I've been quite curious about Willful Child ever since it was announced that Steven Erikson would be publishing a Star Trek spoof. I've never been a Star Trek fan myself, but I was looking forward to reading Erikson's homage/parody. Considering how fun and humorous the Bauchelain and Korbal Broach novellas are, such a spoof promised to be hilarious. And having read it, I can report that it's exactly that!
Oddly enough given the synopsis, as I was reading the book a number of negative and luke-warm reviews began appearing on the internet. Apparently, some reviewers were expecting a blistering and fascinating foray into science fiction. WTF??? How could anyone have such expectations after reading the cover blurb? This title was always meant to be a parody, a comedy. No more and no less. And as such, this novel is a fun and entertaining read. Anyone expecting something dense and thought-provoking, or the Bridgeburners in space, will be sorely disappointed. Still, based on the fact that Willful Child was never marketed this way, I'm quite perplexed by the fact that some readers could have been expecting something so different from what has been announced. Strange world. . .
Here's the blurb:
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.
Contrary to what Steven Erikson has accustomed us to in the past, the worldbuilding takes a backseat in this spoof. Don't expect anything as dense or richly-detailed as The Malazan Book of the Fallen. We get just enough to keep the story moving forward and nothing else. This is a parody and nothing gets in the way of the rhythm so that the jokes and weird/funny situations keep on coming. Willful Child isn't a work that takes itself too seriously and it's a joyride!
Following the hilarious misadventures of Captain Hadrian Sawback is a riot. Sexist and definitely not the sharpest tool in the shed, it's nevertheless impossible not to root for the guy. Incompetent, rude, too full of himself, and downright dumb at times, he could be the worst spaceship captain in the history of science fiction. In every way, Captain Hadrian Sawback is an over-the-top parody of the unforgettable Captain Kirk. In terms of caricature, the comic exaggerations are akin to those of the inimitable Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, played by Oscar-winning Jean Dujardin, in the two OSS 117 movies. Old-fashioned sexism, racism, and xenophobia often characterize Captain Hadrian Sawback, making him a throwback male protagonist from the 60S or the 70s. Terribly gauche with a veritable knack to turn a bad situation into a worse episode, he definitely is one of the highlights of Willful Child. The supporting cast is comprised of incompetent crew members and a number of buxom female officers hand-picked by the captain for their looks and nothing else, as well as a recalcitrant AI, and a few odd aliens along the way. There is also an evil chicken which could be another jab at Terry Goodkind. All in all, a fun bunch of men and women and aliens to follow!
By removing much of the depth and the details that habitually define Erikson's fantasy works, Willful Child is by far the most fast-paced novel the author has ever written. Too quickly do we reach the end of the book and here's to hoping that there will be a sequel down the line. Although I much prefer Steven Erikson's Malazan installments, occasional fun romps like Willful Child show a different side of the author and allow him to produce something totally different from what has made him a bestselling writer on both sides of the Atlantic.
If you are looking for a light and fun-filled science fiction novel, then Willful Child definitely is just what the doctor ordered! Just don't expect Malazan in space. This was always meant to be a parody/homage of Star Trek, nothing more. And as such, it works incredibly well.