by Joe Zieja
Series: Epic Failure, #1Hardcover, 343 pg.
Saga Press, 2016
Read: August 17 – 18, 2016
No duty was too great that R. Wilson Rogers couldn’t find a way to shirk it.
This is the essence of Wilson Rogers (don’t ask what the R. stands for) compressed into one sentence — an engineer for the Galactic Navy during the longest peacetime in Galactic Memory. As a result of all the peace, there’s not a whole lot for a Naval ship to do — nor for the men assigned to it. So, Rogers and his fellow crew members got up to a lot of nonsense — drinking, gambling and worse. Eventually, Rogers finds himself leaving under less than auspicious circumstances. Not long after that, under even less auspicious circumstances (which I’ll leave for you to read about and chuckle over) he finds himself back on the appropriately named Flagship which has transformed in his brief absence in to a serious-minded place, full of random inspections, wartime preparations (despite centuries of peace), and odd assignments.
Before long, Rogers finds himself getting promotions, leading a group of battle droids, and seriously considering suicide and desertion (favoring the the latter, I assure you) — and that’s when things really start to get interesting.
This is pretty decent Military SF with a twist of humor, a dollop of irony, a pinch of satire, and so on — I don’t want to compare it to Adams. But I’ll compare it to a mix of Scalzi, Harry Harrison, Jack Campbell, Grant Naylor and Peter David. There’s a sense of play, even when he’s not going for the comedy, which makes the whole thing fun to read.
Best ‘droid since Marvin, best malfunctioning human personality software since Marvin (or Lore — but not as creepy or murderous), funniest ‘droids since Kryten. I could keep those comparisons going — essentially, I really liked all of the Droids on Flagship (especially Deet). The CO reminded me of some sort of hybrid between the pointy-haired boss and Douglas Reynholm is great comic relief, but there’s more to him than that.
Honestly, I could go on and on, Zieja assembled a great cast of characters — real enough that you can like them, outlandish enough that you don’t take them terribly seriously. Not just the obviously comedic characters either, there are a few “straight (wo)men” characters scattered throughout, keeping the rest grounded. Rogers is the best of the bunch – there’s a little personal growth to him (no one’s more surprised and dismayed by that than him), I enjoyed seeing that come out. I liked how despite himself he learns to set aside prejudices, take things seriously, and even act a little heroically. I as amused by (and occasionally disturbed by) his attraction to/fascination with the Amazonian Marine Captain. Rogers’ way of looking at the world is pretty relatable (I’m not saying that he’s the kind of guy you spend time with, he’s the guy you want to spend time with), and he’ll win you to his side pretty quickly.
One thing that I really appreciated was the respect that Zieja showed to the military personnel throughout this — too often everyone (with a maximum of a couple of exceptions) in a book like this is depicted as a moron — think of Richard Hooker’s classic for a moment. It’s just one example, but it’s a good one. You’ve got Jones, the Painless Pole, Hawkeye, Trapper, Duke, and a couple of nurses here and there who are competent, if not great, doctors. Who else? Everyone else is a “regular Army” schmuck ho shouldn’t be allowed in an operating theater or near anything where life and death decisions come into play.
Zieja doesn’t play it this way — these Navy and Marine men and women (with one or two exceptions, because there are always exceptions) are treated as competent, equipped and dedicated people whose greatest problem is that they have nothing to do, so things get a little loopy from time to time. But you give then an enemy, you give them a goal, you give them some way to target their talents and energy — good things happen. Even the really incompetent turn out to be quite competent when put in the right spot, doing what they’re good at (even if that’s not what they want to be good at). Problems are solved, crises averted, and enemies thwarted. That’s just not seen often enough, and I appreciate Zieja doing that.
That doesn’t mean he can’t find ways to make fun of the dedicated, the competent, and equipped — but he doesn’t make them into buffoons to do so (mostly).
I knew that I was going to like this book by page 3, I was audibly chuckling by page 4. The rest was just gravy. I laughed, chortled, and grinned my way through this — practically from beginning to end. The story as pretty good, the story plus the comedy made this gold. If I could think of stronger words to use to endorse this, I’d probably slap them here. But I can’t — just get your hands on this one. Meanwhile, I’m already looking forward to the sequel.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this from the Publisher in exchange for my honest comments on it — sorry for the delay, I greatly appreciate the book.