Willful Child: Wrath Of Betty

by Steven Erikson

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

Sci-Fi typically takes one of two roads when painting a picture of the future: everything has rapidly advanced for the overall betterment and a crisis arises or everything has fallen apart and some crisis arises. But what if we took humanity as it is now (hiding behind screens to lob horrible insults at one another that we would never issue face to face, aligning ourselves with political identities in all regards, an obsession with the trivial and banal... I could go on and on.) and give them the advanced technology one would find in the Star Trek universe. It would be messy and unusual, but entertaining.

Captain Hadrian Sawback, handsome, dashing, young, and all too full of himself, is still holding the reins of the spaceship Willful Child. However his mad antics—which closely align with the same shenanigans that Captain Kirk got up to in the original run of Star Trek—are making the rest of the Federation angry. Not only are these stunts ridiculous and dangerous, Sawback keeps winning--making them look bad. No one hates Sawback more than Captain Hans Solo, the second youngest captain, who feels that the glory should be his. The Federation determines to work with Captain Solo to follow Sawback, wait until his urge to do something brave and stupid kicks in, and then sabotage him.

The adventures that Sawback goes on come rapid fire and hit just about every sci-fi cliché that comes to mind. These include entering a parallel universe where women are the dominate gender, going back in time, and heading to a planet of robots (a planet similar to a deserted Walmart trying to sell everyone something). At the center of all of these actions are the Captain, he essential crew, and the ships AI in the form of a chicken, Tammy Wynette.

Though I read and enjoyed the first book quite a bit, I'm a bit more conflicted about this one. The pacing was a bit choppy, but that was no different than the first, and it fit in with the "episodic" nature of the adventures. I guess I felt that Erikson didn't balance out the action and comedy as well here. The entire thing felt like it was rushing from one episode to the next to the point it became nauseating. I felt that he could have easily made this book nearly twice as long by focusing on one set of events as opposed to dropping one after the next in the readers' laps.

That not to say it was all bad, far from it. Erikson is good at making points wrapped in action and comedy. And as sexist and bigoted as Sawback can be at times, he, like Captain Kirk in the 60's, makes very good points. I especially liked how the book pointed out how science fiction culture as been appropriated by movie studios and corporations to turn both loyal fans as well as masses of others into customers (this can clearly be seen through "nerd" culture and the "science is awesome" types that have little knowledge of basic science or about the characters they care so much about, they just want to buy more movie tickets). Erikson seems to hit a nerve when he poked fun at the two major political parties in the U.S. While he took it to an extreme (and it was very funny in my opinion on both sides) the hyper-partisan times we live in seems to have brewed up a handful of negative reviews on that one issue. My advice: don't let that that stop you from reading it and learn to laugh at yourself some.

He also once again touched on consumerism and its overwhelming presence in our current society. This was a good point and had plenty of humor, but felt a bit too heavy handed. It had a Wall-E feel to it. I think sometimes messages can just be so heavy they weigh down the narrative and did so in this case.

Overall, Willful Child was funny and a fairly quick read. I think picking it up, and the first book, is worth the time. If you aren't aware of some real nerd culture you'll miss a lot of the jokes, which is unfortunate. But if the original Star Trek holds a special place in your heart and you can take a joke, by all means read it. If this isn't you but sounds like someone you know, get it for them.

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