Communication Failure – A More Clear Message

51iumd8kwyl-_sx331_bo1204203200_One of the hidden gems I read last year was a satirical science fiction called Mechanical Failure, by Joe Zieja. It was the story of a disillusioned and incompetent military vet, Rogers, being forced back into service on a warship where everything seems just a little off. The plot follows Rogers attempts to uncover what’s causing the weirdness and results in a larger conspiracy being revealed. The book only loosely relied on its plot, with the meat of the appeal being the book’s humor that had me laughing out loud constantly. So when I got my hands on a early copy of Zieja’s sequel, Communication Failure, I was very curious to see if the series could keep its appeal in a second novel.

I was concerned that the plot, which was neither outstanding nor bad in Mechanical Failure, might drag Communication Failure down. However, the exact opposite was true as Comm sees an enormous increase in plot complexity and world building. I was incredibly impressed with the level of detail that Zieja added to his world in this second novel. Our story picks up with Rogers somehow in charge of a derelict fleet. Comm follows his attempts to learn to be a leader, deal with a foreign fleet attempting to destroy him, and continue to unravel a tapestry worth of conspiratorial threads around him. There was a lot more character development than I was expecting as the book progressed and I found myself very invested in the characters by the end. I found myself groaning aloud as I finished Comm because I am dying to know what happens next.

While Comm vastly increased my investment in the plot, it didn’t lose a single step on the humor front. Communication Failure is just as funny as Mechanical Failure was and I found myself once again laughing like a mad man in public as I read Comm on the subway. What is particularly impressive about Comm is what I would describe as a diversification of humor. Zieja does not just rely on a single joke or type of humor, keeping the books constantly fresh and funny. There is situational and contextual humor, science fiction parody and satire (his take on sci-fi fighter pilots is amazing), wordplay and puns, and terrible unfunny jokes that Zieja repeats until I angrily laughed at them. My favorite example of the last in that list was Zieja’s Thelicosan captain who roundhouse kicks something or someone every two seconds. When she initially made her introduction and started kicking people I loudly thought “well this book is hilarious so far, but I think you missed with that one Zieja”. About 100 pages and 30 kicks later I found myself angrily trying not to laugh, and failing, as she continued to kick her way through existence. As I have been writing this review I have just been sitting at my desk laughing as I think about various scenes, so it is safe to say Communication Failure is one of the funniest books I have read… well since Mechanical Failure.

With vast improvement to the world and characters, and continued top notch humor, Communication Failure is a sequel that surpasses its previous debut. The story now has me hooked and I am dreading the long wait to find out what happens in the next book. With this successful second entry, my hope is that Zieja will keep churning out an endless number of Failures as I don’t think I will ever get tired of reading them.

Rating: Communication Failure – 9.0/10

-Andrew

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An Interview With Joe Zieja, Author Of Mechanical Failure

26850100With the end of 2016 starting to loom overhead, I have turned to all the books I have read this year to start composing my top 10 list (expect it in early November). While reviewing my preliminary candidates, I noticed very few of them were new authors this year. However, I decided to reach out to the author of one of the stand out successes I read this year and see if he would tell me more about what went into his book, Mechanical Failure. The author, Joe Zieja, was kind enough to reply to my questions and give some insight into the humor and futurism of the Epic Failure Trilogy. My original review of Mechanical Failure can be found here, and the interview is below, enjoy!

 

What made you want to go into writing after all this time as a voice actor?

This question is hilarious! I have been writing far longer than I have been a voice actor. In fact, I only discovered voice acting in 2013, after which, for some bizarre reason, I experienced a lot of success and quit my government job. In fact, Mechanical Failure was written before I switched careers. Publishing is just a bit slower than advertising and other media. To be clear, there’s no “instead of” here, for me. I’ll be doing both as long as both industries will let me.

Do you see yourself writing more serious sci-fi, sticking with comedy, or a combination of both in the future?

This is such a tough question. Prior to MF, I wrote mostly serious fantasy. I would love to do so again, now that my writing chops are a bit better and I’m starting to build a reputation. I’m locked in for at least 3 books in the Epic Failure series, and have some spinoffs in my head, but I’ve never been known to do one thing for very long. It’s likely I’ll branch out again, and it’s also likely I’ll cry when people pigeonhole me into humor for the rest of my career.

Does military life really have as many difficulties as Mechanical Failure implies?

The military is literally the largest, most violent bureaucratic organization in the world. It is bizarrely equal parts “FORGET RULES AND JUST FIGHT THE ENEMY” and “I am going to ruin your career because you failed to wear a reflective belt at sunset while walking along the road.” So, yes. The difficulties that come with a military career are unique, strange, and very often revolve around reflective clothing. But that’s not to say that it’s all bad. The goal of MF was not to paint a bad picture of the military as much as it was to lampoon it a bit.

The depiction of what food was like in the military in your novel was eye opening. How much did your own military experience reflect this?

Well in some ways it depends on what you mean here. Is food sometimes strangely gourmet? Yes, though that’s really not much of the case these days. Is food sometimes protein cardboard? Absolutely. I modeled  the Sewer Rats off of MREs, which are absolutely disgusting most of the time and absolutely delicious when you are in survival school.

In Mechanical Failure, the main character suffers under a seemingly incompetent superior. Was this taken from personal experience, or were you tapping into the “I hate my boss” zeitgeist?

I pulled some of those conversations with Admiral Klein directly from conversations I’d had or overheard with general officers in the air force. The conversation about colors of bars in the intelligence briefing? Oh yeah. That happened to me as a lieutenant. Klein was more of an amalgamation of the bad qualities of several leaders than it was a caricature of a specific person, though.

What was the hardest part about writing Mechanical Failure?

Probably reigning in some of the silliness. I tend to get on a roll and suddenly my humor is a little bit more toddler-esque.

Your next book is Communication Failure, how will it differ from Mechanical Failure or will it be more of the same?

Well it is a continuation of Rogers’ (and the Flagship’s) storyline, so you can accept a similar experience for sure, with a vastly expanded cast of characters and “world.”  Rogers will probably try to fix things. It will probably go wrong. It will hopefully be funny.

What are some of your favorite fantasy and sci-fi books? Are there any you drew inspiration from (other than presumably Starship Troopers and Catch-22)?

My favorite spec-fic books really run the gamut from Robin Hobb to Patrick Rothfuss to Brandon Sanderson and Sofia Samatar, to name a few. As far as inspiration, Catch-22 was definitely in there because it was one of my favorite books that I didn’t read until I was in the military. It so firmly reflected some of my thoughts on the military that I couldn’t help but fall in love with it. One of the strangest things I get though is that people compare my work to Pratchett. Confession? I’ve never read one of his books.

Which character in Mechanical Failure do you identify with most other than Rogers?

Probably Deet! I mean who doesn’t identify with a obscenity-repressed, walking kitchen-aid droid who is hated by all of his peers?

Mechanical Failure – Literary Success

26850100This year I am spending a little more time trying to read new and upcoming authors. As such, I have identified a few books that I am keeping an eye on as they come out. I like to think of them as ‘Dark Horses’, or books that I know little about, have fairly unknown authors, and I think are likely to be surprise hits. My first dark horse was a bit of a flop, but the second, today’s review, is showing a lot more potential. Please welcome Mechanical Failure, by Joe Zieja, a science fiction comedy about the difficulties of being a space marine. The book follows Wilson Rogers, a ex-military sergeant and complete degenerate, who left the military to pursue more lucrative, and less legal, avenues of income. The book begins with a series of unfortunate events that rapidly results in Rogers’ forced re-entry into the service upon the very ship he used to serve on. Excited to be back at his old stomping ground, Rogers begins to believe that this might not be the worst turn of events. However, things seem a little different from the last time Rogers was in the service and the space marine life seems to be a lot different that it used to be back in the day (a whole few years prior). There have been sweeping changes that make no sense, no one seems to have any idea what is going on, and the space navy has become a lot more difficult than he remembers.

The book’s plot revolves around both Rogers’ reintegration into the service, and his attempt to determine what is going on. The book reminded me strongly of a whole slew of post apocalypse/tragedy games where you try to figure out what happened to create the huge mess you are presented with; except instead of horror Mechanical Failure reaches for humor. The book is quite funny, with a great sense of humor along the lines of the classic Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. Rogers is constantly being placed in humorous paradoxes with terrible outcomes. In addition, the book has no problem making fun of several Sci-Fi tropes and can be refreshingly original in many places. While the mystery of what is happening to the ship is fairly obvious, the real power of the book comes from Rogers’ hilarious detective work as he discovers it for himself. The characters are all original, relatable, and interesting, and the prose was simple and clean. The book is very easy to read and I found myself losing track of time as I flew through it.

While the book was consistently laugh-out-loud funny, it did very occasionally miss a beat with its humor causing me to cringe. In addition, this is the first book I have read in awhile that had a few noticeable typos; though they were almost completely contained to the first third of the book. Mechanical Failure definitely could have benefited by one more full pass from an editor, but I never found the errors egregious or that offputting. Finally, there were a few minor elements of the plot that were confusing or unexplained, but as this is only the first book in a series, and the focus was more on the laughs than the plot itself, I wasn’t really bothered.

Mechanical Failure is definitely worth picking up. It is a first entry Zieja can be proud of, and I will definitely be picking up the sequels. It is rare that I find a book that makes me laugh as much as this did, and while there are some problems, the humor makes them extremely easy to overlook or ignore. If you like science fiction or laughing (so everyone) then this is a book worth your time and Zieja is an author worth watching, as I expect him to continue making great things.

Rating: Mechanical Failure – 8.0/10