I found out yesterday that it really is possible to repress memories – to almost completely forget something you knew. It was almost a complete surprise to me that there was a sixth book in the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series (H2G2), and it wasn’t written by Douglas Adams. I knew all this when the book was first published, but apparently the idea was just too horrible and I forgot it again.
I have ‘always’ been a huge H2G2 fan. I have the Radio Series on CD, I’ve read all the books (up to, and including, Mostly Harmless). I’ve got various editions of the radio scripts. I’ve played the Infocom game. I enjoyed the TV series and have it, plus all the extras you can find, on DVD. The original book (The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) has been read by me at least 300 times, as it is my “go to” book when I had nothing else to read. At one point I could (quite boringly) recite huge chunks of the book.
None of this is meant to be boasting, but more to give you the idea that H2G2 is quite important in my world – and that I’m not likely to be even a little objective about it.
I’ve also enjoyed the other books written by Douglas – the Dirk Gently series, and Last Chance To See, as well as his posthumously collected works The Salmon Of Doubt. I love his writing, and his worldview. This isn’t to say his writing is perfect. I was initially unsure about So Long And Thanks For All The Fish, but came to love it later. I’m still not quite sure about Mostly Harmless, as I think it’s his weakest book.
Back to this mythical sixth book. While reading some other H2G2 related web articles yesterday, I was reminded of this “new” officially approved fan-fiction: And Another Thing … (AAT), written by Eoin Colfer. Something made me check Kindle, and I found it was down in the “I might as well buy it” price range now. So I bought it.
The beginning gave me some hope. While it clearly isn’t written by Douglas (of which more later), the style wasn’t too bad, and it had a very H2G2 feel. The fact that the first character I met turned out not to be who I thought it was, was rather neat.
Unfortunately, from here it was pretty much downhill. I think as a (as I dismissively called it earlier) work of “fan-fiction” it stands up quite well. As an official entry in the H2G2 Trilogy, it fails miserably.
Firstly, the characters are simply not right. They don’t sound or feel like they did in any incarnation I’m used to. They start out alright: Arthur is bewildered and somewhat self pitying; Ford is hedonistic and uncaring about pretty much anything else; Trillian is really nothing like the Trillian we know, but given she’s an “alternate” Trillian, that can be excused; Zaphod is … changed. This last is explained in the plot, but really doesn’t seem to fit; he’s changed too much.
However, when they all start interacting, it falls flat and feels false. It’s also about this point that we start hearing more of Arthur’s internal monologue, and it unfortunately now rings false.
What really began to kill it for me, though, was the writing. I’ve already mentioned how it’s obviously not written by Douglas. It seems to be written by someone who enjoys Douglas’ ability with words, but doesn’t understand it. They seem to want to show off their “clever writing” without realising that while Douglas’ writing was “clever” it didn’t feel like being clever for the sake of it. He felt like he built his sentences carefully, using “just the right” words in the right place. He wasn’t showing off, but using his words, his sentences to build mood, story and atmosphere.
The second thing that twisted the knife were the Guide entries, or Guide Notes as they’re now titled in the book. In the radio series, this was essentially the Narrator. This carried on in the books, though being more obviously “The Guide” then. The Narrator and Guide entries are part of the story, and usually the narrative flowed into the entries quite naturally. While there were a lot of them, they didn’t seem to overwhelm.
In AAT the Guide Notes come thick and fast, drowning the story rather than helping it. At times it really does seem there’s more ‘notes’ than ‘story’. The fact that each note begins with “Guide Note:” slams the narrative into a brick wall as we suddenly change tracks (and metaphors, apparently). It breaks up the flow, and I’ve almost got to the stage of wishing I could shut the damned guide off, rather than looking forward to each entry as I did in the original.
As I say, as a work of Fan Fiction, I think it’s not a bad effort. If it had been labelled as such, I don’t think I’d have such an issue with it. However, as it’s pretending to be part of a canon I adore, it makes it harder for me to like it. I can’t help thinking that I’d love to see a book of short stories, or even novellas, that are H2G2 fan fiction, with the profits going to the Save the Rhino foundation or similar. That I could get behind.