Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Continue Not To Panic!

Phew, there's one more series down the hatch. Took me a little longer than I had originally expected, but here it is.

~And Another Thing...~
Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy
Part Six of Three
By Eoin Colfer
Amazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

As you may remember in my review of the whole series written by Douglas Adams, don't ask me to explain how there are now six parts in a trilogy. Inquiries on that matter should be addressed to Adams himself, though you shouldn't expect a reply any time soon. Baring, of course, the approaching Zombie Apocalypse (Do YOU have your Zombie Plan?).

But back to business.

A New Book By A New Author

Before I really dig in to the nitty-gritty, I want to take a moment or two to remind/inform people exactly why Eoin Colfer wrote this book.

At the end of Mostly Harmless, you have what is undeniably the worst ending that could ever happen. You've spent time with these characters, laughed with them, cried with them, invested a good portion of your day/week with them, and what do you get?

The Earth blows up and kills them all. Well, not them all, cause you don't have any idea what's been happening with Zaphod and the Heart of Gold over the last couple books.

Readers were devastated. But, really, what could you do? Force Adams to write again? Yeah, we saw how that turned out. Add in Adams' sudden death in 2001, and it was highly improbable that fans could ever reach real closure.

Cue Eoin Colfer.

Colfer is probably best known for his Artemis Fowl series, as well as his other jaunts into Young Adult fiction. He was just as surprised as everyone when Adams' widow asked him to write a 6th book.

That's right. Put down your pitchforks and torches. Colfer was REQUESTED to write this book. In honor of the 30th Anniversary of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy's original printing.

Needless to say, he was honored, and went at the project with his best.

~Information gathered partly from attending one of Colfer's speeches and partly from internet sources.

The Troubles Of SciFi...And The Virtues of Audiobooks

Firstly, I think I should come out and say that I am not a Science Fiction reader. I've read, I think, two adult Science Fiction series (and a few more YA SF series). One, I referenced in my last post, and the other I featured in my last post. So, while I have enjoyed my few jaunts into the realm of Science Fiction, I am by no means well versed in the subject matter.

Secondly, I am a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to my reading. I may be a tad slower than some people, but I absorb practically everything. Be it plot, jokes, names, or birthdays, I tend to remember things after I read them. This is one of the reasons that typos and grammatical errors sting me so hard - I literally spend a minute or two going over that sentence/word and working out how it should be, and then wondering why it isn't.

Unfortunately, these two attributes of mine combined to make reading this book a nearly agonizing experience. Almost immediately you are thrown such names as "Brequindan", "Nephologia", "Damogranian", and "flaybooz". Okay, perhaps not the most difficult words to process, perhaps just a few seconds dedicated to each, but those few seconds spent on each word adds up to a lot of seconds in the long run.

It took me over two hours just to make it to Chapter 4 (page 61). And, as I had pressing issues* to attend to after completing this book, I quickly downloaded the Audiobook from my library.

The whole thing took me just over 6 hours (sped up to 1.7x normal)(normal was 10.3 hours)(starting back at the beginning [as was my choice])(yes, I like parentheses).

As I may have mentioned before, not only does an Audiobook provide pronunciations for those phonetically impossible words, but it also helps the reader focus on the reading at hand. Sure, every once in a while my mind does wander off on a random thought, but I am still able to skim over the few seconds I missed and catch back up with the narrator, even at his sped up pace**.

Now, with my "Wowbagger" and "Hlidskjalf" in order, I was able to properly enjoy this book.

Audiobook VS Paperbook

Anyone who has had experience with Audiobooks know that narrators sometimes take liberties with their narration. Sometimes one may choose to leave out a couple "He said" "She said" (this is especially true in Full-Cast Audios) during dialog and there are bound to be the occasional contraction or accidental omission when someone is reading aloud. Then, of course, you run into the UK version vs US version when talking about elevators/lifts or other such cultural preferences.

But never have I ever found the blatant addition of material.

Okay, in the last five Hitchhiker books, I did run across one or two instances of newer editions (than what I had in front of me) being used. In Life, the Universe and Everything, there was an entire beginning-chapter-blurb added in the Audiobook that was nowhere to be found in my copy.

Here, though, I found not one or two instances of additions, but additions possibly numbering in the teens (no, I admit, I did not keep count). And it wasn't just a word here or there, either. No, there were sentences added to dialog, descriptions added, and, in at least two instances, entire conversations added. There was also the occasional switch of one word/name for another (first name for last or visa-versa).

Normally, I might attribute these incidents to having an older edition of a book...but this book only came out last October! Which means...there IS no older edition!

Of course, this can only mean that Mr. Colfer has already gone another round of editing. I don't know whether he personally made notes on Mr. Jones' copy of the script, or if he has simply prepared a 'better' copy for the paperback (for, I did agree that all the changes made sense, and did improve the work). I guess we'll have to wait for the paperback's release later this year.

Finally, Down To Business

But back to the matter at hand. And Another Thing... was a most welcome continuation of the series, and I believe, a well executed one.

Okay, I've read a couple bad reviews (a la Amazon) and I'd like to take an opportunity to defend my above statement.

1) I was looking forward to this book. I honestly believe that if you start a book with the idea 'I'm gonna hate this,' or 'This author is gonna botch everything up!' it's going to take an awful lot to change your mind. Go at something with an open or (dare I say it) enthusiastic opinion and you're far more likely to actually enjoy it.

2) I'm a fan of Colfer. I've read his Artemis Fowl series, and one of his stand alone novels. Granted, I haven't read them in a while, but still I may be more accustomed than some to his writing style. You can't expect me to be entirely objective.

3) I heard Colfer explain himself. His visit to Powell's last Fall for a book signing was not also a book reading. Instead of reading from his book (which I greatly appreciated, since I had not yet read the other books at that time!) he talked about his experiences with The Hitchhiker's Series. How he'd first discovered them. How he eagerly awaited the next book. How he never actually met Douglas Adams in person. And the whole tale was filled with jokes, likability, and his Irish accent (again, you can't expect me to be entirely objective).

4) It's my opinion. Get over it. That's right. What I think is what I think. You might come to some entirely different conclusion, but allow me to enjoy my cake--book and eat it too.

Now, as always, there were some things the book could have done better...
  • Formatting
Around the 63rd page (in Chapter Four) we are introduced to where we are by way of LARGE LETTERS PRECEDING SECTIONS. Before this time, there are no location headers to be seen. Of course, on the one had, you don't want to tip your hand at the beginning of the book, as we are not exactly sure what the heck is going on and why we are finding our characters in such a situation. But, if you're going to continually introduce the location of each segment, you might as well start in Chapter 2, when all the explaining starts taking place.

Overall, I didn't really see the LOCATION TAGS as necessary, since we've gotten along just fine without them up to this point (in the series). Ultimately, I think they hearkened back to YA lit, making sure not to lose the reader as we skip back and forth.
  • Guide Notes
While these notes did often help lighten the tone of the situation, they were, at times, too numerous and at other times nowhere to be seen. They reminded me of the latest HGttG movie with their pop-up style, but on the whole, I didn't feel like they provided much depth or help to the storyline.

In fact, at times they seemed as an excuse to throw in a random comparison and/or unpronounceable word. For example:
[Random and Wowbagger having an arguement]
"How dare you, don't you know who I am?"
"A member of the Cult of Ridiculousness from the Stammering Mud Flats of Santraginus V?"
"That's ridiculous."
"Oh, my mistake. The Cult of Ridiculous from the Stammering Mud Flats of Stanraginus V."
Guide Note: This conversation had similar elements to the exchange which precipitated the collapse of the actual Cult of Ridiculousness from Santraginus V.
[insert a full page more information on this Cult]
Random crossed her arms and shifted her weight as if leaning into a strong wind.
Sure, we end up knowing all the history of this cult, but does that really aid our understanding of this fight?

No subtlety whatsoever.

HOWEVER, there were also a lot of things I thought he did rather well.
  • The Beginning
In my opinion, this book couldn't have begun (began?) any other way. When left with such an ending as Mostly Harmless, you have to seriously consider what is acceptable (Heart of Gold, anyone? and what is not (Oh! It was all a dream). Not only that, but the beginning felt like a typical Hitchhiker's Beginning. You don't really know anything, and you're just along for the ride... Gee, sound familiar?
  • Characters
I can't tell you how hard it is to try and take someone else's characters and write them as your own. And trust me, I've tried. I was worried about what the years, and change in management might have done to our favorite Hitchhikers, but luckily these characters seem just like they've always been.

Well, actually, they seem to have had some improvements! I complained last time about Trillian's utter lack of personality (in books 1-4) and then random insert of irrelevant backstory in book 5. Here, she is struggling with some issues, and fully fleshed out. Even Random, who I feared most for, gains a solid personality (who better to write a teenager than someone who regularly writes teenagers?).

I can only applaud Colfer as he manages to take a largely plot-driven series and pull it back to focus on these hilarious, strong, spunky characters. Heck, even the Vogons can hold their own storyline! (Too bad poor Marvin couldn't receive the same treatment.)
  • Plot
Where Life, the Universe and Everything, So Long[...] and Mostly Harmless completely left the carefree Hitchhiking style behind, And Another Thing... picks it back up and runs with it to Asgard and back. There's still a lightness and frivolity about everything, even with impending doom reigning down around them. And what's more, it works!

Never once am I questioning why we're here, what is going on, or who cares? Of course, I find this the ultimate difference in plots that are character driven and characters that are plot driven. We can understand characters a lot more than we can understand fate.

And, last but not least...
The End of one of the Middles

Of course, we couldn't have a book without an ending. 

Or can we? 

No. We can't. 

But we CAN have a Story without an ending! Colfer ends the book but doesn't end the story. Who knows, maybe he'll return to tackle another tale? Or, maybe he's leaving the story open to the infinite possibilities out there. Really, it's the ending we all wanted for Book 3...or 4...or 5. Cause, really, there is no end...until the End of the Universe... And we've already been there! 

* Due to my library being more efficient than I had previously planned, I must again push back my reading of Diane Duane's Young Wizards Series (9 books) in favor of Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson Series (5 books). The latest books in each series were on order from the library, and despite my initial calculations, I am getting Silver Borne before A Wizard of Mars. Best laid plans, and all that. Le sigh. I suppose I will simply have to endure Patricia Briggs' awesome series for a little while before wading my way through Diane Duane's awesome series. 

** The main reason I like to speed up Audiobooks is that, at their normal speed, I often skim ahead in the reading, find a word I can't pronounce (in my head), and so end up waiting for the Audiobook to get there anyway. Having the narration sped up simply reduces this process, and turns 10.3 hours into just over 6. Of course, I would only recommend speeding up an Audiobook if one also has the book in front of them. I doubt this technique would work as well, say, while driving.

Approximate Reading Time: 6.5 hours