Book Review: Tour of Duty II

BW reviews Michael Z. Williamson’s Tour of Duty.

Tour of Duty is a pretty decent collection of short stories by Michael Z. Williamson. I enjoyed it. The sci-fi was detailed and exciting. The short stories set in hell didn’t fail to drag out a chuckle or two. Crazy Einar was a particular favorite. If I was a more barbarous man I’d take his advice, find the perfect ax for a large Germanic man’s rampage and enjoy ‘spoils’.

I hadn’t heard of Michael Z. Williamson and his Freehold except in passing, nor, sad as it may be, the Valdemar universe. This likely wasn’t the best introduction to either. There is a lack of context in my mind. I know that there’s some sci-fi things happening, and the hints of the people and events outside the small viewpoint are tantalizing. I wanted more.

His skill seems to be in the military recounting and strong realism. There’s strong organization in the tales. His past in the military comes out in the many science fiction short stories and personal tales. Military people writing fiction about military things adds a feeling that isn’t in non-military writers. Each story has precision to it, no word wasted or gained, which I favor.

As the other reviewer mentioned, this is a difficult book to review, so I’ll focus on my two favorites.

I mentioned the ‘Lawyers in Hell’ before, but I thought that ‘A Hard Day At The Office’ was superior. Hellfrica seems a terrible place, yet appropriate. Anyone can make a story about lawyers in hell, it takes a lot more effort to kill Theodore Roosevelt. Death had to take him in his sleep, after all, and being crushed by a giant hellefino is not exactly a worse fate.

The reason I enjoyed this story was not Teddy Roosevelt, it was the underlying humor of it all. Lawyers on pogo sticks are funny. The hopelessness of always losing your employers to the crazy hell-versions of animals has depth to it. And you’ve got to admit, having to face down something called a hellephant with a pea-shooter has a certain appeal. The best portion of the story are the hunters themselves. Each one somehow aware, or not caring, that they will die. Each one with motivations beyond simply surviving in Hell, making them larger than life, and maybe even more complex characters than the protagonist himself. At the end of the story the protagonist learns little and is no better off than he was before. Perhaps, that is hell.

The second story I felt worth mentioning is the first fiction. For a while I was confused as to the main character’s species and other facets of the story. But as it evolved, I got to see the motivations of the character. I got to look into an alien mind. Usually, those peeks are just giant ‘humans are bad’ or ‘different’ stories with the aliens having human tendencies and feelings. It’s similar to Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s The Mote in God’s Eye, with the aliens being nearly without human traits and needing to imitate us, rather than develop new concepts on shared culture, to interact.

The main characters concepts of ‘duty’ and hunting spoke to me, in a way. It’s a theme of the universe, society cannot survive without those who do their duty. At the same time, it cannot have a hope to achieve victory without those willing to make the sacrifice. The terror of the soldiers was palpable, and the militaristic approach they attempted struck me as very realistic, but I did expect even one of them to survive. All in all, it was a great experience.

I got to admit that while I usually had very little of the overall contexts of the universes he wrote in and for, I did enjoy what little I saw. While I won’t recommend it to anybody. To the fans of Micheal Z. Williamson, go for it you bold beautiful bastards. If you’re not, this won’t be more than an enjoyable sightseeing tour. I’m not going to rate it with a number because of that reason. A couple short stories are a good 5/5, but not all of them.