Willful child, by Steven Erikson

Willful child Book Cover Willful child
Steven Erikson
Humor, Science fiction
Tor books
November 4th, 2014

Space - the final frontier.

Ok, when you read the above, whose voice was saying it in your head? Because that's going to matter to how you read the novel Willful child.   It might not be worth the effort if you don't have a certain amount of Star Trek in your heart.  Me, I've never watched the original series, but I've loved (and occasionally loathed, hush) all of the next generation and even voyager (which is a series that gets a lot more hate than seems reasonable, by the way).  I've been immersed and interested enough to at least consider picking up tie-in novels.  This leaves me a little blind to how much of this book is really available to, um, other people.

Our protagonist, fresh-from-the-academy captain Hadrian Sawbeck, perfectly calls to mind all the worst traits of captain Kirk, which is where a lot of the humorous paragraphs are anchored. He has selected the rest of his crew largely based on how hot they looked in the photo attached to their file, which is why we get a near-languageless pretty woman at the helm, as an example.  The rest of the crew has a neurotic claustrophobiac "medicated up to the gills",  a bitter drunk,  a vulcan-like tactical officer whose logic appears to have been replaced with nihilism and/or chewing tobacco.  The ship's doctor is a wobbly deflateable alien, apparently an expert on human anatomy.

The ship, Willful child, spends most of the story under the criminal command of a rogue AI named Tammy.

Hijinks ensue.

Unfortunately, I'm personally not hugely entertained by these hijinks, but I'm pretty sure that's just, well, me.  I know Steven Erikson to be intelligent and upsettingly funny from what I've read of the Malazan books, and I also know a frightening amount of people feel genuine affection for captain Kirk, so - yes, it's not the book, it's me.    (I am a Picard type of person, in the inevitable Star Trek captain personality identifier way of things. Which means I'm left with a raised eyebrow and a dry request for tea, earl grey, hot.)

So this is a fast read - and to many readers, I'm sure, a hilarious one.  I enjoy the attention paid to the smallest of details - and that wonderful true-to-genre thing in which sharp, harsh observational truths about what it means to be human suddenly comes pouring out of the most unexpected characters.

Verdict? If you like geeking out over campy space opera, occasionally wear pointy ears and do the hand gesture thing, and might understand why a remark about the name Wesley means more than it does? Go on, give it a shot - you should have a couple of fun hours in there.  (Unless you despise the whole stupid bravado thing even more than I do, of course - in which case you'll need to be very certain you're in a mellow frame of mind, first.)

If you don't know Star Trek at all, though, I'm not sure how much this novel will do for you.  It is essentially a silly little adventure, which has its own charm, but I don't think it would be quite hefty enough for me if I didn't have the context. I could be wrong!  But, well, in the category "humorous space opera", there should be more suitable pickings.  Not that I can think of one right now - possibly some John Scalzi would fit the bill?

3 comments on “Willful child, by Steven Erikson

  1. I do know Star Trek, but DS9 was my favorite. Apparently I like my Trek dark and dramatic (loved TNG and Voyager, too, though). I tried reading Scalzi’s red shirts and just couldn’t get into it, so I am not sure if this will be all that enjoyable to me. I might read a sample to find out, lol.

    1. I usually like Scalzi, but didn’t think Redshirts was all that great – just a bit too… schtick-y, I guess.

      I have been saving DS9 for, um, a suitable time! I know I won’t be able to judge it fairly after so many people calling it similar to Babylon 5, which I loved. :3

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