Not A Review: Willful Child – Steven Erikson

About the Book

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 life-forms, to boldly blow the…

And so we join the not-terribly-bright but exceedingly cock-sure Captain Hadrian Sawback – a kind of James T Kirk crossed with ‘American Dad’ – 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’…

The bestselling author of the acclaimed Malazan Book of the Fallen sequence has taken his life-long passion for ‘Star Trek’ and transformed it into a smart, inventive and hugely entertaining spoof on the whole mankind-exploring-space-for-the-good-of-all-species-but-trashing-stuff-with-a-lot-of-hi-tech-kit-along-the-way type over-blown adventure. The result is this smart. inventive, occasionally wildly OTT and often very funny novel that deftly parodies the genre while also paying fond homage to it.

352 pages (hardcover)
Published on November 4, 2014
Published by Tor
Author’s webpage
Buy the book

This book was sent for me to review by the publisher.

God, this is going to be painful to write.

Steven Erikson is one of my top five favorite authors. His series Malazan Book of the Fallen is probably my favorite series in the history of the universe. Furthermore, I absolutely love it when authors take a left turn and do something totally different. What, pray tell, is more different than Malazan Book of the Fallen and the Star Trek influenced parody Willful Child?

Of course I was interested. I got the ARC in the mail and jumped the gun on it instantly. The problem is, I don’t think I’m the right audience for this sort of book, and that became painfully clear after about three chapters, thus, much of the reason this book bounced off of me I attribute to that.

I don’t do well with comedy most of the time. I would rather get a root canal than be forced to sit through a comedy movie. I can’t stand just about any comedian. I think most jokes are stupid. I know, it seems like I have no sense of humor, and that’s not the case. I’m a huge fan of dry humor. I like the sort of humor that takes some finesse. I’m not a fan of the sort that says, “LOOK AT ME! I’M SO FUNNY! YOU MUST LAUGH NOW!” It needs to have some deeper meaning, some commentary on something that actually matters. I like the humor that makes me think and doesn’t unplug my mind. Cracking jokes because you can doesn’t do it for me. Neither does stupidity. I will never be a Dumb and Dumber fan. I just can’t do it.

And the issue with Willful Child is that so much of it felt just like that to me. The captain, aside from being a sexist pig (which got incredibly old, incredibly fast) is also really stupid and absolutely confident that he’s not stupid. Thus, most of the humor was based off of his dumb ideas that he actually followed through on, and his snide observations of hips/breasts/whatever. I get that this is a parody of Star Trek, but there’s only so much of that sort of thing I can handle.

Steven Erikson can write. He’s one of my favorite authors, but this book almost made me sick. Sexism isn’t funny, and the wisecracks about how people looked grated on me. Furthermore, a ship captained by a stupid man only takes someone so far. The book is one event after another peppered with heavy-handed one-liners. As a Star Trek fan, there are so many directions Erikson could have gone with this parody. Why did he choose this one?

Don’t get me wrong. There are some truly brilliant lines in this novel, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I did occasionally laugh. Erikson is funny, and he’s absolutely brilliant in the right setting. I’ve enjoyed his humor immensely before, and it was drier and a bit more thoughtful than this over-the-top stuff. I thought Willful Child would have more of that in it, but it didn’t. This is more Dumb and Dumber and less Bauchelain and Korbal Broach.

I’m not the audience for this sort of thing. Humor like this tends to offend me more than it makes me laugh, and this is no exception. Erikson is an absolutely brilliant man who is one of the most powerful authors I have ever run across. Some things just aren’t funny, to me at least. The writing is as flawless as you’d expect an Erikson novel to be, and I have absolutely no doubt in the world that this book will please most readers half to death. Most people seem to like this sort of thing, I just don’t. My friends and family all think that my disagreement with 90% of the humor out there is weird. I get that. I’m the odd one out in this situation.

There is some humor that I just don’t get.

Therefore, I can’t review this book with an easy conscience because I am 100% not the audience for it, but please, don’t let it stop you from giving it a go.

Willful Child, I’m pretty sure it’s me, not you.

6 Responses

  • I’m sorry to say I agree with you completely, Sarah. Not the book for me, either.

  • I also completely agree with your thoughts, and I’m pretty much the target audience for this novel. I love sci-fi, liek Star Trek, enjoy a good laugh or three, and rank Spaceballs – a parody – in my favourite films. Willful Child just didn’t work, for pretty much every reason you gave. It tried to be funny too often and pushed the parody line well past the point of humour to the realms of cringe worthiness. No recommendation from me at all here.

  • I tend to be the same. I don’t appreciate ‘written humor very much, so I can’t fault you for feeling that way. Hopefully this will find its audience elsewhere ;o)

  • Well, I can’t say that I disagree, though my reaction to the book was much different. I really enjoyed it and found it to both very fun and one of the most cynical/damning books about American culture I’ve read in the SFF world ever. But, humor is hard – especially when that humor is intentionally and blatantly offensive. in many ways it’s meant to damn someone for finding it funny – so, Sarah, I think it says good things that you didn’t find it funny. Since I did find it funny (at times) …

    Anyway, this book is going to be very polarizing for many reasons. Frankly, I’m shocked that it got published.

    But I admire Erikson for writing this, even while I question the choices he made with it.

  • Thanks for this incredibly honest review. It’s greatly appreciated. It’s a pity more reviews aren’t like this – this way we know exactly what we’ll get, and won’t be disappointed.

  • Thanks so much for this honest review.

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