Voracious reader and DPhil candidate blogs about books and scholarly life.
It is a surprising move, to say the least. Steven Erikson, author of the world-famous high fantasy series The Malazan Book of the Fallen, has written a science fiction parody. Willful Child is a spoof of Star Trek, to be exact, although the book basically parodies everything with a space battle in it written in the mid-twentieth century. A parody, then, of everything a certain group of puppies loves.
Erikson’s ten-volume The Malazan Book of the Fallen (1999-present with five books upcoming) and its prequel series The Karkanas Trilogy are serious, intricate, hefty fantasy. Seven hundred pages a tome, each work displays a depth and complexity that is too much for an undedicated reader to handle: Erikson even felt the need to include a warning to this extent in the introduction to the first work, Gardens of the Moon.
It seemed that for Willful Child, he decided to do the exact opposite of all this.
Twenty-seven-year-old space cowboy Hadrian Sawback captains the ship Willful Child, which has two goals: “Exploration and combat. Primarily combat, but of the deep-space, you’re-all-on-your-own variety. So, in blunter terms: Find and Kill!” With the pluck and the inability to keep his shirt intact taken straight from the early Captain Kirk, Sawback assembles a crew of three beautiful women (two of whom intelligent, although he doesn’t seem to register that), three male crew members who are all clearly inferior in physique and status to Hadrian, and a doctor from the alien Belkri species. This doctor, Printlip, is Erikson’s best find: basically a rubber ball with limbs that talks by deflating itself through a small opening, which means that at the end of long sentences it empties itself out and phflflblbllbbl…
Perhaps ‘find and kill’ is not the most accurate description of the contents of this book. Another F-word may fit better, and that one is used on nearly every page of this book. Hadrian Sawback thinks with his genitals, and spends most of the time trying to bed his female crew members. His astonishing sexism is only funny for those who are genuinely capable of enjoying sexism, or for those who are able to constantly remind themselves that this is a parody. The saddest thing is that this parodies a time when such content was used in a serious way in science fiction.
Willful Child reads like a book a newly pubescent boy might enjoy, although the parody element may be lost on such a reader. The book is over-the-top, every chapter more ridiculous than the next. Does this remind you of Douglas Adams? Well, it might have, if the humour had been just slightly sharper, more polished, wittier… more mature. Yes, I just called the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster mature, compared to some of the stuff in this book.
The immature humour might have been a lot more amusing if the book hadn’t been as big as it is (300 pages). Many parts of it feel repetitive: another fistfight with aliens! Another sexual encounter between Hadrian and a crew member! Another poo joke! Frankly, I gave up on it for a while and only came back to it because I felt obliged to finish it, as I had been given a review copy of this book.
This is a wonderful book for everyone who enjoys endless banter, sexist jokes and poo jokes. For those who like a bigger dose of actual intellectual engagement, please have a look at The Malazan Book of the Fallen.