Steven Erikson is best known for his lengthy collection of bulky but mostly wonderful novels of the Malazan Empire, at least a dozen of which I have read and enjoyed, as well as spin-off collections of short stories. Consequently, I would normally pick up any new books of his that I find. Nevertheless, I shied away from Willful Child at first and only finally bought it on another visit to the book shop. This is because of the blurb: “These are the voyages (such as they are) of the Engage-Class Starship Willful Child. Its mission: to seek out new worlds, to subjugate and occasionally obliterate strange and disgusting life-forms, and to boldly … well, you get the picture.” Sounds dreadful, I though and I was right, I think.
The tone of the book is relentless throughout and parody is piled upon parody with little apparent purpose other than to highlight the incoherent militarism of much of conventional science fiction (and of course Star Trek itself). For a writer as talented as Erikson, this is the artistic equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel.
Readers who find it amusing to read about an alien artificial intelligence who prefers to inhabit the body of a chicken, aliens so full of bombast they cover every available screen with spittle every few minutes and a spaceship captain who possesses no filter between instinct and action may enjoy this romp. They might discern greater meaning in the text than I was able to do. Others might prefer to pass straight on to Erikson’s other, greatly superior works. This feels like a vanity project and I can imagine it would not have been published had the author not had such influence with the publisher.