Douglas Adams,
Mostly Harmless
(Pan/Harmony, 1992)

It is impossible not to have some mixed feelings about this novel. It does stand as a return to the wild frivolity and cuttingly biting humor of the first three books, yet it is certainly less than upbeat, all things considered. Despite all kinds of evidence to the contrary, I always had the feeling that things would work out, even for poor Arthur Dent -- the universe might not make a bit of sense, of course, but these characters I love so much would ultimately at least find a sense of peace if not happiness in some forgotten corner of the cosmos. It's something of a downer to find out this is not really the case.

Two characters who very much made up the heart of the series for me, Marvin and Zaphod, are not even present in these pages. Then you have Fenchurch from the fourth book, a character I really came to love, thrown out of the saga like so much spoiled Perfectly Normal Beast meat. It's nice to have Trillian back, albeit in a couple of transdimensional forms, as well as Ford and Arthur, but it's hard to say who the story is really about. Arthur's new life as a sandwich maker on a remote planet is rather pitiful but totally Dent-like. Ford's attempts to undo the tragic consequences of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy company having been taken over by unscrupulous businessmen is interesting. The introduction of a Tricia McMillan who did not leave the party with Zaphod because she decided to go back for her handbag ends up just muddying the waters of the fictional timestream. Then there is Random, the biological daughter of Arthur Dent by Trillian; she is even more mixed up and generally confused about life than the father she only meets as a teenager dumped by her too-busy mother. It might be said that this is Random's story, but all she really does is provide the means by which the principal actors Ford, Arthur and Trillian are eventually brought together for the final conclusion.

Adams did do an impressive job of bringing things together in the end -- characters and situations not only from this novel itself but from the start of the whole Hitchhiker's saga (think Vogons). Why a pesky number of loose threads were allowed to hang out, though, while so much work went into resolving other looming storylines, is beyond me and did much to mar the satisfaction I got from the rather abrupt, unfortunate conclusion. I am particularly bothered by the fact that Fenchurch, a character important enough for Adams to have written the entire fourth novel about, is summarily dismissed with little thought and even little grief from Dent himself.

I should not complain about the way Adams chose to close this delightful series of novels of his own imaginative creation, yet I cannot help feeling disappointed if not a little cheated by the way in which everything ended. All in all, while I did enjoy parts of this book immensely, I would rather have left things with the happy note of So Long, & Thanks for All the Fish, and be left free to imagine what kinds of messes Ford and Arthur might be getting themselves into somewhere in the universe and wondering what really ever happened to Trillian and Zaphod.

by Daniel Jolley
30 December 2006

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