Monday, October 26, 2009

The last book I finished reading was And Another Thing by Eoin Colfer.

As a kid, I loved the works of Douglas Adams, and that probably had more of an influence on my sense of humor than anything (except maybe my Dad). Loved the books, the TV series, the radio series... I even got to go hear him speak once (with my Dad) at the University of California, Berkeley. He may have been the first one of my idols I actually got to see live, if you don't count the guy in the Darth Vader costume we could barely see in a crowded Fisherman's Wharf T-shirt store one day back in 1978. (Which I was also taken to by my Dad. I miss him.)

Those books are products of such a distinct voice, I--quite reasonably--balked when I heard that his estate had approved a new book in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, almost a decade after his passing. It's one thing for an author to be one of a crowd writing a series of media tie-in books. It's also one thing for an author's estate to commission someone to finish a series left incomplete by an author's untimely passing. But this... It's not like Adams had left notes about a new Hitchhiker's book, or even had anything beyond vague plans to write another book at some point, reportedly.

However, this was going to be written by Eoin Colfer, who I also like. I really liked the first three Artemis Fowl books that he wrote. (I thought the third one ended the series so perfectly I really don't have any interest in reading beyond that.) I also loved The Supernaturalist by him, and have Airman on my to-read stack.

So it became clear to me that I was going to have to read And Another Thing... I planned on just getting it from the library, but as the publication date approached, and Internet buzz from folks who had read preview copies of the first half seemed good, I decided I didn't want to wait, and went ahead and ordered the book.

It's hard for me to really articulate my opinions about it. It's not just a new Eoin Colfer book; it's a new book by him about somebody else's characters, continuing somebody else's story. It's not just a new Hitchhiker's Guide book; it's the first one not written by Douglas Adams (something which would have once seemed unthinkable). So I come to this book with more baggage and expectations than I might if it was just one thing or another.

I enjoyed it enough that I read it all the way through, but I found it ultimately dissatisfying. For one thing, it's mainly a Zaphod Beeblebrox story, and he's not really my favorite character. Everyone else pretty much spends most of the book sitting around doing nothing. Not saying a Hitchhiker's Guide book needs to give everyone equal time; I love So Long and Thanks for All the Fish even though it's mostly an earthbound romance story featuring Arthur Dent. But this isn't just another book in the series.

To Colfer's credit, he doesn't try to write a pastiche of Douglas Adams' writing style. But this may also be a reason for my ambiguous feelings. He gets the characters' voices right--I can totally hear the radio/TV actors saying the lines--but the story they're in isn't written like any of the others I've read. So it feels a bit different, because it is a bit different. Also to his credit, he describes his own book as "authorized fan fiction," instead of claiming his is the official continuation of the series.

There are funny bits, which made me laugh out loud. It feels true to the spirit of the original series, which is good. It's also kind of unnecessary, and if someone--Colfer or anyone else--were to create another Hitchhiker's book, I'm pretty sure I'd wait to get it from the library this time.

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