47North, 2014, 315 pages
Vicious interstellar conflict with an indestructible alien species. Bloody civil war over the last habitable zones of the cosmos. Political unrest, militaristic police forces, dire threats to the solar system...
Humanity is on the ropes, and after years of fighting a two-front war with losing odds, so is Commonwealth Defense Corps officer Andrew Grayson. He dreams of dropping out of the service one day, alongside his pilot girlfriend, but as warfare consumes entire planets and conditions on Earth deteriorate, he wonders if there will be anywhere left for them to go.
After surviving a disastrous spaceborne assault, Grayson is reassigned to a ship bound for a distant colony - and packed with malcontents and troublemakers. His most dangerous battle has just begun.
In this sequel to the best-selling Terms of Enlistment, a weary soldier must fight to prevent the downfall of his species...or bear witness to humanity's last, fleeting breaths.
Marko Kloos is one of the new crop of self-published authors who acquired enough of an audience to break into the big leagues (or at least the midlister leagues). I enjoyed his first book, Terms of Enlistment, and found the second book in the series to be better; Kloos is definitely developing as a writer. Where Terms of Enlistment was a fairly by-the-numbers knock-off of Starship Troopers, Lines of Departure takes place several years later and further develops the universe and its politics.
In the first book, humans encountered their first alien race — eighty-foot giants who build almost indestructible climate-altering machines that render a planet's atmosphere unbreathable to humans. As the second book begins, humanity is losing their ongoing war with the "Lankies." They've lost eighty colonies and have yet to actually take a planet back from the invaders. Meanwhile, Earth is becoming increasingly crowded, with fewer resources, making escape to a colony the only hope for billions of starving people.
Contrary to what usually happens in alien invasion stories, there is no grand coming together of humanity to fight for their species. Despite what is clearly an existential threat, the two terrestrial superpowers, the North American Commonwealth and the Sino-Russian Alliance, are also at war over their shrinking stock of colonies.
Andrew Grayson, our protagonist, has become a career soldier, realizing he doesn't have anything else to do and that while war in space is likely to shorten his lifespan, it beats going back to Earth to stew in a slum and eat recycled waste. He also has a girlfriend who's a fighter pilot, and is a combat network controller, making him a respected professional in the NAC's beleaguered military.
The first half of the book illustrates the growing tension in human space — Grayson participates in a disastrous assault on a SRA world (as soon as they're told they've got great intelligence and a well-planned strategy, you know everything is going to go to hell) and witnesses the indestructibility of the Lankies' colony ships.
Then he is sent on on a mission to a remote, icy colony world at the ass-end of human space, supposedly to guard a critical nexus against SRA and Lanky invasion, but it turns out the task force is made up of washed out officers and malcontent homeguard troopers from Earth. Grayson meets up with an old friend from his own stint as a trooper on Earth, and finds out just how bad things are back on Earth, and how screwed they are.
This book really ratchets up the drama in the final act, in which Grayson and his fellow soldiers are ordered by a tyrannical fleet admiral to seize all civilian resources on the little colony where they've been stationed. Refusing to follow these orders splits the fleet and results in a battle over control of the ground, just before the colony is threatened with both SRA and Lanky invaders.
Lines of Departure is a fine example of military SF, and while perhaps not quite as philosophical as Heinlein's Starship Troopers, Grayson does become an interesting and thoughtful character as he has to weigh his duties as a soldier with the morality of unlawful orders and the practicality and consequences of disobeying them. As well, the stupidity of fleet staff and the intransigence of political leaders is quite believable — yes, I think we Earthlings really would keep squabbling among ourselves even in the face of alien invasion.
Be warned, though, that this book ends in a cliffhanger, so if you've been hooked this far, you will not see the story resolved until the next volume.
Verdict: An improvement on the first book and, if derivative of Heinlein, it's a good derivative. Lines of Departure shows development in both characters and worldbuilding, and has enough of a hook to keep me interested in the series. 7/10.
Also by Marko Kloos: My review of Terms of Enlistment.
My complete list of book reviews.