The title of this blog post roughly translates to “My name is Ankur Banerjee”, where ‘Bao Zhi Sen’ is apparently my name in Mandarin. The surname comes first, where ‘Bao’ is ‘Banerjee’ translated phonetically, and ‘Zhi Sen’ is the literal translation of ‘Ankur’. I have no idea whether ‘Bao Zhi Sen’ means ‘flying monkey bollocks’ in reality, so I’ll have to trust the person who told me this. 😉
It was an informal session where those who didn’t know Chinese were taught by those who did. Not all the volunteers were of Chinese origin – one of the teachers was a US Air Force Academy student here on study exchange who’d lived a few years on a US base in Taiwan! We were taught a bunch of handy phrases but to be honest I (and most of us there) didn’t get the pronunciations right for anything except the Mandarin numerals and basic greetings. ni hao (hello) is not the only word I know now.
42 in Mandarin is 四十二 (si shi er). I’m definitely getting this tattooed on my right forearm.
I did wake up early morning on the day of the book release and went to the local Waterstone’s store – at 8am. This was a bit of an overreaction since the shop was scheduled to open at 10am, and to be frank there wasn’t any huge line outside it. Still, as a fanboi I expected Douglas Adams would want at least this much as a sacrifice – if not going to Hitchcon. I got my copy that very day, from WH Smith (Waterstone’s was slightly more expensive).
That was way back in October. You’d have expected me to give a review of the book soon after buying it. I’d expect that too. Curiously however, I didn’t finish reading the book until yesterday. I’ve been trying to brush this off saying “I’ve been too busy”, but now I realize the real reason – I’ve been too scared so far to read it, in case the book wasn’t a worthy successor to the legacy Douglas Adams left behind. Eventually I decided enough was enough and get it over with.
Eoin Colfer, with people who turned up for Hitchcon
This authorized sequel to Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s series is written by Eoin (pronounced ‘Owen’) Colfer, best known for is Artemis Fowl books. Damn, this introduction must have been used SO many times by so many people when describing this book. And therein lies the crux of the matter – whenever a book (or movie) has to resort to saying “…also written by this author”, it usually translates to ‘recipe for disaster’. This is despite the fact that I’ve heard a lot of praise for the Artemis books (I’ve never read them).
And Another Thing… is not a bad book per se. Colfer puts in his best effort, but I agree with this review on io9 that it seems he’s “trying much too hard and also not quite trying hard enough”. When I look back at the time I spent yesterday reading the book, there was only one instance when I laughed-out-loud (“Focus, President Steatopygic. Focus.”). One. I did force a chuckle now and then but then that’s precisely how all the jokes feel – forced. Most of the jokes are done via the medium of half-hearted footnote-style ‘Guide notes’, about what the Guide would have to say on certain topics. What happens is that very quickly, this style of joke becomes monotonous. “It’s funny”, you realize in an almost clinical way, but then it doesn’t surprise you like the real Douglas Adams did. As I mentioned earlier, reading Douglas Adams is a bit like falling in love.
Colfer plays it safe throughout the book. He doesn’t introduce any major new characters, concepts or locations; drawing instead on the various colourful people and locales DNA cooked up. In this regard, Eoin borrows from the radio series at places in the novel too. Whatever new bits he’s introduced are the bare minimum required to keep the story ticking. I can guess that this was done not to tick off ardent fans of DNA, but then for a lot of us that is what defined Adams’s work – quirky, unusual characters and each page brimming with caustic wit. On a more general note, the humour doesn’t always work because it’s ‘typically British’. I’ll speak more about this in the future in an epic blog post I’m penning down, tentatively titled Surely You Jest, Good Sir to discuss British catchphrases and their sense of humour.
There are passages in the book which seem as if it’s Adams’s work channelled via Colfer as the medium, but those are few and far between. I also expected some sort of fusion between Hitchhiker’s and Dirk Gently storylines, given the amount of focus Thor has received in this book – that certainly would have been a bold move to make – but that was not to be.
I won’t say And Another Thing… is a disaster, but it serves as a reminder that nobody can step into the shoes of the literary genius that was Douglas Noel Adams. Read it for the sake of entirety of the series…but it will probably leave you with a feeling of emptiness.