Was the new Hitchhiker's Guide novel really necessary?

If the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has an entry for Eoin Colfer's And Another Thing ... (Hyperion, $25.00, 273 pages) , it doesn't need to be any longer than its famous two-word entry on the planet Earth.

In the novels of the late Douglas Adams, the infamous compendium of interstellar knowledge summed up our entire planet with the dismissive phrase, "Mostly Harmless." Colfer's authorized sixth novel in the series is "Mostly Unnecessary."

It's not that Colfer, the author of the Artemis Fowl series, doesn't try. In fact, the problem seems to be that he tries too hard.

The various incarnations of the Adams original could be laugh-out-loud funny, but they made it look effortless. However difficult he might have actually found them to write, the wild digressions, the skewed logic and the cheerful nihilism all felt light as day, more the product of a comic mind following its own whimsies wherever they chose to take him, than that of an imitator churning out as many jokes as he can in the hopes that some of them will emerge as funny.

Some do; there's an extended bit where Cthulhu applies for a job on a planet that wants to recruit a local deity that will delight Adams fans and Lovecraft fans alike. But by and large any actual laugh lines are overwhelmed by the leaden ones.

Some will feel duty-bound to read it anyway, out of loyalty to the hapless Arthur and the self-impressed Zaphod and the romantically in-demand Trillian. How can you love them and not want to know what happens next? Well, it's not like plot was ever the most important element of the Adams novels, but if you must know, it's mostly more of the same, only with the flavor off.

Zaphod schemes, Arthur mopes, the Vogons make another attempt to wipe out the remains of humanity, it all spins around and around and around and then presses reset just in time to set up volume seven. And that's the major problem, really. There's no point in hitch-hiking anywhere, with anybody, if there's no notable change in the scenery.

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