I’ve always had a strange fondness for Mostly Harmless, the fifth book in the increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhikers Trilogy. Much of that is because it arrived in 1992 – 8 years after the previous volume, but only a couple of years after I first read the series. Long enough for me to have anticipated it; and it being before the days of amazon pre-orders, it was the only time I went to a bookshop and bought a novel on the day of its release.
But I digress; the point, such as it is, is that the audio version, in stark contrast to its source material, was first broadcast straight after the Quandary Phase, and in many ways the two belong together. The Quintessential Phase continues that motif of bringing back former cast members – even to the point of highlighting the fact that the new guide has ‘the voice of those Lintilla chicks’. Bringing Sandra Dickinson in to play Tricia McMillan (a parallel version of Trillian who didn’t run off with Zaphod) was a nice nod back to the TV series – and even Douglas Adams makes a brief cameo.
In doing so, Dirk Maggs plays much more fast and loose with the source material than he does elsewhere; Zaphod is written back in out of nowhere, trying to complete the mission he had in the (apparently imagined) Secondary Phase of tracking down Zarniwoop – who is also written in, becoming a gestalt entity along with Vann Harl, the Guide boss from Mostly Harmless.
The basic plot remains the same; Arthur hitchhiking around space, time and probability in the hope that on one of his trips through the Plural sectors Fenchurch will suddenly reappear, Ford drinking a lot, and two Trillians leading very different, yet equally confusing, lives.
But what of all that retconning? I hear you ask. Didn’t that spoil the brilliance of Adams’ original vision? Well, no, actually. There are some necessary changes to get the pacing right for radio, and otherwise the retconning serves only to bring the whole sort of general mish-mash back into something resembling coherence, to link the different tangents the story has been on – and it does a pretty good job on the whole.
More importantly, where Mostly Harmless was a fairly dark story with an even darker ending, in the Quintessential Phase, the dolphins (indirectly) step in and save our heroes once again, and we get, not one, but three happy endings.
To sum up, in the words of a manically depressed robot: I think I feel good about it.