Friday, November 30, 2018

James Review -- Willful Child: Wrath of Betty

This week I decided to review Willful Child: Wrath of Betty by Steve Erikson. 

The adventures of the Terran Affiliation Engage-class starship Willful Child under Captain Hadrian Sawback continue. However, Klang captain Betty has vowed revenge on Sawback for foiling his plan to surrender so his people can infiltrate the Affiliation and wreck the economy, and a group within Affiliation command plan to send the Willful Child into impossible or near impossible situations until Sawback fails, leading to his death or removal from command, with the AFS Century Warbler under Captain Hans Olo secretly following the Willful Child to clean up the resulting crisis.

The Willful Child is sent to investigate a several-parsecs-wide energy anomaly driven by an unknown ship which is destroying everything in its path and heading straight for Terra, AKA Earth. Sawback leads a team to the unknown ship and finds that it is under the control of Sparky, the robot guard dog who guarded the junkyard owned by Sawback’s grandfather. Sparky is on a quest to find Sawback so the crisis is swiftly resolved.

After this, the Willful Child is assigned to explore a solar system where another Engage-class starship vanished. They arrive to find an inhabited planet showing signs of recent nuclear weapons use and orbited by the AFS Hateful Regard which has been stripped of components and sprayed with graffiti. Sawback leads a team to the planet, finding it inhabited by descendants of humans transported from Earth long ago. The planet has split into two societies, the Dims and the Pubs, with the Dims besieging the last Pub stronghold. Sawback and his team quickly discover that the Pub’s leader is Richard Rabidinov, former captain of the Hateful Regard, who imprisons Sawback’s party so he can seize the Willful Child. Sawback and his party swiftly escape, freeing a captive Dim envoy in the process.

Almost immediately, the Willful Child is attacked via a slow-traveling giant spear launched from a nearby planet. Sawback sends a unit to investigate, but the shuttle pilot accidentally jettisons his craft’s fuel supply, leading to a crash landing. While Sawback is planning a rescue, the Willful Child receives priority orders to rendezvous with a freighter, pick up the lubricant the cargo ship is transporting, and transport it to the planet Women Only. Sawback realizes this is a mission specifically assigned to him to prevent him from rescuing his stranded crew but concludes that if he violates regulations concerning how long an Affiliation ship can use its faster-than-light T-drive without a break, he can both rescue the stranded crew members and meet the freighter on time.
I give this book 4.5 out of 10. I still find some of the characters interesting, as well as Sawback’s continuing quest to fix human society, but I found a rather noticeable editing error early in the book. Also, the title doesn’t fit because Betty never actually interacts with the Willful Child until the story’s climax. Also, I feel this would have worked better as a short story collection than a novel. It feels like a collection of disconnected episodes linked together by the thinnest threads. The threat posed by the villain could have tied the adventures together better but he only starts acting during the emergency lubricant run plotline before being sidelined until the climax. And again, this series commits the worse sin a parody can--namely, I don’t find it very funny. It reads like a long series of jokes, most of them very poor ones, with only a few points that amuse me at all.

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