Terms of Enlistment and Lines of Departure by Marko Kloos are entertaining military SF fare, hitting all the same chords as John Scalzi's Old Man's War. Author Marko Kloos introduces a stagnant human population on Earth, a powerful military apparatus and a formidable alien threat that pushes his central protagonist, Andrew Greyson, to his limits.
Enlistment was originally self-published via Amazon.com, and it did well enough for Amazon's own 47 North Imprint to formally buy and publish the book, and its sequel, Lines of Departure. Both books are out now in paperback, with new covers.
Terms of Enlistment is the sort of novel that's in love with the military lifestyle. There's guns, acronyms, hard-ass drill sergeants, explosions and battles on alien worlds. As the novel opens, Greyson is enlisting in the North American Commonwealth military to escape the crippling poverty that strangles the United States. People simply exist in their meager, government-provided homes on limited rations and opportunities. Crime is rampant in the various megacities as people are clustered together little by little, their only hope for escape a lottery ticket to one of the colonial worlds, or an enlistment in the NAC armed forces. Greyson opts for the latter, and soon, he's off to basic training, where he and the reader are introduced to the various acronyms that make up the military.
It's a familiar story, one anyone who's read Starship Troopers, The Forever War, Old Man's War and various others will have already read, but it's nice to settle into a somewhat familiar story. There's an added bonus with Kloos, a former German NCO, which brings a confident air of expertise to the soldiers and their interactions.
Terms of Enlistment never quite tries anything far reaching or different within this smaller genre, but sticks to what it knows. The book runs through action like candy, cycling through Black Hawk Down, Battlestar Galactica and Halo type stories before we hit the end. Greyson starts off with the Territorial Army, stuck on Earth, and after a disastrous assault in Detroit, he's given a transfer to the Navy, where he retrains to become an IT guy for their warships.
There's quite a bit for him to do while in space — the NAC is at war with the SRC — the Sino-Russian Collective, which boasts its own navies, holds its own colonies and gets into plenty of battles with our hero's side. This is a departure from most Military SF works, which typically show an Earth or humanity unified under a largely US-based model of government and society.
It's a welcome, realistic change that keeps his characters busy, right up to the point when they come across another, alien threat. Greyson is the requisite every-man caught in the middle of major happenings outside of his control — he's working to stay alive, keep up with his dropship pilot girlfriend and wait out his five years of enlistment before he can retire.
Lines of Departure picks up the story five years later, with Greyson signing his reenlistment papers. Things haven't gone well for humanity in that time: the Lankies have pushed deep into human-held territory, relations between the NAC and SRC are still sour, and Greyson's become a sort of IT special ops guy. He's gone through hundreds of combat jumps supporting front-line soldiers, and soon, he's involved in several operations that hammer the NAC military. It's not long before he's sent off to a desolate colony along with a number of other trouble-maker companies that he finds himself in the middle of an even more difficult battle.
Kloos' sequel is quite a bit better than the first book. Rather than recycling genre tropes, he angles his story more as a pointed, critical look at how the NAC handles the people underneath it. Early scenes highlight the decline of the status of Earth's civilian population, with the underlying message that a government backed into the corner will double down and become very, very ineffective. It's easy to see evidence of this: Just look at how the respective governments of Egypt and Syria at the moment.
By placing Greyson in the midst of what amounts to an oppressive authority, Kloos is at an ideal spot to make a solid point about people doing the right things when able. Greyson's NAC makes the wrong decisions at almost every opportunity, from caring and protecting the citizens which it governs to the military operations which it fields.
There's a rebellious streak in these two novels that's undoubtedly influenced in part by Kloos's current home in New Hampshire, which also makes a couple of appearances in the two stories. Their state motto is 'Live Free or Die', and it might as well be a mantra for several of the characters towards the end of Departure, exiled when they refuse orders to open fire on civilians in a rebelling mega city.
It's also a bit of a shift from Robert Heinlein's conservative Starship Troopers, which points to governmental service as a driver for its society. There's a different sort of conservatism at play here, one that's far more wary of a powerful, centralized government as it falls to pieces. The unseen leaders of the NAC seem far more preoccupied with holding onto their power than to admit fault, which only serves to make things worse for everyone involved.
While neither book quite lives up to its genre predecessors, Kloos weaves a fun, exciting and action-packed narrative that's well worth picking up for a spin. There's hardly a dull moment for the characters, and the book zips along nicely as things get progressively worse around them. Kloos has put together a solid world here, with plenty of backstory, characters and institutions to delve into.
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. Hopefully, it won't be too long before we see the next volume of the series, Angle of Attack, which Kloos is currently writing.