TERMS OF ENLISTMENT, by Marko Kloos, is a military sci-fi novel that follows the adventures of one Andrew Grayson, a young man from an impoverished welfare city, who signs up with the armed forces in hopes of escaping his dreary, dead-end surroundings.
The military has offered hope of social and economic advancement time out of mind. It still does today, even though we Americans all like to think of ourselves as middle class. But the military offers its rewards along with a clearly delineated set of risks, and it's that tension of risk-and-reward that carries along the plot of most of this novel (though there's a sharp left turn in the tension at the end, but not an inappropriate or unwelcome one).
I gulped down this novel in just a few days and it's only now, as I sit down to write this review, that I'm forced to ask, Why? I know that I liked it and found it completely absorbing, but now I'm trying to analyze, What was it that engrossed me so thoroughly?
I have a few answers:
1. Voice. Kloos gives his hero, Grayson, an engaging voice. Grayson's not a deep philosophical kind of guy (for instance, after he kills his first opponents in combat, Grayson spends some time thinking about how that makes him feel, and how he might have easily been in their shoes--but he doesn't spend a LOT of time thinking about it), but Grayson IS an intelligent guy. He's a good observer of his circumstances and of the people around him. Which leads me to,
2. World. At least half of the fun of sci-fi is the world-building, and Kloos knocks it out of the park there. His futuristic military is similar enough to the militaries of our world to feel believable, but the differences are different enough to be fascinating.
I also liked how the dreary welfare cities were an important enough part of the plot to drive our hero's action, but also normal enough to the hero (and despised enough by the hero) that he didn't spend a long, long time talking about them. I have the feeling that the political and social structure of the government will be an issue in the rest of the series (I don't see how it couldn't be--by the end of the novel it's clear that there's a serious war coming, and how a country is run has a huge impact on how it fights its wars), but the ways in which Grayson did--and didn't--care about where he came from added to the realism of the story for me.
3. Journey. Lastly, MOST of the book is spent watching Grayson learn how to be a soldier. It's clear that there's going to be more to his story than this, but this first book was all about that personal journey. Once I realized that's what we were doing, I settled in for the ride. Watching a likeable, smart Everyman character explore a new-to-him world, and grow and change in the process, is one of my favorite story structures to experience.
I do hope that at some point in the series, Grayson does become a little more philosophical. I hope the plot brings him to the place where he's forced to think more about his world, how it's structured, and what his role in bettering it might be. But this book was about him escaping far enough away from the trap he was born into for there to be a hope for him ever doing something about the trap itself, and I found the ride from Here to There very satisfying.
Normal content warning cautions apply: this is a military sci-fi with a fair amount of violence and language and sex (though that last is implied, and not so much described). Reader discretion is, as always, advised.
Peace of Christ to you,
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