Willful Child by Steven Erikson
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“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.’”
I hate to say it, but the more I read this novel, the more I winced. I know that Erikson is a good author, but after reading this book, I don’t believe he has a good enough grasp of satire to succeed in that genre. My role model for a good solid satire is Terry Pratchett, because he knows how to lampoon a subject without straying over the line into farce. Erikson, unfortunately, is nowhere near that level of skill.
One of the big issues is that the novel tries to take itself too seriously as a satire. Sound like a contradiction of terms? Not really. The author is so committed to lambasting every aspect of Star Trek that he can, he infuses absolutely every line of this book with snark. What he doesn’t seem to understand is that really good satire relies in a lighter touch–moments of sharp wit woven into a strong story. I can’t help but compare this novel to John Scalzi’s Redshirts, which also parodies Star Trek but does so in a much less in-your-face manner.
I also noticed a lot of choppy writing. A good chunk of the dialogue is stilted and doesn’t bear any resemblance to real speech, much less to the kind of dialogue heard in the original Star Trek series. Some transitions between scenes were rough and didn’t give the reader a good idea of how the characters were moving around. And yes, we all joke about Captain Kirk being willing to sleep with anything that has a pulse and seems vaguely female, but Sawback spends way too much of the book focused on sex. Kirk may have been a maverick, but he did try very hard to protect his crew, and Sawback has no such moral imperative.
It’s frustrating, because there were little glimmers of some truly funny stuff, little moments where the author seems to brush up against some skilled satire. They don’t last long, though, and they’re buried in all the over-the-top writing that makes up the bulk of the novel.
This is one of those books that I had to force myself to finish. Usually I can find something to enjoy in just about every book that I read, but this one sorely tested that ability. Aside from a few brief flashes of wit, this book just doesn’t measure up to its promise.