I was quite unprepared for Mechanical Failure. While the blurb mentions it as a “sarcastic adventure”, such a description doesn’t do justice.
Set in the far future after Humanity has spread to the stars and now live in a different Galaxy, mankind has managed to endure Two Hundred years (and counting) of peace. For Sergeant R Wilson military was the perfect career – mostly involved with drinking, avoiding work and hosting epic barbecues. Eventually though Wilson decides to expand his horizons and becomes a smuggler.
Big mistake, smuggling being much harder than military life and after only a year away he gets arrested and forced back into service. The military he returns to however is much changed. Gone is the shirking and drinking and endless partying, replaced by soldiers doing actual work and seemingly preparing for a war.
As you might imagine this leads to an interesting story of military incompetence with lots of humor, very much like a 21st century version of Harry Harrison’s Bill, The Galactic Hero and The Stainless Steel Rat adventures with a little of Rob Grant’s Incompetence thrown in for good measure. As with Grants novel, we have people placed into ill-suited roles purely due to those in command deciding it a good idea – Engineers becoming chefs for example while parallels to those in Command not having the slightest clue echo Harrison’s finest.
It is a highly amusing novel with humor evident on every page. The laughs flow through an interesting and engaging story of military incompetence and subterfuge.
Wilson’s rise to power parallels that of Bill’s, not earned through hard work and talent but through a combination of misplaced reward and lack of superior knowledge. Wilson himself is a great character, totally immoral, out for himself and lazy, he is as far from a hero as possible. He lurches from one disaster to another and is placed in increasingly difficult situations.
The story makes it interesting, the humor is unmistakable- and I mean laugh-out-loud funny, the pace never lets up and there isn’t a single wasted moment. Of course there are real messages underneath all the funny. There is serious abuse of power, poor choice of leadership and the danger of complacency being the obvious but also the ever increasing reliance on technology and that topical one, increasing AI that is unchecked and un-policed.
Mechanical Failure is the perfect tonic for those missing the writing of the comedy sci-fi greats. It is as good as Harrison, Grant and even Adams – highly amusing, clever fiction.
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