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Terms of Enlistment (Frontlines) Paperback – January 28, 2014
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“Military science fiction is tricky because it either intends to lampoon the military industrial complex or paints it in such a way that you must really have to love guns to enjoy the work. Terms of Enlistment walks that fine line by showing a world where the military is one of the few viable options off a shattered Earth and intermixes it with a knowledge of military tactics and and weapons that doesn’t turn off the casual reader.” —Buzzfeed.com
“Much like Scalzi's Old Man's War and its sequels, Terms of Enlistment and Lines of Departure are combat-grade Military SF, and should come with an addiction warning.” —io9.com
About the Author
Marko Kloos is a novelist, freelance writer, and unpaid manservant to two small children. He is a graduate of the Viable Paradise SF/F Writers' Workshop.
Marko writes primarily science fiction and fantasy because he is a huge nerd and has been getting his genre fix at the library ever since he was old enough for his first library card. In the past, he has been a soldier, a bookseller, a freight dock worker, a tech support drone, and a corporate IT administrator.
A former native of Germany, Marko lives in New Hampshire with his wife and two children. Their compound, Castle Frostbite, is patrolled by a roving pack of dachshunds.
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Now for the slightly longer review. First the good stuff.
Terms of Enlistment does a good job of dropping you into the future and getting you to care about the main character, Andrew Grayson. The author’s military background shows so it has that nice ring of verisimilitude I look for in Miltary Sci Fi. It’s written in first person, present tense (ala Hunger Games) which is a good decision for creating sympathy. The worldbuilding is slight, which also works well, we knew just enough to build the story around. There’s no discussion of ‘how things ended up this way’, technology isn't too terribly advanced so it’s not a post-singularity novel, which makes it easier to understand the world. People remain people, with real and understandable motivations. It’s fairly PG (or PG-13) as for sex, violence and language. It’s about soldiers, not plaster saints but it’s not a Joe Abercombie or Mark Lawrence novel. It also has enough tips of the hat to the PC police to please those who want to see female soldiers as well. On the whole, I enjoyed it, I burned through the first book and bought the second immediately (Thank you, Amazon One Click) and devoured it. Only then did I start to digest the story and that’s made me pause in buying any more books in the series, but I do want to read more of what Marko Kloos has written. So, now onto the bad stuff, don’t worry it’s not really a damning list, at least for the first book.
The main character doesn't really drive this plot in the first book. He just sort of…watches things happen. That almost makes sense for a military novel, there’s always someone up higher in the chain of command telling you what to do, but the main character doesn't solve any problems…unless we count the problem of a sniper in one fight and the problem of some heavy machine guns in the second. Now that almost works, as this first novel is almost more of a travelogue to the future, but it’s imperfect storytelling, I think. It’s realistic but not satisfying but that’s just me, I prefer heroic stories with active characters.
What was strange is the trajectory of the first novel. Andrew Grayson is set up as a pretty straightforward infantryman, he shows aptitude for small unit tactics and doesn't pitch too much of a fit when he’s assigned to the Territorial Army rather than the more glamourous (and space-based) Marines. So far, we’re following the Starship Troopers playbook, even down to the romance with the pretty pilot girl…though unlike Rico, Grayson actually gets the girl. But then things go awry. Grayson ends up causing some serious civilian casualties, collateral damage from a rocket round. The character looks to be set up for a fall but ends up transferring to a different MOS and a different branch of the service, the Navy. This is a bizarre plot twist and though I followed it, in retrospect, it really bumps me. We’re set up for one story but then it goes off in a different direction for reasons I’m not clear on. So we basically have two ‘fish out of water’ stories here, one going into the Army and one going into the Navy. And then the aliens show up. Which tosses us in yet another plot trajectory.
So we have two stories going on here, maybe three. One, the ‘US’ vs the Chinese and Russians, then we have the humans vs the aliens. (We also have a civilian vs military plot but that emerges more in the second book) There’s no sign anywhere early in the book that we’re going to be dealing with aliens. Remember, with Starship Troopers, we start off in combat with aliens, so we know what to expect even if we backtrack to follow Rico’s boyhood and enlistment/training. Now, the whiplash almost works, the main character of course doesn't know anything about the aliens until they show up. But that’s one of the weaknesses of first person present tense, we the reader don’t know anything that the main character doesn't know. But we the readers should know what kind of story we’re getting into. The author makes promises in their first chapters (and pages, really) that they need to keep. Surprise aliens sorta breaks that. Not enough to ruin the novel but…it bumped me.
Still, the first book is pretty solid otherwise, so I recommend it.
So our hero signs up, goes through boot camp, which is the usual torture, except he meets a girl, and then at the end they are all sent to one of the different areas. There is the overly coveted Navy positions, the Marines that work in space either on the ships or on the colonies, or there is the TA, the Terrain Army that stay on Earth and look after home. No one wants the TA as it is looked at as being the worst of the jobs, dealing with the welfare places when they riot etc. Of course, the girl gets Navy, and Andrew gets TA.
So the start of this book does have some similarities to Starship Troopers, as a lot of other reviews have said, but that is only because of the boot camp and the girl who goes to Navy. At the end of the day, Andrew ends up with Halley, and they stay in touch, long distance.
Andrew goes to TA, finds he loves it, meets his team who become some of his best friends, and realises that the whole space deal is not all it's cracked up to be. The real comparison that should have been made to this book was Black Hawk Down, as part way through the story, a mission to control one of the welfare areas goes wrong, and then a dropship is taken out – and you can almost hear the call ‘We have a Blackhawk down, we have a Blackhawk down’, but instead, it's a dropship down. And all of a sudden, all hell breaks loose, and a large part of this book is taken from the movie, just with more modern tech as they try and rescue the crew of the dropship, and ultimately, rescue themselves in the middle of a PRC that has gone to the darkside.
Not to say that was a bad thing. This was a good introduction of the Characters, the concept of the various elements such as the Navy, the TA, and some of the characters that are key to the story in this and future stories. It also gives a good understanding of the background of Earth and its current predicament, especially things like the PRCs, I mean, we complain about welfare now, but Kloos’ future makes now sound like a fairy-tale in comparison
Kloos has a good understanding of Military tactics and operations, and describes them well in the story, making this a good Military Sci-fi read. Well worth the read, I am into part 3 already, they keep getting better as they go on.
I read this through Kindle Unlimited and was then able to grab it on sale. Yay!!!
Heads-up for crude language, but it totally fits the story and is not overdone considering the people are soldiers. Absolutely well-done and not disruptive. Just putting that out there for those who care. I thought it made the story more realistic without being overdone.