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The Anthology at the End of the Universe
edited by Glenn Yeffeth
BenBella Books, 200 pages

The Anthology at the End of the Universe
Glenn Yeffeth
Glenn Yeffeth is CEO and Publisher of BenBella Books. Before BenBella, he was a corporate executive who ran companies in Chicago, London and Dallas. BenBella Books, named after his children Benjamin and Isabella, was created in a desperate attempt to avoid "real" work. He has a MBA in Marketing and Finance from the University of Chicago and a BA in History from Oberlin College.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

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BenBella Press has a series of books in their Smart Pop series which include essays on prominent television shows and movies. The Anthology at the End of the Universe, edited by BenBella publisher Glenn Yeffeth, tackles Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in all its incarnations: radio, book, television series, record, play and most recently film.

All of the authors who have contributed to the anthology clearly have a love and respect for Adams's work, even Susan Sizemore, whose essay "You Can't Go Home Again, Damn It! Even If Your Planet Hasn't Been Blown Up by Vogons" discusses how she has discovered that she and Adams's comedy have drifted apart over the years since she was first enamored by the series. For all its wistfulness about the work, there is a truth in Sizemore's essay, although I wonder how much of it is because so much of comedy is based on surprise and after a certain point, that factor is gone in re-hearing, re-reading, or re-watching The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Most of the essays are laudatory. Adams is seen frequently as the precursor to many of the technological advances of the past thirty years. Cory Doctorow points to the interactive version of the Guide to which anyone can contribute at Wikipedia, while Bruce Bethke gleefully enumerates the various inventions which were presaged by Adams's writings. These authors are not claiming that Douglas Adams was the inspiration for these things, merely that Adams was able to extrapolate into the future from 1978 and give a reasonably accurate view of some of the devices which would attempt to make our lives easier.

The essays which tend to fail are the ones which attempt to treat The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy with humor. Adams's wit was the strength behind his work. Unfortunately he made writing comedy look easy and too many of the essayists in The Anthology at the End of the Universe try to emulate him. Often even those who have successfully written their own humorous novels (such as Adams Roberts), fall flat when trying to mix humor and analysis. Roberts, himself, points out why this is the case when he writes that explaining a joke is a sure-fire way to make it unfunny.

Obviously, Yeffeth could only choose to publish articles that were submitted to him, but the lack of an article by Neil Gaiman is noticeable given that one of Gaiman's early projects was the book Don't Panic! Nick Webb, Adams's original editor at Pan who has recently published his own biography of Adams, Wish You Were Here, is also missing. While many authors discuss multiple the incarnations of the work, there is no direct comparison of the changes Adams made as he converted the original radio show to the books (much of the humorous material from the second six fits never found its way into subsequent versions).

The Anthology at the End of the Universe is not as successful as some of the other works in the Smart Pop series, but it would appear that this is less the fault of the editor and essayists than it is of the source material. It seems that dramas and action films like Angel, Firefly, or The Matrix lend themselves to this sort of dissection better than a comedic work, no matter how philosophical Adams was in his writing.

Copyright © 2005 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a four-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings (DAW Books, January, February and March, 2003). In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.


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