Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams — Revisit Review

Cover: bookshop.org

Previous in the series: So Long and Thanks for All the Fish.

Finally, I’ve reached the end of what I’ve personally dubbed The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe — all five books written by Douglas Adams. I’ve been looking forward to Mostly Harmless; I have an absurd and lasting fondness for the section which describes Arthur Dent as The Sandwich Maker. My vague memories of the rest of the book mostly involved Random and the new avian incarnation of the titular guide to the galaxy.

Starting Mostly Harmless I was pleasantly surprised. While I’d forgotten Ford’s and Tricia’s plots, I found them and the writing just as engaging as I found So Long and Thanks for All the Fish. Fenchurch’s complete and abrupt disappearance was disappointing, and made me wonder what the point of including her in the series had actually been, but Douglas Adams clearly set out to write a random and inexplicable universe, so it’s not as much of a problem as it might be in another set of books.

What King Antwelm had assumed was that what everybody wanted, all other things being equal, was to be happy and enjoy themselves and have the best possible time together.

Mostly Harmless, Douglas Adams

Everything ambles along quite pleasantly, which is what I love about these books. This time around, I empathised particularly with the Grebulons living on Rupert, having forgotten what their mission is and spending all their time watching television. However, I don’t think I’ll turn to astrology to figure out the answer — which we all know is 42.

In the afternoon, she got up and prowled around restlessly, not certain what to do with the rest of her day, or indeed the rest of her life.

Mostly Harmless, Douglas Adams

As the final book in the series, Mostly Harmless feels a little incomplete. Douglas Adams writes nothing about what Zaphod is doing, or what’s happening with the president of the galaxy. While the ending, if I’m reading it correctly, ties up the stories of Arthur, Tricia, Trillian, Ford and Random, it leaves a vast number of questions unanswered. Maybe that’s the point, though, in which case I can’t be mad about it. And besides, I know that And Another Thing… is somewhere in my future.

With the exception of Life, the Universe and Everything, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed revisiting these books, and I’ll definitely be reading them again.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone — New Review, Bookclub Too

Cover: bookshop.org

I’d heard good things about This is How You Lose the Time War, and I enjoyed Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone, so in as much as I had any expectations, I suppose they were fairly high. And yet, I just felt as though I didn’t connect with the book at all for the first 80 per cent of it. The prose is nice, but it flowed over me without leaving much of an impression. The characters write about their lives, but they’re from such a different reality from our own that I never felt like I had enough context to understand their significance.

Let me also speak plain, before this tree runs out of years, before the fine fellows under your command make siege weapons of my words: what do you want from this, Red? What are you doing here?
Tell me something true, or tell me nothing at all.

This is How You Lose the Time War, Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Usually, I like epistolary novels, but despite their long correspondence, Red and Blue never stopped feeling like strangers to one another. I did get slightly more interested toward the end, when Red finally felt as though she had some motivation to actually do something, but I finished the book only a few days ago, and already I can’t tell you how the story concluded.

Perhaps This is How You Lose the Time War would be more compelling on a reread, though I’m not convinced. Certainly, I expect it would be more interesting to someone who likes puzzling out how a world works and piecing together the bigger picture from small fragments — what, in video games, is called ‘environmental storytelling’. It just didn’t work for me, but I’m still curious to see what other people say about it on bookclub’s discussion day.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

So Long and Thanks for All the Fish by Douglas Adams — Revisit Review

Cover: bookshop.org

Previous in the series: Life, the Universe and Everything.

I was hopeful, but not entirely certain, that So Long and Thanks for All the Fish would improve upon Life, the Universe and Everything. What I wasn’t expecting was for it to be my favourite Douglas Adams book since The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. My memories of listening to the audiobook of So Long and Thanks for All the Fish weren’t particularly strong, and yet, I loved it. It’s hard to pin down exactly why: So Long and Thanks for All the Fish isn’t particularly episodic, and Arthur and Ford are separated for almost the entire novel, so the two things I thought were my problems with books two and three clearly aren’t.

Her voice was the only part of her which didn’t say “Good.”

So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, Douglas Adams

It’s nice to see Arthur back on Earth, which makes me wonder if perhaps I just don’t enjoy science fiction that much. The introduction of Fenchurch as a character also works extremely well and gives Arthur someone new and delightful to bounce off of. So Long and Thanks for All the Fish is the happiest book in the series so far, which makes a refreshing change, especially from the story of the Krikkit wars.

Dwindling headily beneath them, the beaded string of lights of London — London, Arthur had to keep reminding himself, not the strangely coloured fields of Krikkit on the remote fringes of the galaxy, limited freckles of which faintly spanned the opening sky above them, but London — swayed, swaying and turning, turned.

So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, Douglas Adams

As well as being witty in Douglas Adams usual way, the prose is also descriptive and beautiful in places. I particularly enjoyed the passages relating to Arthur’s fish bowl (pictured on the cover above) and Fenchurch’s home. I would love to see an illustration of her nine-foot-high doorstep, but I wasn’t able to track one down online.

Despite being very different from the other books in the series, So Long and Thanks for All the Fish feels like a return to form, reminding me of why I like Douglas Adams’ books in the first place.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Next in the series: Mostly Harmless.

Life, the Universe and Everything by Douglas Adams — Revisit Review

Cover: bookshop.org

Previous in the series: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

Disappointingly, my enjoyment of each book in The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series is a little lower than the one before. Life, the Universe and Everything has some nice set-pieces, like Arthur learning to fly, Trillian flirting with a Thunder God and the Bistromathic drive, but seems to lack the sparkling wordplay that I enjoyed in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Nothing made me laugh out loud, and that’s a real shame.

“All right!” bellowed Thor, like an enraged bull (or in fact like an enraged Thunder God, which is a great deal more impressive), and did so.

Life, the Universe and Everything, Douglas Adams

Part of the problem is that the gang are separated for much of the book. Arthur doesn’t get the chance to bounce off Trillian or Zaphod until the very end, and Ford spends much of the novel sulking so doesn’t offer much in the way of entertainment. Life, the Universe and Everything is also less episodic than the previous books. Almost the entire plot is taken up with the story of the Krikkit wars. There’s nothing wrong with that plot, exactly, but there’s no variety.

“We came to find you,” said Trillian, deliberately not keeping the disappointment out of her voice.

Life, the Universe and Everything, Douglas Adams

If I hadn’t experienced these novels before, as audiobooks, this might be where I’d stop. As it is, I know at least one piece is coming up that I really enjoy, so I’m going to continue on at least until I reach Arthur as the sandwich maker. Hopefully it’ll be worth it!

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Next in the series: So Long and Thanks for All the Fish.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams — Revisit Review

Previous in the series: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

One of the advantages of actually reading Douglas Adams’ series book by book (and with a gap between each) is that I can form my opinion on each book individually, rather than simply knowing that I enjoy the overall amorphous series. The beginning of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe lacks the verve of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, though perhaps that’s because none of it was new to me. The total perspective vortex is a clever idea, but actually reading about Zaphod’s journey there was a little underwhelming.

Why should I make anything up? Life’s bad enough as it is without wanting to invent any more of it.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Douglas Adams

The section of the book that shines is the titular Restaurant at the End of the Universe: Milliways. Not only are the gang back together, but Ford’s drunken antics are amusing and vividly call to mind the excellent vocal performances of the radio version. The captain of the Golgafrincham B-Ark reminded me of a character in Tanz der Vampire, both of them preferring a bath to almost any other way of passing time.

It is folly to say you know what is happening to other people. Only they know, if they exist. They have their own universes of their eyes and ears.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Douglas Adams

It’s safe to say that I enjoyed my time in Douglas Adams’ universe. It particularly made me smile to be reminded of Hotblack Desiato and my astonishment when I walked past an estate agent in Camden of the same name. The prose is, always, perfectly quotable, even if there aren’t as many insights for me in this book as there are in some of the others. There are certain ticks of language that Douglas Adams uses which I’m sure influence the way I write and speak — it makes me wonder why nothing more recent has had the same effect.

Their songs are on the whole very simple and mostly follow the familiar theme of boy-being meets girl-being beneath a silvery moon, which then explodes for no adequately explored reason.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Douglas Adams

I’m looking forward to the remaining books in the series, especially those which have material not covered in the radio version.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Next in the series: Life, the Universe and Everything.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams — Revisit Review

The first time I ever experienced The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it was the radio show. One of my parents presented the tapes to me on a very long, very boring drive through Oman. I’d never heard of it (though, it would later turn out that my headmaster had read an extract from it, though I believe he presented the story as his own). It didn’t seem, on the face of it, like something that I would enjoy. I wasn’t into space things, and at that age, some of the British things my parents found funny flew over my head. As I mentioned, though, it really was a very long drive, so I ended up putting it on out of desperation. And it was hilarious! I knew as soon as Arthur Dent descended into the basement of the planning office that I was going to have a great time.

‘You know,’ said Arthur, ‘it’s at times like this, when I’m trapped in a vogon airlock with a man from Betelgeuse, and about to die of asphyxiation in deep space, that I really wish I’d listened to what my mother told me when I was young.’
‘Why, what did she tell you?’
‘I don’t know, I didn’t listen.’

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

During the intervening years, I experienced The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in other ways. I listened to the audiobooks, I watched the film, I listened to the third instalment of the radio series. I even went to a live revival of the radio series. Somehow, the one thing I never did was sit down and read the book, so it was exciting to revisit the story in a new form.

That said, most of my favourite bits of the reading experience are close to word-for-word the bits I’d mark as my favourite in the radio series. I know that later books in the ‘trilogy’ diverge more, whereas this book is pretty close to the original, so perhaps that’s to be expected. It’s hard to say whether the bits that are laugh-out-loud funny are because I can hear the voices in my head.

‘This must be Thursday,’ said Arthur to himself, sinking low over his beer. ‘I never could get the hang of Thursdays.’

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

The Hitchhiker’s Guide was a fun and familiar read, with a few moments that took me right back to studying ‘Theory of Knowledge’ with Nickie. I think I’ll have more to say about the other books in the series. For now, the radio series is great, but if you can’t listen to that, read this!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Next in the series: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James — New Review

When I read Dread Nation, I hoped I’d be able to tick the checkbox next to ‘horror’ on my list of unread genres. (To see why that wasn’t the case, head over to that review!) When I started The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, I had absolutely no thought of horror on my mind. And yet, to me, The Loneliest Girl is far more frightening.

The last time I hugged someone, smelt their shampoo or even just spoke to them face to face, was 25 February 2062. Five years ago. I’m officially further from any other human being than anyone else has been since the evolution of the species.

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, Lauren James

My notes while reading The Loneliest Girl are full of increasingly frantic comments from ‘suspicious of [X] – seems to have said the thing that’s most helpful’ to ‘don’t trust [Y]! don’t trust anything about this book!’ I even sent a message to Lindsey, who I bought the book from, to say I was side-eyeing every character. I remembered her saying the plot really picked up at the halfway point, but for me it was amazingly tense from far before that.

Romy, the main character, has nightmares about astronauts. But my main terror came from other people! For a long time, I was second-guessing myself. Was I meant to suspect literally every other person Romy interacted with? Or was I being overly cautious? The sense that she was being manipulated built and built until that climax Lindsey had prepared me for.

I want to make him happy more than anything else. As long as J is happy, everything will be OK.

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, Lauren James

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe was nothing like I expected. I didn’t know Romy was going to be a fanfic author – it’s always slightly weird to me to see fanfic represented in media. I didn’t know I was going to be utterly gripped and unable to put the book down. I didn’t know I was going to be reading the first book I’d qualify as horror!

But all those unknowns were brilliant. I thoroughly enjoyed this. I wonder whether, after reading my review, someone else would go into it and find their own things to be surprised by. I haven’t given away any plot details, but I wonder if this would count as ‘spoilers’ of a different kind. What do you think?

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Places in the Darkness by Chris Brookmyre — New Review

I don’t read science-fiction, but I’d enjoyed Black Widow by Chris Brookmyre, so I thought I’d give Places in the Darkness a go, hoping it would be more  a detective story set in space than a science-fiction novel. It turned out to be an equal mix of both. I was impatient with the sci-fi worldbuilding which needed to happen before the detective work could begin, and my initial feeling was that Places in the Darkness was too much like hard work. The narrative didn’t properly catch my interest until Alice and Nikki met up, and their two perspectives started to overlap to tell the story.

This is the most advanced place in the history of human civilisation, and yet some people seem intent on recreating a mid-nineteenth-century frontier town, or maybe Chicago circa the 1920s.

Places in the Darkness, Chris Brookmyre

Places in the Darkness isn’t the kind of crime novel you could solve as you were reading, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The narrative does include clues to things which happen later, but they’re working more on a system of keeping the reader interested in uncovering the truth about the world than they are actually helping fit pieces together to solve the central puzzle. There is so much going on in the novel that at least once Chris Brookmyre returned to a clue he’d planted and I’d forgotten about it — not something that happens with straightforward murder mysteries. Chris Brookmyre does something similar with the themes of the novel, laying the groundwork well in advance of the dramatic reveal, which makes the whole novel feel really clever.

That selfish voice inside her asks why she is prepared to go through this in a probably doomed attempt to rescue some crazy girl she’s barely met and who is most likely already dead anyway. But then, that selfish voice has been running the show for too many years, and nothing got better for her listening to it.

Places in the Darkness, Chris Brookmyre

Combined with the setting, the occasional moments of clever wordplay in the prose put me in mind of Douglas Adams, though nothing about Places in the Darkness feels absurdist or random. Chris Brookmyre has clearly carefully plotted the novel, and the twists took me by surprise in exactly the right way.

Places in the Darkness is an exciting book, and I’m glad I ventured outside my comfort zone to read it. I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoyed Ex Machina. 

Next, I’ll be reading The Universe is Expanding and so Am I by Carolyn Mackler.

Rating: 3 out of 5.