Book Review: A Long Time Until Now by Michael Z Williamson

I have read all of Michael Z Williamson’s previous books and found them to be excellent combat sci-fi with a little politics and social commentary thrown in.  A Long Time Until Now is not excellent.  In fact, it was a total disappointment.  I pre-ordered this book on Amazon in February and eagerly awaited its release in May given the dearth of my kind of sci-fi recently.  Unfortunately, with the release of this book my wait continues.

Williamson’s Freehold books are nothing more than political commentary dressed up as sci-fi but if you can ignore the politics they are rollicking good adventures on their own. A Long Time Until Now is none of those things.  The basic premise is that a group of ten American soldiers, 2 female and 8 male, in Afghanistan circa 2010-2011 are whipped back in time by 10,000 years and have to survive while dealing with prehistoric humans, Romans, and other groups as well as the environment.  I thought this could not go bad and when I first read the publisher’s synopsis I was thinking this book was going to be a modern take on the classic fantasy/sci-fi The Doomfarers of Coramonde but it is not.

The book is if anything boring as hell.  There is very little action but what little action does happen is in true Williamson style well-written.  For the most part the book is endless descriptions of what the soldiers do every day to stay alive and try to prosper in the world in which they find themselves.  Call it closet survival with a twist.  What I found amazing was the sheer encyclopedia of knowledge these 10 soldiers apparently had.  It seems that this group of soldiers was the most thoroughly rounded group of Joes to ever exist and thank God they were together and could call on the seemingly inexhaustible supply of knowledge to survive or they would have all died.  One can ID plants as edible, one can build a forge, one can use the stars to determine the date, one can build bows by hand and knows how to make edged weapons out of flint, and these are just the skills I remember as being so ridiculous in the average soldier.

I found the characters to be caricatures throughout.  You would think that the characters could have developed quite well in 600+ pages and you would get an idea of who you were dealing with, but you do not.  They are presented as at best stereotypical and at worst plot cutouts.  I also found the divergence of beliefs among this group of 10 to be odd at best.  There is a female wiccan, a vegetarian militant feminist, a male Christian Fundamentalist, a humanist, and the rest are portrayed as various degrees of Christian.  I was surprised there was not a transgender nymphomaniac to at least lighten the tension, but alas there was not.

The book essentially drones on for 30 endless chapters until strangers from the future show up who have a magical temporal communicator and manage to get everyone extricated and returned to their own times in order to end the pain of reading the book I assume or maybe it was just because the author had run out tings for the flat two-dimensional characters to do.  Either way, I am glad the book ended when it did.

This will not keep me from reading Williamson in the future, though it will cause me to get his next book from the library instead of buying it myself.  Amazingly, this book has went up $5 in price since I got it in May from $15 to $20 for the Hardback.  I cannot recommend this book to readers of military sci-fi or even sci-fi in general.  I will recommend Williamson’s other works but he whiffed this one and hit a 90 degree slice.  He is a generally good author and I hope his next outing is better but two strikes and you’re out is generally my rule and there are not enough good sci-fi authors out there as it is from my perspective so I would hate for another one to go down the rabbit hole of writing garbage because he has hit a few home runs.

If you absolutely must read this book, save yourself some money and irritation from the inevitable disappointment by getting it from your local library or borrowing from another of the suckers like me that already shelled out the money for it.  Williamson completely misses the mark on this one but I am sure he got some good sales from people like me who pre-ordered based on the strength of his previous work.  I think I am going to wait on his next book before ponying up the cash again.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: A Long Time Until Now by Michael Z Williamson”

  1. I hear you there. I kept expecting it to get to the conflict or major plot point and there really weren’t any.

  2. I listened to it as an audio book. It would have been bad enough reading it with all the problems you mentioned, but the guy doing the reading made it even worse…
    His interp and timing were terrible, his character voices left much to be desired (not to mention he was inconsistent with most of them from scene to scene), and he repetedly butchered most of the mil-speak, slang, and technical terms. I think the book would have been a lot more readable if it hadn’t included the feminist or the religious dude. They both seemed like such blatant one dimensional stereotypes that they totally sort of overshadowed the other characters.

    As for the overall competence and knowledge of the characters, I didn’t, personally, find it so far fetched. I’m a linguistics/language major with a background in woodworking and animal husbandry, my husband is a techie turned mechanic who bowhunts and blacksmiths in his spare time. His sister has dual master’s degrees in horticulture and entomology (she can identify plants and bugs and their uses till the cows come home.) His mom knows how to make her own textiles and cooks from scratch. She is incredibly knowlegable about astronomy and can run a spreadsheet like it’s magic. His dad is a swordsman and a very literal renaissance man. He knows how to make black powder and has a good working knowledge of early guns and military technology in general. In his younger days he was a trained medic. All that to say that between the 4 of us, we have pretty much all of the skills and knowledge that you find so unlikely in a group of 10.

    • Alyssa,

      Thanks for the comment.

      It is not that I don’t think there are groups out there with this kind of knowledge, there are, especially groups that self-select. My issue is that having spent 20+ years in the military I think it is far-fetched at a minimum to think that a group of 10 soldiers randomly thrown together for a simple convoy escort mission would have such knowledge. What the group in the book seemingly magically had were all the skills necessary to survive and even thrive in the situation into which they were thrown. I recognize that such a collection of knowledge was necessary for the plot but given how realistically everything else was portrayed I found this to be the most glaring plot error/twist of all.

      To top it all off, the book was boring and I absolutely hate boring books.

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