I can’t remember the last time I genuinely enjoyed a comedic novel for its humor and its plot progression. Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja is both a well written work of science fiction and genuinely one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. I’ve had several moments where I put the book down because I couldn’t stop laughing.
The story follows one R. Wilson Rogers as he’s swung back into his old life of military service. Rogers as a character is, in many ways, relatable to the everyday working person stuck in a dead end job and is written fantastically as such. We can all relate to the dull monotony of a day to day routine. His sarcasm to his fear all feel very natural and enjoyable to read. Joe Zieja does an excellent job of perfecting Rogers’ dialogue and exactly why he feels as disdainful, terrified or just annoyed at his everyday life. In terms of development, however, the supporting cast of characters aren’t as enticing or interesting (save for one whom I absolutely loved). But they served to purpose to really flesh out Rogers and provide for some great comedic material.
In truth there isn’t a whole lot of discussion regarding the setting. The story takes place in one location and there isn’t a lot of detail to go about it. I had a difficult time picturing anything but a sterile metal for anywhere within the ship and I’m not sure if that was correct. There also feels like a lack of world building behind why the events of the story were taking place. There were bits and pieces that could have fed into some kind of background history of the technology or the governments that agreed to the Two Hundred Years’ (and Counting) peace agreement. There isn’t a whole lot of world building however I feel that that’s not necessarily a bad thing as the Story is more about Rogers’ interactions with the staff and other supporting characters. In truth, I just want to read Rogers give a hilariously sarcastic explanation of human history in the future.
The story takes some time to get going but when it does, oh boy is it a fun ride. Zieja does a great job of introducing all the characters through Rogers’ perception of them and, in some cases, his revelations of just who they are. Everything that happens feels natural and is well explained as the story progressed. At no point did it ever feel like something happened for the sake of plot progression. Everything happened naturally (and often hilariously) as Rogers struggles in his day to day military service in the new military structure.
Humor in writing is incredibly hard to pull off and often dangerous. There’s always the risk that the joke falls flat or feels really awkward to read. Thankfully Mechanical Failure is a roaring success in terms of hysterical and well written comedy while still providing an enjoyable story. I took note of how many times the writing has me put down the book because I couldn’t stop laughing and I stopped counting after fifteen to be honest. Rogers is genuinely a funny character and the writing around his dialogue, thoughts and interactions with everyone is well executed and great fun to read.
What Writers can learn from this book
Stories will often have characters that try and play the comic relief to break up tension, however this trope is difficult to pull off and can risk failing miserably. Not only that, it can break whatever flow the story has as the reader just feels confused and sometimes insulted. However Joe Zieja masterfully pulls off the humorous character really well. Not just with Rogers, but with a whole bunch of the supporting characters. There’s one character whom I found to be my favorite and easily one of the funniest characters in any story. I wish I could explain why but to do so would spoil the beauty of how well it was done.