Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos is another new book in the military sci-fi genre from an up and coming author given a boost by solid reviews and the advent of Amazon’s new ventures into print publishing. Terms of Enlistment is a novel that falls directly in line with the likes of Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War and Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. On the Earth of 2108 life is hard. Humanity has wrecked the environment and the majority of the population is limited to living in massive crime-ridden welfare tenements. One of the only ways out of the tenements is through enlistment (the other being the colony lottery). Andrew Grayson, lacking the pull to get the most out of the colony lottery, opts for enlistment. The novel is fairly straight forward following Andrew as he makes his way through basic training and is later assigned to active duty in one of the military’s three major branches.
Terms of Enlistment follows an interesting structure mostly since it doesn’t quite follow a single particular narrative. This is a novel that is less about a single epic plot and more about the daily struggles and numerous adventures of a single character. The parallels with the structure of Starship Troopers are the most obvious. However, where Starship Troopers had the overarching presence of war against the “bugs” to drive the narrative forward and provide some key emotional moments Terms of Enlistment instead takes place in a time of relative peace. Indeed, Andrew barely even thinks of his family once he enlists and Andrew’s only attachment to Earth, emotional or otherwise, is gravity. We spend relatively little time with Andrew in the welfare tenement glimpsed in the beginning of the novel however Kloos gives readers some important glimpses early on to the life lead there through the reactions Andrew and the rest of recruits have during their training. In particular the recruits reactions to food both in terms of the type of food (real meat) and the quantity that soldiers are allowed to eat help clue the reader in to just how rough things are. Kloos, hints at other aspects of life on Earth as the novel progresses through the crowded urban landscapes and, in probably my favorite action set-piece of the novel, a particularly vicious military action in one of the welfare tenements.
While I certainly enjoyed Terms of Enlistment it should be noted that Andrew isn’t the most interesting of characters. Kloos, seems to go out of his way to make Andrew pretty average. He is competent but never overly so, good at some things, bad at others and I cannot think of one thing about Andrew that really makes him stand out in a meaningful way. Andrew is the filter through which the reader experiences the world. While he gains a little depth as the novel progresses he primarily seems to serve as a foil to those around him. Andrew’s blandness is Terms of Enlistment’s greatest weakness and balanced only by the socially complex vision of the future that Kloos has created. I found the novel’s final chapters felt out of place. While action was certainly written to keep things interesting but the events of the final parts of the book are never foreshadowed and there feels like a bit of a disconnect between those final moments and the rest of the novel. Now, that being said, it is entirely possible that this is intentional on the part of Kloos. If Andrew is the reader’s stand in we can never really know more than he does and so the abruptness in the shift of tone and pace is a function of the main character’s own limited perspective. If this is the case then the finale of the novel works to an extent but Andrew’s blandness, and my lack of a emotional investment in his experience, left my experience feeling a bit flat.
From the audio standpoint veteran narrator Luke Daniels definitely helps keep things moving. His voice manages to convey Andrew’s youth and inexperience without being too over the top. Daniels, goes for more of a straight read than anything else; he doesn’t embellish and his narrative style fits perfectly with the more realistic nature of the subject matter in Terms of Enlistment. There is a definite difference to his tone here than in his work on Rachel Aaron’s Eli Monpress novels or Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles. Bottom like is the Luke Daniels in an excellent choice and never gets in the way of the text.
If you are a fan of military sci-fi I think Terms of Enlistment is worth a shot. It isn’t the novel I’d recommend for readers looking for their first taste of military sci-fi but those familiar with the sub-genres pre-existing tropes should find Terms of Enlistment a worthwhile read. Kloos’ work with characters needs some definite work as it is very difficult to grow attached to any of the characters seen in Terms of Enlistment and, while the strength of the world building is top notch, the novel’s final chapters lean heavily on the reader’s investment in the characters resulting in a rather anticlimactic experience. The second novel in the Frontlines series, Lines of Departure, is available now (with a third being written) and I’ll be giving the second novel a shot as I’m anxious to see how Kloos develops as a writer.