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And Another Thing... (Hitchhiker's Guide Series #6)by Eoin Colfer
And Another Thing ... will be the sixth novel in the now improbably named Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. Eight years after the death of its creator, Douglas Adams, the author's widow, Jane Belson, has given her approval for the project to be continued by the international number one bestselling children's writer, Eoin Colfer, author of the/em>/em>… See more details below
And Another Thing ... will be the sixth novel in the now improbably named Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. Eight years after the death of its creator, Douglas Adams, the author's widow, Jane Belson, has given her approval for the project to be continued by the international number one bestselling children's writer, Eoin Colfer, author of the Artemis Fowl novels. Douglas Adams himself once said, 'I suspect at some point in the future I will write a sixth Hitchhiker book. Five seems to be a wrong kind of number, six is a better kind of number.' Belson said of Eoin Colfer, 'I love his books and could not think of a better person to transport Arthur, Zaphod and Marvin to pastures new.' Colfer, a fan of Hitchhiker since his schooldays, said, 'Being given the chance to write this book is like suddenly being offered the superpower of your choice. For years I have been finishing this incredible story in my head and now I have the opportunity to do it in the real world.' Prepare to be amazed...
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According to a janitor's assistant at the Maximegalon University, who often loiters outside lecture halls, the universe is sixteen billion years old. This supposed truth is scoffed at by a clutch of Betelgeusean beat poets who claim to have moleskin pads older than that (rat a tat-tat). Seventeen billion, they say, at the very least, according to their copy of the Wham Bam Big Bang scrolls. A human teenage prodigy once called it at fourteen billion based on a complicated computation involving the density of moon rock and the distance between two pubescent females on an event horizon. One of the minor Asgardian gods did mumble that he'd read something somewhere about some sort of a major-ish cosmic event eighteen billion years ago, but no one pays much attention to pronouncements from on high anymore, not since the birth of the gods debacle, or Thorgate as it has come to be known.
However many billions it actually is, it is billions, and the old man on the beach looked as though he'd counted off at least one of those million millions on his fingers. His skin was ivory parchment, and viewed in profile he closely resembled a quavering uppercase S.
The man remembered having a cat once, if memories could be trusted as anything more than neuron configurations across trillions of synapses. Memories could not be touched with one's fingers. Could not be felt like the surf flowing over his gnarled toes could be felt. But then what were physical feelings but more electrical messages from the brain? Why believe in them either? Was there anything trustworthy in the Universe that one could hug and hold onto like a Hawaliusian wind staunch in the midst of a butterfly storm, apartfrom a Hawaliusian wind staunch.
Bloody butterflies, thought the man. Once they'd figured out the wing fluttering a continent away thing, millions of mischievous lepidoptera had banded together and turned malicious.
Surely that cannot be real, he thought. Butterfly storms?
But then more neurons poured across even more synapses and whispered of improbability theories. If a thing was bound never to happen, then that thing would resolutely refuse not to happen as soon as possible.
Butterfly storms. It was only a matter of time.
The old man wrenched his focus from this phenomenon before some other catastrophe occurred to him and began its rough slouch to be born.
Was there anything to trust? Anything to take comfort from?
The setting suns lit crescents on the wavelets, burnished the clouds, striped the palm leaves silver, and set the china pot on his veranda table twinkling.
Ah, yes, thought the old man. Tea. At the center of an uncertain and possibly illusory universe there would always be tea.
The old man traced two natural numbers in the sand with a walking stick fashioned from a discarded robot leg and watched as the waves washed them away.
One moment, there was forty-two and the next there wasn't.
Maybe the numbers were never there and perhaps they didn't even matter.
For some reason this made the old man cackle as he leaned into the incline and plodded to his veranda. He settled with much creaking of bone and wood into a wicker chair that was totally sympathetic to the surroundings, and called to his android to bring some biscuits.
The android brought Rich Tea.
Seconds later the sudden appearance of a hovering metal bird caused a momentary lapse in dunking concentration and the old man lost a large crescent of his biscuit to the tea.
"Oh, for heaven's sake," grumbled the man. "Do you know how long I have been working on that technique? Dunking and sandwiches. What else is left to a person?"
The bird was unperturbed.
"An unperturbed bird," said the old man softly, enjoying the sound of it. He closed the bad eye that hadn't worked properly since he'd fallen out of a tree as a giddy boy, and examined the creature.
The bird hovered, its metallic feathers shimmering crimson in the sun's rays, its wings beating up tiny maelstroms.
"Battery," it said in a voice that reminded the old man of an actor he had once seen playing Othello at London's Globe Theatre. Amazing what you can get from the tone of a single word.
"You did say battery?" said the man, just to confirm. It could possibly have been flattery, or even hattery. His hearing was not what it used to be, especially on initial consonants.
"Battery," said the bird again, and suddenly reality cracked and fell to pieces like a shattered mirror. The beach disappeared, the waves froze, crackled, and evaporated. The last thing to go was the Rich Tea.
"Bugger," muttered the old man as the final crumbs dissipated on his fingertips, then he sat back on a cushion in the room of sky that suddenly surrounded him. Someone would be coming soon, he was sure of it. From the dim caverns of his old memories, the names Ford and Prefect emerged like gray bats to associate themselves with the impending disaster.
Whenever the Universe fell apart, Ford Prefect was never far behind. Him and that accursed book of his. What was it called? Oh, yes. The Pitchforker's Pride Is a Fallacy.
That, or something very close to it.
The old man knew exactly what Ford Prefect would say.
Look on the bright side, old mate. At least you're not lying down in front of a bulldozer, eh? At least we're not being flushed out of a Vogon air lock. A room of sky is not too shabby, as it happens. It could be worse, a lot worse.
"It will be a lot worse," said the old man with gloomy certainty. In his experience, things generally got worse, and on the rare occasion when things actually seemed to get better, it was only as a dramatic prelude to a cataclysmic worsening.
Oh, this room of sky seemed harmless enough, but what terrors lurked beyond its rippling walls? None that were not terrible, of that the old man was certain.
He poked a finger into one of the wall's yielding surfaces and was reminded of tapioca pudding, which almost made the old man smile, until he remembered that he had hated tapioca ever since a bullying head boy had filled his slippers with the stuff back in Eaton House Prep.
"Blisters Smyth, you sneaky shit," he whispered.
His fingertip left a momentary hole in the clouds, and through it the old man caught a glimpse of a double-height sash window beyond, and outside the window, could that be a death ray?
The old man rather feared that it was.
All this time, he thought. All this time and nothing has happened.
Ford Prefect was living the dream. Providing the dream included residence in one of Han Wavel's ultraluxury, five-supergiant-rated, naturally eroded hedonistic resorts, filling one's waking hours with permanent damage amounts of exotic cocktails, and liaisons with exotic females of various species.
And the best bit: The expense of this whole self-indulgent and possibly life-shortening package would be taken care of by his Dine-O-Charge card, which had no credit limit thanks to a little creative computer tinkering on his last visit to the Hitchhiker's Guide offices.
If a younger Ford Prefect had been handed a blank page and asked to, in his own time, write a short paragraph detailing his dearest wishes for his own future, the only word he might have amended in the above was the adverb possibly. Probably.
The resorts of Han Wavel were so obscenely luxurious that it was said a Brequindan male would sell his mother for a night in the Sandcastle Hotel's infamous vibro-suite. This is not as shocking as it sounds, as parents are accepted currency on Brequinda and a nicely moisturized septuagenarian with a good set of teeth can be traded for a mid-range family moto-carriage.
Ford would perhaps not have sold either parent to finance his sojourn at the Sandcastle, but there was a bicranial cousin who was often more trouble than he was worth.
Every night, Ford rode the fleshevator to his penthouse, croaked at the door to grant him entry, then made time to look himself in the bloodshot eyes before passing out facedown in the basin.
This is the last night, he swore nightly. Surely my body will revolt and collapse in on itself.
What would his obituary say in the Hitchhiker's Guide? Ford wondered. It would be brief, that was for sure. A couple of words. Perhaps the same two words he had used to describe Earth all those years ago.
Earth. Hadn't something rather sad happened on Earth that he should be thinking about? Why were there some things he could remember and others that were about as clear as a hazy morning on the permanently fogbound Misty Plains of Nephologia?
It was generally at about this maudlin stage that the third Gargle Blaster squeezed the last drop of consciousness from Ford's overjuiced brain and he would giggle twice, squawk like a rodeo chicken, and execute a near perfect forward tumble into the nearest bathroom receptacle.
And yet every morning when he lifted his head from the en suite basin (if he was lucky), Ford found himself miraculously revitalized. No hangover, no dragon breath, not even a burst blood vessel in either sclera to bear witness to the previous night's excesses.
"You are a froody dude, Ford Prefect," he invariably told himself. "Yes, you are."
There is something fishy going on here, his rarely-heard-from subconscious insisted.
So long and thanks for all the
Wasn't there something about dolphins? Not fish, true, but they inhabited the same...habitat.
Think, you idiot! Think! You should be dead a hundred times over. You have consumed enough cocktails to pickle not only yourself but several alternate versions of yourself. How are you still alive?
"Alive and froody," Ford would say, often winking at himself in the mirror, marveling at how lustrous his red hair had become. How pronounced his cheekbones. And he seemed to be growing a chin. An actual chiseled chin.
"This place is doing me good," he told his reflection. "All the photo-leech wraps and the irradiated colono-lemming treatments are really boosting my system. I think I owe it to Ford Prefect to stay another while."
And so he did.
On the last day, Ford charged an underwater massage to his credit card. The masseur was a Damogranian pom-pom squid with eleven tentacles and a thousand suckers that pummeled Ford's back and cleaned out his pores with a series of whiplash tapotement moves. Pom-pom squids were generally hugely overqualified for their work in the spa industry, but were tempted away from their umpteenth doctorates by the lure of high salaries, plankton-rich pools, and the chance of massaging a talent scout for the music industry and maybe getting themselves a record deal.
"Have you done any talent scouting, friend?" asked the squid, though he didn't sound hopeful.
"Nope," replied Ford, bubbles streaming from his Plexiglas helmet, face shining orange in the pleasant glow of rock phosphorescence. "Though I once owned a pair of blue suede shoes, which should count for something. I still own one; the other is closer to mauve, due to it being a copy."
The squid nipped at passing plankton as he spoke, which made conversation a little disjointed.
"I don't know if..."
"I hadn't finished."
"It's just that you stopped speaking."
"There was a glint. I thought it was lunch."
"You eat glints?"
"No. Not actual glints."
"Good, because glints are baby gloonts, and they're poisonous."
"I know. I was merely saying that..."
"Precisely. You're sure you're not a talent scout then, or an agent?"
"Oh, for Zark's sake," swore the squid, a little unprofessionally. "Two years I've worked here. Talent scouts and agents coming out of your suckers...they promised. Not one. Not bloody one. I was studying advanced kazoo, you know."
Ford couldn't resist a lead-in like that. "Advanced kazoo? How advanced can kazoo studies be?"
The squid was wounded. "Pretty advanced when you can play a thousand of them at the same time. I was in a quartet. Can you imagine?"
Ford gave it a go. He closed his eyes, enjoyed the whup-pop of the suckers on his back, and imagined four thousand kazoos playing in perfect subaquatic harmony.
Sometime later the squid enveloped Ford in half a dozen tentacles and gently flipped him over. Ford opened one eye to read the squid's badge.
I am Barzoo, read the tag. Use me as you will.
Excerpted from AND ANOTHER THING . . . by EOIN COLFER. Copyright (c) 2009 EOIN COLFER. All rights reserved. Published by HYPERION.
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