Book #5: And Another Thing… (2009)

author: Eoin Colfer
language: English
pages: 340
finished on: 28/1

book cover I’m a bit late to the game on this one, I guess, since it came out two years ago. I reckon the only way I’m going to be able to talk about it properly is to compare it to the books by Douglas Adams that it continues, which is going to be a little bit of a problem given that I’ve just realised I haven’t read them in 10 years or something. So I think I’ve forgotten most of the major plot points apart from those of the first book. Or something like that. Whether I like it or not and how that compares may also be difficult, because I remember liking the first three books and not being too impressed with the 4th and 5th anyway… so things I don’t like about this may be carry-overs from that. Possibly.

I do quite like Eoin Colfer as an author, in that I’ve read several of his Artemis Fowl books and not been quite bored by them. But at the same time, I do kind of think that Artemis is a bit of a Gary Stu-type character, in that nothing ever seems to properly stump him for long enough. So I began this book optimistically, knowing that we at least have an author who’s successful and whose work I know I can read.

But even right from the start I’m seeing problems. There’s the niggling comment in the back of my mind that a friend made a while ago that the book’s like glorified fan fiction…. and so far I’m sort of agreeing. Not that that’s a bad thing, of course. Fan fiction if done well is most certainly a good thing (although I’ve never had the patience to read any, mainly given that the only series I know with a substantial amount of fan fiction is Harry Potter, and my god is there a lot of crap Harry Potter fan fiction out there…), so we’ll lay that comment aside for the moment.

The characters seem …. fairly normal. As I say, it’s been a long time since I’ve read the previous books in the H2G2 series, so I can’t quite remember what they’re supposed to be like… but I don’t remember Ford Prefect being so incompetent. I also don’t recall the word ‘froody’ being used by him and Zaphod Beeblebrox every second page, nor the word ‘zark’ instead of ‘god’ in epithets – although a quick flick through one of the older books reveals that Adams did at least use the second one but not with nearly as much frequency. And it was capitalised. Nitpicky, yeah… well, there’s worse to come. As for Beeblebrox, he quite definitely used to have two heads. I’ve no idea if this was Colfer’s or Adams’ idea – I seem to recall that Colfer worked off some notes that Adams made, possibly – but it seemed a bit clumsy when he explained that Zaphod’s second head was actually a genius stifled by the utter idiocy of the first head, and was now the sole pilot of the Heart of Gold… which didn’t even need a dedicated pilot before, did it? Or is this related to the non-presence of Marvin the paranoid android? Gripes, gripes.

The style also struck me as a bit stilted. Colfer inserts “Guide Notes” – excerpts from the in-universe Hitchhiker’s Guide – in all over the place in italics. They break the flow of the text, there’s no two ways about it. Adams did include such excerpts, but not with such frequency, and he tended to dedicate a chapter to them (again, just an impression from my brief flick through the earlier books to check that I’m not talking out of my arse). They also seem to be more in context with the characters – as if they’re the ones checking the Hitchhiker’s Guide and finding it out with you. Colfer’s excerpts are all over the place, often breaking the tension in a scene just to explain the context behind a nonsensical statement someone’s just made. He even seems to know that they might do this (and he lampshades it at one point when he inserts one during the climactic scene…) and does it anyway. The italic thing also kind of annoyed me because the book was typeset in a font I didn’t like, and the italic letters looked all skewy. But that’s just a nitpick, really. Some of them are pretty funny, anyway, and they’re certainly in keeping with the original source material. On the subject of style, he hasn’t got the hang of negative simile. I counted one for the whole book (though it’s certainly possible I missed some). I’ll just leave that there for the moment.

Anyway, the tipping point for me came when Colfer made an obvious factual error: making reference to the beautiful deep blues of Saturn. I recognise that this is probably a typo (and may even have been corrected in a later edition), but did it have to be such a blatant factual error too? I mean, I assume he was going for the deep blues of Neptune…

… Actually, no, I just can’t quite work out how he managed to mix them up. It pissed me off so much, because Adams, while his books were patently absurd, didn’t tend to make factual errors, as if his stories were conceivably possible. That was always one of their strengths. So, I do feel justified in finding this unacceptable, even though it is a comedy series. So then I just started listing all his little errors. I’ll try to keep the next bit brief…

So, shortly after the Saturn error, I found the word zigabytes. Obviously, this is on analogy with zillions. But why doesn’t he just use the words ‘zettabytes’ or ‘yottabytes’. They also look like they’ve been made up by preschoolers, and are actually real words. Later, he starts to make obvious spelling errors with foreign names – you ever heard of a Frenchman called deBeouf or a Scandinavian called Lief? Ironically, he gets both names right once before going right back to misspelling them. He makes what he thinks is a pun by talking about the meat festival of Carni-val … actually, this one’s quite funny, but to me it’s not a pun, since that’s exactly the etymology of the word Carnival: it’s the last days before Lent when Catholics (and there are a lot of Catholics in South America) are allowed to eat meat. Or something like that. And there was the word “Ridiculousity” at one point… which I can’t help but point out should be “Ridiculosity”. Cthulhu, about midway through, has a cameo as a slightly pathetic fallen god – but someone else already had that idea!

And then he repeated that bloody myth that humans only use 10% of their brains. OK, so it’s a comedy, and Adams may well have repeated it as well (I’m not about to go searching), but we’ve been over this: it’s a factual error, and if you repeat it at all, you’re just reinforcing the myth. I mean, the only way this could have been worse is if he’d said that Eskimos have 500 words for snow.

He also clumsily shoehorns (a space version of) Ireland into the story… now, OK, I know that a lot of people say you should write what you know, but I actually disagree with that, especially once you’re an established author and writing adaptations of someone else’s work. I just get the impression that Colfer likes to insert his home country all the time – Artemis Fowl, the only other work of his that I’m familiar with offhand, is mainly set there, for instance. That’s fine, but if he does it all the time his works are going to become monotonous. (However, I did enjoy the religious feud going on between the two factions on the planet, one of whom worships cheese.)

As you can probably tell by now, I have a lot of gripes with this book. But the story was alright, and apart from what I mentioned, it’s true to the source material. So if you’re a fan, you might as well. But you will just be reading glorified fan fiction.

Ninja edit: I’ve remembered a couple more gripes: Vogons as the bad guys of the story, which I’m sure Adams gave up on after the first book, for instance. And just the way that the book reads as though it’s not been seen by any editors, and as though it’s very possible that Colfer has only seen the 2005 movie version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Nah, I’m sure he’s read the books, and after all, it is a direct continuation of Mostly Harmless; it’s just that there are a couple of characterisations and so on that I have a sneaking suspicion may have been introduced by the film…

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