47North, 2013, 293 pages
The year is 2108, and the North American Commonwealth is bursting at the seams. For welfare rats like Andrew Grayson, there are only two ways out of the crime-ridden and filthy welfare tenements, where you're restricted to 2,000 calories of badly flavored soy every day. You can hope to win the lottery and draw a ticket on a colony ship settling off-world, or you can join the service. With the colony lottery a pipe dream, Andrew chooses to enlist in the armed forces for a shot at real food, a retirement bonus, and maybe a ticket off Earth. But as he starts a career of supposed privilege, he soon learns that the good food and decent health care come at a steep price - and that the settled galaxy holds far greater dangers than military bureaucrats or the gangs that rule the slums.
The debut novel from Marko Kloos, Terms of Enlistment is a new addition to the great military sci-fi tradition of Robert Heinlein, Joe Haldeman, and John Scalzi.
So I tried a self-published SF novel, albeit one that has picked up enough of a fanbase to make it seem a likely prospect. And Terms of Enlistment, while it did not blow me away, also did not disappoint.
Andrew Grayson is a rather flatter and seedier version of Starship Troopers' protagonist Johnny Rico. The "North American Commonwealth" is apparently an overpopulated continent-sized slum, and the only way out for most is the military. In the military of the future, however, there are far more applicants than billets, and most don't make it to the end of their enlistment to collect their pay. (They get no pay or benefits, other than food and lodging, until then.) So Andrew Grayson wins the lottery when he's selected and makes it through basic training, though he thinks otherwise when he is sent to the Army and his girlfriend who he shacked up with in Basic is sent to become a starship pilot in the Navy.
Terms of Enlistment follows in the recent tradition of military science fiction depicting men and women as functionally identical and bunking, fighting, and showering together without any complications. That aside, Kloos has obviously been in the military or talked to people who have, so most everything else about basic training and the military rang true.
The first part of the book is little more than a series of escapades depicting Grayson's military career, which is accelerated with improbable speed and fantastic breaks as is usual in these kinds of books. There are some decent action scenes that shed little light on the politics and background of this futuristic Earth, with Grayson's romance with his Navy sweetheart running as an undercurrent through story until their improbable reunion.
While the character resolution sharpens a bit, the background remains a bit fuzzy, especially when we leave Earth and go to the stars. If you can bridge a few suspensions of disbelief like female ground-pounders and an Army grunt getting himself reassigned as the network tech aboard a starship, then the big twist at the end won't trouble you.
This is a military space adventure that will satisfy those who like this kind of thing. It's not a highly developed novel, but it's fun, action-packed, and held my interest enough to be interested in the sequel.
Verdict: If you're a fan of Heinlein, Haldeman, Scalzi, Weber, Battlestar Galactica, or Aliens, Terms of Enlistment feeds that audience. It's not a major milestone in the genre, and it reads like what it is, a debut novel, but it's a worthy contribution to the field with a potentially productive new author.
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