Thursday, December 3, 2015

Willful Child Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Steven Erikson
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Humor, Space Opera
Series: Standalone
Pages: 352

Buy on Amazon!


Hello Zapp Brannigan

(An advance copy was provided by the publisher).

Willful Child is a new science fiction parody by Steven Erikson, the author best known for writing the Malazan Books of the Fallen. Going from a large scale epic fantasy to a shorter and more humorous science fiction novel is quite a jump, and credit to Erikson for being able to pull it off.

Willful Child has plenty of laugh-out-loud moments as the book follows the adventures of Captain Hadrian Alan Sawback, his space crew, and his ship the Willful Child.  I was reminded of the structure of The Hobbit while reading this, as each chapter functions like a mini-adventure that Hadrian and his crew go on. I find the best way to describe the plot is to quote the opening of the first chapter:
“SPACE…it’s fucking big.
These are the voyages of the starship Willful Child. Its ongoing mission: to see out strange new worlds on which to plant the Terran flag, to subjugate and if necessary obliterate new life-forms…”
Erikson is notorious for dropping readers in the middle of a story without explaining what’s going on and for constantly introducing new characters. Granted this is a part of his post-modern writing style, it may be a turn off for a number of readers who are looking for something more traditional. In Willful Child, Erikson definitely drops readers in the middle of the story, explaining why things work only vaguely or in passing.  He does make it easier for readers to “meet the characters,” so to speak, when he literally introduces readers to most of the major characters during the first chapter of the book.

The story focuses on Hadrian who’s a parody of Star Trek’s Captain Kirk.  I’m sure a lot of people reading this will notice how his personality is almost identical to Futurama’s Zapp Brannigan (who also was a Kirk parody).  Both characters are arrogant misogynists running a spaceship, the only major difference is Hadrian is actually intellectually brilliant.

Joining Hadrian are the ladies of the ship: Halley Sin-dour is Hadrian’s assistant, Lorrin Tighe the Adjutant is in charge of security, and Jocelyn Sticks is in charge of navigation and the helm.  These women are all selected to join the crew because Hadrian found them attractive.  The men on the ship are Galk the fat nilhistic Lieutenant, James Jimmy Eden a former Terran Olympian, and Buck DeFrank the ship’s Chief Engineer and Science Officer. The gender neutral character on the ship is the medical doctor Printlip, an alien with three legs, six arms, six joints in each arm, and with six fingers and three thumbs on each hand (Zoidberg minus the physical appearance, anyone).

The pacing and neurotic writing style of Willful Child resembles the style used to write Tehol Beddict and Bugg’s stories from the Malazan Books of the Fallen. Conversations are often sporadic and interrupted by completely random thoughts, which can make it difficult to follow the story at times. The jokes frequently shift from strange wordplay to juvenile insults to violent threats on characters’ lives.  From a humor standpoint a lot of this is funny, although it can get a bit repetitive at times. After finishing this book, I believe it’s safe to say Steven Erikson really hates kittens and Celine Dion.

Erikson also provides some social commentary on gender issues and humanities destructive tendencies, but he never goes too deep into them or finds a way to tie them more deeply into the plot. You could say that’s because this is a comedy, but Erikson has explored social/political issues in his books before, and has said a lot more then he did here. I’m specifically thinking of his parody of capitalism in Midnight Tides, which was incredibly clever and done with two of the more comedic characters in that book.  I guess I was expecting something similar here. Additionally, some of the crew members don’t get a lot of development time like Jocelyn and Galk. It feels like the could have easily been written out of the story.

Erikson is a unique writer of genre fiction. It takes more work on the readers part to enjoy it, but if you can get into this style, you will likely be singing his praises for the rest of your days.  If you can’t, then you know not to read it.  Willful Child will be entertaining to fans of Erikson’s Malazan Books of the Fallen, and he will hopefully win some new fans of Star Trek or Futurama, albeit as long as they have a sense of humor.

Score: 8.5

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