on 12 June 2003
In the fifth, and final, book of the Hitchhiker trilogy Adams leaves the reader feeling satisfied, but at the same time rather empty. Plot never being a key factor in Adams' novels, Mostly Harmless carries on the trend in fine style. Not that this has a major effect on the enjoyment of the book, but it can be at times a little confusing.
A promising mysterious start pales into insignificance as the book progresses and the introduction of the unknown ship is bordering on irrelevance. A few chapters into the book we are reintroduced to Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect but any others characters seem to have only a small role to play or have been completely forgotten.
Although the ending is wrapped up nicely a few major issues are left unresolved, such as the disappearance of Fenchurch and the whereabouts of Zaphod, but the clean wit and the unrivalled ability to make any situation seem interesting or obscure hold the book together well and overall make the book an enjoyable read. Interestingly the book is fully summed up the character Random and the title Mostly Harmless.
I would say a book for the more dedicated fans, who maybe appreciate the writing style more than any kind of structure or plot, but sure to make you laugh at some point otherwise.
This book is quite different from the other four in the Universe's only five-part "trilogy". Once again, you need to have read the whole series to appreciate it, but there's a lot that's not there in this supposed final book.
More like a set of short stories about Arthur Dent, Trillian and Ford Prefect, the greater part of the book is hugely entertaining and wonderfully witty, but for the first time, all the ends aren't tied up in the last chapter or so.
Unsatisfactorily sucked into the black hole of oblivion are Zaphod and Fenchurch, but the story is saved largely by the misadventures of our heroes, and the introduction of the perpetually happy robot, Colin.
It's full of knee-slapping slapstick, Mission Impossible type espionage, DNA donations and dandy sandwich making, but as a thrilling and grand finale it's a complete failure.
Refreshingly funny, but not satisfyingly wrapped-up.
on 9 August 2001
I agree that it may not be as funny as some of the other Hitchhiker books, but then again, books 3 & 4 (Life, The Universe... & So Long, and Thanks...) were already less funny than the first two, which both really stand out above the rest on the humor scale. Partly because of its sheer random plotless road-movie style.
To me, books 3 & 4 were the ones that suffered from lack of plot/satisfying ending. Especially So Long and Thanks... was, though quite funny at times, rather a disappointment in the end, though it started off very well, a bit in the style of the Dirk Gently novels. He might have apologised for the inconvenience indeed.
As it is, it seems to me that, steering further away from the absurd humor that inhabited the beginning of the series, Adams tried to write out a good plot (a bit like with the Dirk Gently novels) that would satisfyingly wrap up the whole series - tricky, but could he do it? Yes, definitely yes. I can readily say that the "trilogy" wouldn't have been complete without it! It is a pity that he didn't hold onto the meandering nutter-style. Note that the book chapters switch very orderly between Trillian/Arthur/Ford, as do most of the more conventional novels. That's because here, he's more interested in creating a mystery with suspense and tension, rather than following in the footsteps of Monty Python. That is, the general plot here still makes absolutely no real sense (though everything fits in the end), but there are not much absurdities in the story itself, and the dialogues are less important and contain less unforgettable oneliners - DA concentrates on telling the story and finishing it.
Maybe Adams was better (and probably unique) at being an heir to Python rather than being a detective/mystery novelist. Still, in picking a totally absurd idea and working it out in such a way that it wraps it all up in a satisfactory manner is some stunt. Where the original two books get 1 star for plot and 4 for humor, this one gets 2 for humor and 3 for plot - still adding up to 5!
on 4 April 2013
I am so mad at how the series ended. I'm so mad at this book, I almost wish I hadn't read it.
I felt it was a complete waste of this series, of Adams brilliance, and of my time. There were so many elements in this book that frustrated me to no end. The biggest being, why devote an ENTIRE book on Fenchurch, someone who I thought became an integral character, if you were going to off her in the next book? She doesn't even make an appearance, she's just mentioned in passing. Seriously? To end So Long on such a high and meaningful note, only to destroy all that in the next book. It's really just kinda sad.
And Zaphod, where the hell is he? I mean, he was one of the most important and key characters in this series. I felt like there was still so much to be revealed about him, so many unanswered questions, so much development yet to happen. And what of his connection with Trillian/Tracy? I mean, one Trillian was enough, but now I had to read about two different ones? One more annoying than the other.
Trillian had a lot of potential as a character, and yet in this book, both versions of her are portrayed as conceited and narcissistic. Very unlikeable. Arthur was as boring as ever. In fact, this whole book was boring. I had breezed through all previous books, and yet this one took me ages to get through.
There was no humour, no cleverness, it was like Adams has lost the will to write by the time he reached this book. I did read that Adams was at the lowest points of his life when writing this book, and I suppose that reflects in the way it's turned out. I also read that he had called this book "bleak", and I completely agree with that description.
I'm just frustrated that this series wrapped up the way it had. I had such high hopes of having it as a favourite of mine, but I don't know that I'd want to read them again knowing that they end this way. Then again, others have suggested to simply pretend this book does not exist and have it end with God's final message and Marvin's touching, yet mournful end.
Maybe I will.
on 3 February 2012
I debated for a while whether to make this a two or three star review. In the end I went for three because it ties together (most) of the loose threads and it was good to see Dent and co return for another outing, and beacuse Douglas Adams had a talent that meant at his lowest points (this I feel qualifies) he was better than 95% of writers out there. And indeed all the Mish-Mish elements and implausable plausabilites come together in a nice jigsaw type way with all the threads meandering to a swift and final conclusion. And yet...
I called this review 'mostly toothless' because I feel that the previous four books had bite to them that made the works outstandingly funny but also very philosophical and thought-provoking. Mostly Harmless feels like it was done not because Douglas Adams felt he had anything particular to say but because there were some who wanted everything tying up, which I think he pretty much acknowledged by saying he felt for himself that another book was needed. Mostly Harmless has lost most of the humour and has really lost the edge, I didn't find much that caused me to reflect on and very little to laugh at.
I also felt that it was very much reverse-engineered - there was a conclusion which was to finish the series and tie things together which worked well but everything else felt thrown in, not thought through. It isn't that it feels a Mish-Mash (as the theme intended) but nothing feels like it is done for a reason other than to provide a series of implausible events which again I understand was the theme but it just could have been done with more purpose. It feels, dare I say it, lazy - dashed off to fill a commercial hole rather than to craft a solid story. There are flashes of inspiration but they are all just flashes, nothing is built up or fleshed out and a lot of it ends up being asked 'why was that there' especially 'why include a throwaway scene with Elvis' - it seems a bit pointless.
Fenchurch deserved a much better sending off, the way she was written out felt like Adam's couldn't think of anything to do with her so pretty much ignored it and then to make it have almost zero effect on Arthur seemed like a complete wast of So Long - why have an entire book devoted to a truly great character and really nice and believable relationship and then completely erase it?. The same goes for Zaphod not being included at all, it seemed strange to have built this character so successfully and then erase - if he had been there it would have made the Tricia/Trillian angle more interesting I feel because of the relationship they had, Trillian as as time-travel reporter was less interesting than she was before and it seemed to be a means to serve the end rather than a proper development of the character which is sad because Tricia/Trillian was an interesting exploration of life choices, probably the strongest element of the book for me. Random was a nice touch except that she didn't seem to fill much purpose in the story, there was so much more that could be done with her and Arthur but she felt like a means to an end rather than a story in her own right. She didn't get time to develop as a character, she was just an excuse to get Arthur travelling to Earth. Especially as she finally starts to get going trying to find a place to fit and just when the answers might start to come - it all ends.
I think that sums up the novel in a nutshell really - it was a means to an end rather than a solid book with a solid idea and therefore everything in it becomes a means to an end rather than a developed story in its own right. It is very flat and bleak until the last few pages when things get very interesting but suddenly it all ends in a very bleak depressing way. Adams could easily have left it at the end of four for me, God apologises for the inconvenience and Arthur & Fenchurch go off exploring - that ending works for me. But Mostly Harmless seems to be a commercial cash-in that wasn't really needed and was merely a means to an end which ended up being Mostly Harmless and Mostly Unsatisfactory.
on 5 July 1999
After falling in love with the other four books of the series, you could do worse than to totally avoid the final installment. The overall feeling is of a novel which has been rushed out to meet a publishing deadline. I personally felt that the ending was so flimsy that it was an insult to anyone who had spent time reading the rest of the series. MOSTLY UNIMPRESSED.
on 14 December 2010
The first two Hitch-hiker books are incomparable: Life the Universe and Everything shows signs of the comic inspiration starting to flag. By the time we get to So Long and Thanks we're down to Earth in more ways than one: we've lost Zaphod and don't see much of Marvin until the downbeat ending, but we've gained Arthur in love - for once the initiator of some action, not just the bewildered victim of events he can't cope with; and Fenny, a sympathetic and properly drawn female character. To the com Adams has added some rom but for me the mixture doesn't quite work and it's this book that lets down the five-volume "trilogy".
NOT "Mostly Harmless", in which Adams again goes for the heart strings as well as the funny bone, this time with complete success. The second chapter, where Tricia Macmillan is properly filled out as a character for the first time, moves me to tears every time I read it. I quote it to friends, I've even - beat this for irony - preached on it, for I'm one of Adams the atheist's many Christian admirers and fascinated by his inability to leave religion alone. Who has not had been through some crucial moment when they "went back for their handbag" and by doing so let the opportunity of a lifetime slip through their fingers (in Trillian's case, the chance to travel the galaxy with Zaphod, which in other parallel universes she does, having in those worlds acted on impulse and NOT gone back for her handbag).
But the story of Arthur trying to be a father to Random, the daughter he has unknowingly enabled Trillian to bear by way of sperm donation is moving too. By contrast Thrashbarg, the useless prophet who doesn't even make a very good job of being a charlatan is a fine comic creation. The last few paragraphs, in which Arthur's journeys come to an end and every possible version of the Earth is demolished by the Vogons, signal Adams drawing a line under Hitch-hiker and moving on to new projects, notably Dirk Gently. Adams felt this to be a depressing book, reflecting his low state of mind at the time of writing, and apologised; while it's certainly not as hilarious as the first three, there are emotional depths here that he'd never attempted to reach before and never would again. I love "Mostly Harmless" so much it would be on my short list for the desert island. Douglas, if you can hear me: no apology necessary.
on 30 July 2008
Some eight years after writing the fourth Hitch Hiker book Douglas Adams returns to his most famous creation after composing two Dirk Gently novels and travelling to Madagascar to write amusing lines about Limas with Mostly Harmless, the fifth book in the increasing misrepresented Hitch Hiker trilogy.
Arthur was travelling through all the possible, if improbable, dimensions to find an Earth to settle on since Fenny disappeared in hyperspace before crash landing on the world of Bog where he found happiness as a sandwich maker. His travels through space had been funded by deposits at a sperm bank and yet Arthur was still shocked to have his happiness blighted by the teenager Random Frequent Flyer who turned out to be his daughter by Trillian. Trillian was further shocked to meet herself in a further dimension and just when no-one thought they could become any more unhappy when then they were all shocked when Ford turns up with some slightly evolved Vogons. The problem is, mostly, the dangerous Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy Mark II which Ford has posted to Arthur for safety, `Oh yes, Whose?'.
Many critics of the book, including its author, decided this book was a bit downbeat but I enjoyed it no-end and still do some sixteen years later. The back story of the lounge singer in The King's Bar and Grill makes this book worth reading alone.
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 his ship crashed on 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 business men 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 time stream. 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 Arthur Dent himself. I should not complain about the way Adams chose to end 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 ended things with the happy note of So Long, and 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.
on 30 September 1999
Douglas Adams still has the edge on most Science Fiction writers but this book doesnt seem to fit in with the rest of the series (a bit like 'so long and thanks for all the fish). Its should have stayed a trilogy and maybe he could have used the ideas in a new adventure. But having said that as a book in its own right it is extremely funny and original, and Adams' writing style is out of this world!