According to a janitor's assistant at the Maximegalon University, who often loiters outside lecture halls, the universe is over sixteen billion years old. The supposed truth is scoffed at by a clutch of Betelgeusean beat poets who claim to have moleskin pads older than that (rat a tat-tat). Seventeen billion, they say, at the very least according to their copy of the Wham Bam Big Bang scrolls. A human teenage prodigy once called it at fourteen billion based on a complicated computation involving the density of moon rock and the distance between two pubescent females on an event horizon. One of the minor Asgardian gods did mumble that he's read something somewhere about some sort of a major-ish cosmic event eighteen billion years ago, but no-one pays much attention to pronouncements from on-high anymore, not since the birth of the gods debacle, or Thorgate as it has come to be known. (p. 6)Completing a story that another author began is often a very controversial affair. When the estate of Margaret Mitchell contracted with Alexandra Ripley to write the sequel to Gone with the Wind, called Scarlett, several fans of Mitchell's book said that they frankly didn't give a damn about the sequel. Frank Herbert's son, Brian, and Kevin Anderson wrote a series of prequels, sequels, and some-other-sort-of-quels set in the Dune universe that many fans of Frank Herbert's were left wondering just how fast he was spinning in his grave. Even the choice of Brandon Sanderson to finish The Wheel of Time series after Robert Jordan's death from amyloidosis has proven to be the source of some debate, despite the author's widow choosing Sanderson as a replacement and despite the copious amounts of notes left behind.
So it should be no surprise that fans of Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series bemoaned the decision by his widow and daughter to have Irish author Eoin Colfer (author of the bestselling Artemis Fowl series) to write the sixth volume in the trilogy. If one listened closely enough, doubtless the awful galactic profanity of B**gium! might have been heard from those fans, especially when they learned that Adams had left no notes behind on the sixth volume. It is understandable the frustration of these fans. It is very difficult for a replacement author to come close, much less match or exceed, the original author's grasp of the characters, the prose, and the settings. It is doubly difficult when the original author in question has inspired all sorts of catchphrases, from 42 to frood to Towel Day. But if a reader can accept that the replacement author is offering an interpretation (one that may inevitably lose something in the "translation") of the original's vision and if they are willing to judge that work on the basis of how much it entertains and stimulates the reader's imagination, then perhaps the resulting work ends up being something more than a commercial exercise.
Having spent much more time than usual on prologue, it is hard to examine And Another Thing... without noting what it isn't. It is not a story that revolves around the answer of 42. Towels are not a prominent part of the story. There is not as much of a dark, almost nihilistic slant to this story, as what many found in the fifth volume, Mostly Harmless. And Another Thing... does not derive its title from the original book in the series. But despite these "isn't"s, it offers quite a bit in return.
The humor and wordplay, while not pitch-perfect, are enough to grab one's attention in places. The characterizations are fairly spot-on, as Arthur Dent acted like Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect postured like Ford Prefect, and Random was just herself, irritating as it might have been at times. However, there were some differences. Arthur was more in the background in this series and Trillian was featured even less. Zaphod was similar in many regards, but with a more "serious" side to his character. There were new characters introduced and one returning, from the Asgardians to Wowbagger, who was quite obnoxious and whose conflict with a certain character provided a highlight to the series. In many ways, the main strength of And Another Thing... revolves around these character interactions and conflicts. Humor alone didn't drive Adams' series, as there were several scenes that revolved around some weighty issues. For the most part, the same holds true for And Another Thing..., especially in regards to the Random/Arthur scenes and how Arthur struggles to deal with the opinionated daughter that he barely knew.
Plot was usually a secondary consideration in the digression-laden Hitchhiker's Guide series, which is why it appears last here. There is a semblance of a plot, namely that the Vogons, ever eager to complete their contracted deal to wipe out all remnants of Earth and Earthlings remaining in the plural zones, are out to demolish the last remnants of human life living on another planet. While there are several places where this main plot steps aside so the author can concentrate on the sidequests and digressive dialogues, And Another Thing... perhaps might be the most plot-centric novel in the six-volume trilogy, relatively speaking, of course.
So is And Another Thing... worth it? For myself, who found the final two volumes in the original series to be rather depressing, muted affairs, I would have to say yes, as And Another Thing... managed to capture most of the good elements about the series (especially the wordplay) without repeating the more obvious catchphrases or (for the last two volumes) being as morose as Adams appeared to have become by then. It is not a perfect novel, in that there are times that it feels as though too much is happening at once, but for the most part it was an enjoyable, witty novel that felt as though its author aimed to do much more than just cash a big check from writing in another author's setting.
Disclaimer: The reason why this review of the entire book appears so early is because I signed a NDA with the publisher that prohibited me from posting it earlier than Monday, October 12, 2009, the date of release. However, my opinions are mine and no one else's, lest the few finding this via search and not knowing me might decide to question this review.