Monday, 1 December 2014

Book Review - Willful Child by Steven Erikson

I have never read any of Erikson's work before (I can hear the Malazan people sharpening their knives already!), but the premise of this book caught my eye. A Star Trek spoof... full of humour, antagonistic aliens, artificial intelligence and more... sign me up! 

From the opening pages we are introduced to the tone of the book... space is fucking big! Rather then tell a story with an overarching plot, Erikson has opted to write a book full of episodic moments... ranging from first contact and time travel through to antagonistic aliens and galactic alliances. Following the adventures of the spaceship Willful Child and its motley crew we flit from one point to another, and it very much felt like I was reading an 'R' rated version of a Star Trek season on television. Surprisingly, I found this format worked well, and it helped to add to the hilarity of the characters and their actions as they tried to deal with treacherous double crosses, intergalactic war or crazy aliens. 

Captain Hadrian Sawback, Erikson's main protagonist, is both ridiculous and funny. An obvious parody of Kirk (with a dash of Zapp Brannigan), Sawback is the source of much of the humour throughout this novel. At times his narrative and actions had me laughing out loud, and at other times I just shook my head and thought 'oh god he didn't just say that'. As a reader I found myself switching between loving him and hating him. His saving grace is that is so oblivious to his behaviour (much like Sheldon Cooper or Zapp Brannigan) that you can't help but love him. Add to this the other crew members of the Willful Child (all chosen for their beauty by Sawback), some crazy (in both appearance and behaviour) alien characters, and you have a fairly good recipe for a science fiction spoof. 

In my opinion Erikson has pulled it off. The humour is often slapstick in nature but also at times very subtle. Erikson has also managed (again I am told this is a feature of his writing) to weave a commentary on gender issues and human nature into his text. Would I recommend this book to everyone? No. I think some readers will be offended by some of the humour and characterisations (Erikson does walk a very fine line at times), and I also think that the novels pacing and style will further deter others. For Malazan lovers, or people who just like a good chuckle at outrageous behaviour (Zapp Brannigan in Futurama is a great example with his constant attempts to woo, bed and conquer), then this book is for you!

4 Stars out of 5.

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