Willful Child by Steven Erikson is supposed to be a Star Trek parody, but its real joke is about the publishing industry which will put out a 50 year joke as a 25 dollar hardcover novel because its author has a few bestsellers under his belt.
Funny parodies have been written about Star Trek. Take John M. Ford’s How Much for Just the Planet? Or Peter David’s New Frontier novels which take the basic gag of Erikson’s Willful Child about a psychotic Kirk-like captain and play it straight while adding characters and deadpan comedy.
If you ever heard The Firm’s Star Trekkin’ with its chorus of “We come in peace/Shoot to kill” then you’ve already sat through Willful Child, but without reading through hundreds of pages.
That’s all there is to it.
Willful Child’s captain Hadrian Alan Sawbuck is a psycho who wears stretchy shirts, seduces female crew members and blows up aliens. And he’s the only realized character in this. He’s Futurama’s Zapp Brannigan without a Kif, just a bunch of disposable female sidekicks with names like Joss Sticks (Yes, Steven Erikson is a master of comedy) whose only joke is saying “Like” in every sentence.
And that’s just for starters.
If you wanted to read the kind of groundbreaking comedy about Star Trek that dates back to the 60s, Steven Erikson delivers. There are jokes about how fake the sets look and how other planets look like Northern California. Did you ever notice that?
But Steven Erikson also daringly ventures into the 80s and even the 90s by making jokes about how awful Celine Dion and Barry Manilow are.
This is material that Jay Leno would call lame. Guys doing standup in Branson would ask for something fresher. The only people who didn’t are Tor editors.
It’s a bunch of a Mad Magazine gags with a glowing recommendation from Robert J. Sawyer, because that’s just how the publishing industry works. And considering how old the jokes are, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if this was just a trunk novel/bunch of papers Erikson had lying around in his desk from high school that he handed over to Tor to buy some time. And they published it. As a novel.
Want proof? Sulu is renamed Zulu. I refuse to believe that an adult did that.
This is a 25 dollar hardcover novel in which the characters actually keep shouting that their adventures are “episodic”. They keep doing it like a standup comedian getting up off stage and elbowing you in the ribs to laugh at his joke about how white guys are all like this and black guys are all like that.
It’s not just that Willful Child’s jokes are lame. A lot of them aren’t even jokes.
Like the name of the ship. Willful Child. Or the rogue AI named Tammy Wynette. They’re placeholders for jokes. Or desperate randomness.
And those are the good parts. Two thirds of the way, Erikson loses whatever is left of his plot and begins randomly throwing out alien attacks. It might have made Willful Child worse if ‘worse’ was an option. It’s not.
Erikson interjects lectures on how social media is destroying our society. Willful Child is so bad that I can’t tell if he’s being serious. It’s so bad that I don’t really care.
The only joke here is what a miserable mess the publishing industry has become. The joke is that Tor will publish this, but it won’t publish actual Science Fiction. The only actual big picture SF novel I see in their new releases in John C. Wright’s Judge of Ages.
What Willful Child reminds me most of all is when execs chose to turn Batman into a bad TV gagfest because they refused to take the original material seriously. The last laugh was had and it wasn’t by the executives who refused to take comic books seriously.
Putting out Willful Child while boycotting actual blue sky Science Fiction is an act of contempt by Tor’s editors who refuse to take Science Fiction, the traditional kind, seriously. Science Fiction, with its spaceships and galactic empires and silly men in silly suits exploring the stars, will have the last laugh.
It’ll have to because there are no laughs to be had in Willful Child. Not unless you think jokes about Celine Dion hold music are as funny as it gets.