Book Review: Willful Child by Erickson (2.5 stars)

Willful Child by Steven Erickson

2.5 out of 5 stars

Read in October 2014

Releases 11/4/2014

Publisher’s Synopsis:

From the New York Times Bestselling author Steven Erikson comes a new science fiction novel of devil-may-care, near calamitous and downright chaotic adventures through the infinite vastness of interstellar space.

These are the voyages of the starship A.S.F. Willful Child. Its ongoing mission: to seek out strange new worlds on which to plant the Terran flag, to subjugate and if necessary obliterate new life-forms, to boldly blow the…

And so we join the not-terribly-bright but exceedingly cock-sure Captain Hadrian Sawback and his motley crew on board the Starship Willful Child for a series of devil-may-care, near-calamitous and downright chaotic adventures through ‘the infinite vastness of interstellar space.’

The New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Malazan Book of the Fallen sequence has taken his lifelong passion for Star Trek and transformed it into a smart, inventive, and hugely entertaining spoof on the whole mankind-exploring-space-for-the-good-of-all-species-but-trashing-stuff-with-a-lot-of-high-tech-gadgets-along-the-way, overblown adventure. The result is an SF novel that deftly parodies the genre while also paying fond homage to it.

My Thoughts:

I started reading this eARC immediately on the heals of the much less humorous Tarkin (see review posted earlier today).  As is my usual wont, I did not read any blurbs or reviews of a new book, especially a pre-release advanced reader copy, prior to diving right in.  So I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into with Willful Child.  At the 25-30 percent read mark, I just couldn’t take any more.  I stopped reading for five days before returning to the way-over-the-top antics of Hadrian Sawback, dragging along his poor crew regardless of whether they wear red shirts or not.

I can only describe this book, and frequently kept telling myself to make it to the end, that it was like Galaxy Quest only less inhibited.  Erikson didn’t let up for a second.  I literally had to slow my brain down enough to get the flashbacks of the visuals (sight gags anyone) while reading.  I never actually laughed out-loud, but I did groan, repeatedly, internally.

This kind of humor may work well for teenage males (or those who never made it past their adolescence) but it didn’t sit as well with me.  I much prefer the humor found in Good Omens by Pratchett and Gaiman or The Color of Magic by Pratchett or even Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Adams or anything by Bill Cosby or Tim Conway (not necessarily in print).  Suffice it say I was probably not the target audience for this book.

Aside from the attempt at hilarity, I found the book a bit of a struggle to read sometimes because there is so much dialogue.  It could easily be a script for a television show with this much dialogue.  It did make reference to several Star Trek scenes, satirically as far as I could tell.   Erikson steered clear of the whole red shirts phenomenon, probably because Scalzi has that all locked up with his recent bestseller which is headed to the small screen in the near future.

I have actually read one other book by Erikson, that being Gardens of the Moon from his epic fantasy series Malazan Book of the Fallen.  I did not go on to read the other ten or fifteen books in that series.  The writing styles are completely different, for obvious reasons if you’ve read any of his Malazan books.

Willful Child left me exasperated, not exhilarated.  I groaned more than I laughed and I rolled my eyes quite a bit.  I never felt the need to toss the ebook reader across the room, but I did need a break from the non-stop in-your-face ridiculousness of it before I could wrestle it down and finish it off.  If you’re looking for a Space Balls type romp of a space opera, this may just be up your warped alley.

My thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to read and review this eARC prior to the official release on Tuesday, November 14, 2014 from your favorite book retailer.

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