BRAVELY GOING WHERE THEY REALLY SHOULDN’T
ERIKSON BOLDLY GOES WHERE HE HASN’T GONE BEFORE WITH THIS ILL-JUDGED PARODY THAT QUICKLY WEARS THIN
Genre: Science Fiction, Parody
Publisher: Bantam Press
Format: Paperback, 352 Pages
Date: 27th August 2015 (First Published 2014)
Steven Erikson is an author whose name is synonymous with the High Fantasy genre, having authored the Malazan Book Of The Fallen series. It was a surprise then, when he decide to dip his toe into science fiction with the publication of Willful Child; a parody novel that takes aim at Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry. After reading the book, one can only hope that Erikson never again ventures outside of his comfort zone, for Willful Child is a spoof with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. And when a novel of only 350 pages feels at least 250 pages too long something is seriously amiss.
There is little point wasting words to give a synopsis of Willful Child. The novel’s plot is paper thin, which probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise. It seems Erikson’s sole purpose in penning the book was to poke fun of Star Trek, not to write an engaging story. And why not? Anyone who is familiar with Roddenberry’s brainchild, particularly The Original Series, will appreciate that Star Trek is an ideal vehicle for sendup. It is a franchise responsible for numerous television tropes ripe for mockery: copious technobabble and disposable “redshirts” being two of the most obvious examples. And the author goes after all these familiar Trek tropes with often hilarious results. The crew of the Willful Child even discover a planet made up entirely of a fake environment; a dig at the laughably bad set design of The Original Series. But Erikson’s lack of subtlety means that the joke wears thin, all too quickly.
Willful Child’s narrative is so littered with in-jokes and digs at Star Trek, readers are never given a real break from it. Barely a paragraph or line of dialogue is free of attempts at eliciting a laugh. It is for this reason that well within the first hundred pages, all the levity starts to grate, especially in regard to the characterisation of the book’s obnoxious protagonist, Captain Hadrian Sawback, who can best be described as William Shatner on steroids (or maybe that should be Viagra).
Any attempt at going into more depth about what potential readers can expect should they read the book, would be wasted effort. There just isn’t enough substance in Erikson’s writing to warrant it. In fact, there simply isn’t enough to even justify Willful Child being a full-length novel, at all. The author may have been better served producing a novella, at most. Though the shallow plot and constant bombardment of humour would almost certainly work better as a short story.
This review of Willful Child could pretty much end here. It is a disappointing book that caters strictly to those who enjoy incredibly juvenile humour, making it hard to recommend to anyone who has already been through puberty. Which is actually a shame. Subverting the conventions of Star Trek and Roddenberry’s utopian view of humanity in the future is a premise that could and should result in a biting, insightful work. But Willful Child is not that book; perhaps a light-hearted spoof is not the best way to tackle such an endeavour.
It would be great if a more serious attempt could be made to write a cynical take on Star Trek’s central premise. The reality of human nature means that we as a species could never really explore strange new worlds and new civilisations for purely altruistic reasons; to increase our knowledge and understanding of the universe. Humanity would never be capable of adhering to Star Trek’s Prime Directive. The history of colonialism here on Earth makes it all too apparent that if our corporate overlords had the means to colonise space, any less advanced civilisations we encountered would be subjugated or exterminated so that we could profit from stealing their natural resources. Such a story may not make for pleasant reading, but it would surely be more worthwhile than the story Erikson has inflicted on his readership.
To conclude, though it might be unfair to describe Willful Child as a vanity project, the book almost certainly owes its publication to having been authored by an established, successful and popular writer. It’s hard to imagine an unknown, first time author getting very far after having penned such a weak novel.
Telling it like it is. Giving you honest and balanced, spoiler free reviews. Completely devoid of irrational fanboyism, or shameless astroturfing.