Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As I mentioned in one of my updates, this book follows in an esteemed lineage. We have Starship Troopers, written from the perspective of a Korean War vet. It’s the epitome of society to join the military. The Forever War, written by a Vietnam Vet, in which Earth’s best and brightest are wasted on a pointless war. Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series is a reconstruction of the genre – showing some tropes to be silly and others to make sense within the genre. This book, written within the last decade, is about the military as an escape from a crapsack future in which most folks are on the dole and instead of The Projects being some apartment buildings, it’s whole cities. The military is an escape of sorts – a way to live a sort of middle class life. And I think that’s actually not too far from the truth in the modern USA military, although scaled down. That is to say that our current military recruits far more heavily from poorer parts of America for the enlisted folks. And so it can potentially be a way up into the middle class for some people.
As for the story itself – it’s very well written. We follow Andrew Grayson, a welfare recipient who joins the military to escape. I was not surprised to read the author bio at the end and find out that Kloos was in the military himself. There’s a level of detail that belied either having served or being a huge mil-nerd. That isn’t to say that things get too technical and get in the way. More that you can tell the author has some experience. As per the usual tropes in these books Grayson goes to boot camp and then moves on to seeing action. The pacing and tone work well. Once Grayson got out of boot camp, I couldn’t put the book down.
Ever since I started reading Cory Doctorow’s books, I’ve looked at protests differently. It was definitely strange reading the riot chapters in 2022. I think perhaps if what I talk about in the next paragraph were resolved, I might feel differently, but as-is it was just a bit off. I can’t really describe it too well, because Kloos definitely does give Grayson pathos. He feel empathy on some level with those folks. He expresses a “but for grace there go I” attitude as well. But the lack of stated motivation makes it seem just odd after what we’ve seen over the past few years.
I have only two complaints. They’re relatively minor as you can tell since I gave the book a 4/5. First, there’s either a missed or dropped plotline that I was sure the book was going to tackle. To avoid spoilers, I’ll talk about it this way – there’s a battle that Grayson takes part in, maybe halfway through the book. In that battle there’s a lot of hints dropped that something very odd is going on with the skills of the enemy and with the equipment the enemy has. I thought that was going to lead to a potentially fascinating plot of intrigue and/or sabotage. Instead the thread is dropped. Second complaint, while the book ends at a point in which most of the major plot threads are resolved, it seems to have been developed with a planned sequel or two. It doesn’t end on a cliff hanger, but it does definitely end with a big tease, given the last couple chapters.
Overall, if you’re into space marine narratives like the ones I mentioned in the first paragraph, this is a good read. Just know you’re probably going to need to at least read the first sequel to get some satisfaction of the major reveal.
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Review: Terms of Enlistment
Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos