Book Review: Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 1 of Epic Failure
Publisher: Saga Press (June 14, 2016)
Length: 352 pages
As sci-fi spoofs and humorous novels go, Mechanical Failure was a lot of fun. When I read parts of this book aloud to my husband, he chuckled and said, “Kinda feels like Terry Pratchett in space.” Trust me, coming from him, that’s a great compliment. Personally, I think I would liken this more to something like Spaceballs, which just goes to show what a tricky genre it is. What’s funny and what’s not can be so subjective, and picking up a book like this always holds a risk because you never know whether the style or the tone of humor will work for you. If I’m to be honest, overall I felt this novel might’ve been just a tad too heavy on the goofball side to suit my tastes, but author Joe Zieja is also to be commended for finding a balance to ensure that the shtick never got too old.
The story begins by introducing its protagonist, former military engineer turned smuggler Sergeant R. Wilson Rogers, captain of the Awesome (yes, that’s really the name of his spaceship). After his latest deal involving space pirates goes horribly wrong, Rogers unexpectedly finds himself pulled back into his old unit with the Meridan Patrol Fleet.
At first, Rogers thinks it couldn’t be that bad. The activities he and the old 331st used to get up to are the kind of stuff that would make someone like Sgt. Bilko weep tears of joy—gambling, drinking, partying, and generally goofing off while trying to look busy. He figures everything will be the same once he gets back.
Unfortunately, before agreeing to this he had no idea that the MPF is actually preparing for war. Rogers arrives at the flagship to find that the entire atmosphere of the fleet has changed, but it just doesn’t make sense! Considering the Two Hundred Years (and Counting) Peace is still holding strong, and all the treaties protecting it are airtight, there’s simply no evidence of conflict anywhere, but that’s sure not stopping the fleet from shoring up their position, drilling the troops, and bolstering morale. Aghast as he is to be doing actual military work, Rogers has to admit though, something here doesn’t feel quite right.
For anyone who feels military science fiction might be too serious, too gung ho for them, you should consider giving this book a try. Mechanical Failure almost feels like a parody of the genre, subverting the image of the hardass space marine with a character like Rogers, a happy-go-lucky smooth-talking scoundrel whose goal in life is to attract the least amount of responsibility as possible. There’s a running joke in here where the more he screws up or tries to dodge his duties, the further he gets promoted, until he eventually becomes the personal assistant of the grossly incompetent admiral himself, making Rogers the de facto commander of the entire fleet. Rogers never wanted to be a hero, but sometimes you just gotta fake it till you make it.
Zieja also pokes fun at a lot of sci-fi tropes, riffing on the ideas like the dangers of droid armies or the ineffectualness of military bureaucracy. I had mentioned Spaceballs in comparison, and indeed this novel felt like it had a similar “pastiche” feel of a parody film that takes elements and styles from many different works and seeks to imitate or mock them. Granted, much of the humor is campy and sophomoric, driven mostly by slapstick, but you have to hand it to Zieja—he knows how to hold back enough so that it all remained just shy of overdone. While it’s pretty much all throwaway stunts or one-liners, every so often I would find something truly laugh-out-loud funny, and I have to admit this book had its moments. The plot also isn’t terribly deep, but I wasn’t really expecting it to be, knowing the nature of this book beforehand. A funny, light adventure is the order of the day, and that’s what Mechanical Failure delivers.
All told, this book was very enjoyable, though as usual, I must warn that when it comes to this kind of humor, your mileage may vary. Mechanical Failure probably sits right at the threshold of my own tolerance for quirky and absurd humor (I prefer dry and subtle, personally) but I also liked it much more than many novels of its type. It’s so easy for authors to get carried away, overdoing a certain kind of comedy, but happily this is not the case here. If what I’ve described here sounds like something that would interest you, I strongly urge you to give this one a try. I have no doubt this book will find plenty of fans.