Willful Child by Steven Erikson

8/10 A science fiction parody taking aim at the likes of Star Trek.

I love Star Trek. I probably love Star Trek more than you do. I don’t, however, love Star Trek more than Steven Erikson does, as is proved by reading Steven Erikson’s latest book, ‘Willful Child’.

Willful Child is the Star Trek-spoof every self-professed Star Trek fan wishes they could have written. It is a blatant love letter written to the long-deceased Gene Roddenberry, all the while acknowledging the absolute absurdity of William Shatner and Jim Kirk. From a future with clothing more prone to tear at a small breeze than today, to a captain willing to do almost anything to ensure he ‘gets the girl’ – be it his first officer, helm officer, random security officer, whoever!

From the very opening pages through to the last page which crept up all too quickly, Willful Child was a thrilling and hilarious read. Not hilarious in the way that Terry Pratchett can make you think amidst chuckling, but more in the way Saturday Night Live might send-up a particularly caricature-ish politician.

One story quickly jumps into another into another, a fact which is almost immediately commented upon by the sentient computer. On the face of it, each story is one absurdity after another – from speeding into a new planetary system, engines hot and scattering other ships to the (solar) winds, to starting a war, dismissing an offer of almost-immediate surrender, before ensuring war is still a possibility – all so humanity can get a kick up the rear-end and out of complacency.

An intelligence gap created by a massive planet-wide EMP leaves humans with odd variations on sayings and history, some unexplained longevity, and an unrepentant irreverence for all authority makes this book one of the funniest books I’ve read in a while.

If you are a fan of Steven Erikson; if you are a fan of Star Trek; if you are a fan of science fiction, its tropes, and making fun thereof; if you are a fan of comedy, hilarity, and spoof; if you are a fan of any of these, or just like a good read that will keep you up into the wee-hours of the morning, then Willful Child by Steven Erikson is simply a must-read!
Joshua S Hill, 9/10

Willful Child by Steven Erikson is a science fiction parody taking aim at the likes of Star Trek, Stargate, Farscape, and similar 90's sci-fi television. It’s probably easiest to draw a comparison with Redshirts by John Scalzi, but while Redshirts was a very meta deconstruction of Redshirt theory, Willful Child is more an exploration of larger-than-life characters in strange situations pulling off the most unlikely solutions to save the day with less than a minute to spare. I wasn't able to connect with this book as much as I wanted to, but I have no doubt that many of you will have no problem enjoying this book.

"Space... it's fucking big." So begins the adventures of Hadrian Sawback, captain of the Willful Child. Having passed his final exam in record time under a cloud of controversy, Hadrian begins his tenure aboard the Willful Child by committing Xenocide against a species living in the gas clouds of Neptune. This is just the start for Hadrian, who bumbles his way from disaster to disaster with such arrogance that he will make you believe it is all intentional. His methods are controversial, his superiors have no faith in him, but he gets the job done and earns begrudging respect.

Willful Child is a collection of adventures that poke fun at episodic sci-fi in various different ways. It is obvious right from the start that Erikson is highly knowledgeable and comfortable in this genre, with very overt and very subtle references scattered throughout the entire novel. While the parody is always on point and managed to get a few laughs out of me, I didn't always find it funny or entertaining. It’s not that it's too offensive, it just seems like sometimes Erikson is going after the easy targets that have already been hit by many other parodies, and is lacking the insight we know his works often contain. Having a Captain obsessed with his sexual prowess is funny for the first few chapters, because we all know what Captain Kirk was like, but then I found myself asking "okay, so what else is there to cover", and Willful Child gave me nothing; no new insights. In my opinion, this is a common issue throughout the story.

The blurb describes Captain Hadrian Sawback as a cross between Captain James T. Kirk and Stan Smith from American Dad, but I think Hadrian has more in common with Stirling Archer (from the animated series Archer) than he does with Stan Smith. Hadrian is arrogant, supremely confident in his abilities, very resourceful, and highly inappropriate. While commanding the Willful Child to pursue Earth interests throughout the galaxy may be his job, he is far more interested in having sexual encounters with anyone he can get his hands on, and that starts to get old, fast. And to be honest, I just don't like the guy. He is a pain in the ass man-child who gets the job done only after making things much harder than they needed to be. I know that's the point, but that doesn't mean it’s a good point. The other characters are caricatures of familiar sci-fi characters synonymous with the role they play on-board the ship, who are more there to provide support to the joke than to be meaningful contributing members of the story. Again that's the point, and again, that doesn't mean it’s a good point. I just couldn't connect with or care about any of the characters, and a couple of days later I have forgotten all of their names and can't be bothered going back to the book to look them up.

Willful Child was a weird book for me. I can see how clever it is, and normally I like clever humour, but in this book I couldn't wait to get to the end so I could move on to something else. From what I can tell, Erikson wrote the book exactly the way he wanted to write it, touched on all the things he wanted to touch on, and in the end I'm sure he is satisfied with the result. It didn't work for me, and that sucks for me, but I've always struggled to connect with Erikson's works. I'm sure that for those people who are massive fans of Erikson, this book will be thoroughly enjoyable.
Ryan Lawler, 6.5/10

Reviews by and Ryan Lawler

Our interview with Steven Erikson

Steven Erikson's ongoing fantasy series, the Malazan Book of the Fallen has brought new life and originality into the fantasy genre. Steven Erikson kindly spoke to Fantasy Book Review in September 2009, shortly after the [...]

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