have always been a big deal to me. My siblings and I got them early — probably because I have family in England — so I was already deep into Douglas Adams when my friends didn’t know who he was yet. It seemed like a big secret that we had all to ourselves, at least for a while.
Obviously I liked them because they were funny. But I also liked them because Arthur was so depressed all the time. I was a mopey child, and they seemed to hit a particular black note that nothing else I read did. To this day the theme music from the radio show gives me major-league sad nostalgic feelings.
But I’m not a Hitchhiker’s purist. Hitchhiker’s — still not easy to spell! — exists in so many formats, I don’t know if it’s even possible to be a purist about it. I even liked the movie. (Zooey Deschanel = best Trillian ever). And I kept an open mind when I picked up Eoin (pron. “Owen”) Colfer’s sequel, And Another Thing…
The book starts right after the end of Mostly Harmless, when most of the main characters, and all possible Earths in all possible timelines, appear to have been destroyed. Nobody, including Adams, was totally satisfied by that as an ending for the series. At the beginning of And Another Thing…Colfer snaffles them away at the last second — the rescue involves Zaphod and the Heart of Gold, as well as Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged — you may remember him as the immortal being who goes around insulting every creature in the universe in alphabetical order.
The ensuing plot is driven by Wowbagger’s determination to die, because he’s so utterly bored, and Zaphod’s attempt to get the god Thor to kill Wowbagger; plus Arthur’s squabbling with his daughter Random, and his attempts to save the last colony of Earthlings, and the romance (a slightly off note, if you ask me, but maybe that’s because of my Zoe Deschanel thing) between Wowbagger and Trillian.
Colfer — who wrote the Artemis Fowl books — does a smart thing, which is that he doesn’t try to do a Douglas Adams impression. He is funny in a way that’s not totally un-reminiscent of Adams, but he’s much more rapid-fire. The jokes come at a practically vaudevillian rate. There’s more hit and miss, which takes adjusting to. But you do adjust.
And the book is, amazingly, a success. The good stuff is the same good stuff that I used to love, and that I never thought I’d see again. And Another Thing… is funny not in a let’s-make-light-of-bad-things way, but in a things-are-so-much-worse-than-anybody-admits way.
Let’s hear that theme song again. Best thing anybody has ever done with a banjo. Or in this case, with Mario Paint Composer: