Book review: So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish () by Douglas Adams (The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide, Wings Books, 1996)
Galaxy-weary space traveler Arthur Dent returns to Earth with his new voidoid gang to discover that it has been mysteriously reinstated. But more pertinent questions remain: Why did all the dolphins disappear? What is God’s final message to His Creation? What really happened the day the Earth was demolished?
The previous times that I’ve read this fourth part of the Hitchhiker’s trilogy, I’ve always felt as if it was the weakest book. Indeed, even the author himself wasn’t happy with it. One of the most famous quotes you’ll come across by Douglas Adams is, “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” He was such an excellent procrastinator that in order to even get the book finished in some semblance of a reasonable timeframe, his editor locked him in a hotel suite for three weeks, and himself too. Otherwise, there would probably mainly have been a lot of hot baths taken and not much writing done.
The plot and pace is very different from the previous novels. Arthur has returned to Earth and finding it decidedly not blown up by Vogons. Instead, there is some rumours about a dead body found in a reservoir and people having had weird hallucinations of an alien invasion. Finally, Arthur can get a cup of tea, a shave and a new change of clothes and finds he’s been given a greyish fishbowl as a present. He plonks his babelfish in it and gets on with his life.
The first chapter of the first book in the series ends with there being a girl sitting in a café in Rickmansworth and she has such a marvellous revelation of how to make the Earth a better place without anyone having to be nailed to anything, and how that book isn’t about her. This book begins in much the same way, except to say that this book is about her. The girl’s name is Fenchurch, also known as the love of Arthur’s life.
The book plods along nicely, Arthur is adjusting to being back home, he meets a girl and falls in love, they have sex, they fly, they learn about all the dolphins having buggered off and left wonderful fishbowls behind (engraved with the text “So long, and thanks for all the fish”), they go to California to meet a guy who claims he communicates with angels in footright shoes and they meet up with Ford Prefect and finish on a planet far, far away by seeing God’s final message to his creation, where they reunite with Marvin. Half of this is done in the last few chapters of the book.
Eventful? Not really. Interesting? Kind of, I like to think. It’s more contemplative than previous books, which have been more about “the lulz” than anything else. This is still a book with funny bits in, but the gags feel more toned down and some of the bits feel like the author himself is a bit fed up. In fact, the whole of chapter 25 echoes a tired NaNoWriMo writer, with just writing a lot of words to get the word count up. It’s two pages along the lines of “well some people write about this sort of thing, some people write about other things and maybe you’re wondering if there’s more to Arthur then tea and philosophy but if you really can’t be arsed to find out what Arthur’s doing with Fenchurch and all that, then you might want to skip to the end because it’s quite good and has Marvin in it”. I guess this is what Wikipedia refers to as a “jarring authorial intrusion” and I agree with Neil Gaiman – they are “patronising and unfair”. But what can you do when your editor locks himself in a hotel room with you for three weeks? That would get on anyone’s nerves eventually!
The bits with Ford Prefect are short and confused. He’s on an alien planet, then he’s on a ship, then he’s in some sort of space battle, then he’s on Earth. Zaphod and Trillian are only mentioned in passing. The focus of the book is really Arthur and Fenchurch, for better and for worse. When Marvin shows up, it’s a “yay it’s Marvin!” but his appearance is brief and just makes me sad.
It’s as if Douglas Adams was running out of steam writing this book, and yes, I still think it’s the weakest in the trilogy, but I appreciated it more this time than I have done in the past. Fortunately, it’s also the shortest book. I’d give it a hesitant 2 out of 5 fish bowls, I think.
2011 marks the 10th anniversary of the death of British comedian, author, genius, procrastinator and technology geek Douglas Adams, which I think is something worth commemorating and will therefore be posting several posts related to him and his works spread over the year. Today, but in 2005, the soundtrack for the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie (starring Martin Freeman) was released – included on it: a song entitled So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish.