Tour of Duty: Stories and Provocations
by Michael Z. Williamson
Cover Artist: Bob Eggleton
Review by Jon Guenther
Baen Trade Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781451639056
Date: 06 August 2013 List Price $15.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
This book from Baen turned out to be somewhat of a unique offering, as well as my first exposure to the work of Michael Z. Williamson. Tour of Duty: Stories and Provocations is not a novel. It's a collection of short stories, vignettes, and internalizations cobbled together into a compilation different from anything I've previously experienced. If there were a word to describe the idea behind the book, I might choose "poignant" although it would come at the risk of sounding a bit facetious.
While I liked the stories, which include several outings from the Freehold universe, Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar universe--including a few co-authored with Mr. Williamson's wife, Gail Sanders--nothing really grabbed me. There were some interesting introductions to many of the stories, which I felt were what really held it together. Among these was included the story of how Mr. Williamson became a writer, the first story that landed him a gig with Baen, and finally some expansion on where ideas for some of the stories and their characters originated. The Stories section, which included about a dozen shorts in all and an interesting poem, covered the first two-thirds of the book.
The last third is the Provocations section and featured such things as rehashing an April Fools joke played on Locus Magazine, some humorous anecdotes, and descriptions of more than twenty weapons intended to illustrate the author's expertise in firearms. Finally, there is a recipe book (yes, you read that correctly) of not-so-PC cocktails with names like the Hurricane Katrina and the Princess Di (to name just a couple).
By the time I finished the book I'm not sure where exactly I'd been, and I cannot be overly enthusiastic about the ride to get there. While I enjoyed the short stories and background information of the same, I had trouble finding anything of real substantive quality. The Provocations section, while it had moments of laugh-out-loud hilarity, seemed more like an attempt at slapstick humor than an effort at presenting anything bordering on literary sensibility. I think some additional stories, maybe in a novella, would've been better in that context.
I suppose if there are readers out there who are fans of Mr. Williamson or familiar with his work, you might enjoy it in that regard. Maybe it was the mix of fiction with non-fiction, or simply an attempt by the author to portray a stylistic quirkiness, but I really hoped for more. Simply put, there were parts I liked but more I unfortunately didn't care for, and so I would have to give the book a mediocre recommendation at best.