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 t...moreThe 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 two thousand 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.
Military SF in the vein of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War but minus Scalzi’s trademark humor and colorful characters. To be fair, Scalzi is in a class all his own and the comparison is perhaps unfair, but Terms of Enlistment invites it on the similarities of its narrative elements and the strength of its highly detailed, wholly involving extended action sequences. In the case of the latter, it brings to mind another stylistically similar, equally engaging military SF series: David Weber’s Honor Harrington books. Kloos is at his very best in the heat of battle. Whether its street-level urban combat, engagements against aliens on off-world terrain, or space-based skirmishes, he does a masterful job immersing the reader in the various conflicts. And the fact that these varied conflicts comprise fully the last two-thirds of the novel makes for some very compelling reading. However -
Getting there is a bit of a chore because the first (battle-free) third of the book, from our hero’s introduction through his military training, is frustratingly deficient in characterization. We are introduced to our protagonist, Andrew Grayson, his motivations for enlisting (to escape a life of Earth-bound poverty), his relationship with mother (he loves her) and father (he hates him), but aren’t offered much beyond these fairly broad strokes. He undergoes intense training, meets a fellow cadet, tries his best not to fall in love, misses her when she’s assigned to a different branch – but it’s a lot of surface with little depth. And consistently serious. Just a touch of humor would have gone a long way towards humanizing these characters and making them more appealing. The same goes for the supporting players, cadets and veterans mostly distinguished by their physical traits, who come and go with no real consequence. It’s hard to grieve for someone you never really knew, and just as hard to root for someone you fail to connect with. As a result, the horrors of war depicted later in the book don’t resonate as strongly, landing more on the side of viscerally alarming than emotionally impactful, while the chapters dedicated to Andrew’s time in training feel like a long rev in low gear. But -
When Andrew is finally stationed Earthside, things really pick up, and not just in terms of the action. Beyond the life or death stakes are the moral implications of urban warfare against one’s fellow citizens and the ethical grey zone of collateral damage. I say “ethical grey zone” because, at one point in the novel, Andrew uses lethal – it could be argued excessive – force to take out an enemy sniper, killing many innocents in the process. In his mind, he was justified. His superiors, however, are somewhat less inclined to forgive his actions slide because of the optics are so bad. It’s an interesting issue that gets resolved all too quickly and Andrew is shipped off into space to continue his service. It feels like a missed opportunity and emblematic of the book as a whole. Kloos is a terrific writer and the pieces are there for a riveting, deeply resonating masterpiece of military SF, but Terms of Enlistment never rises to its full potential. Once we’re into the meat of the story, it’s fast-paced and absorbing, but never poignant or thought-provoking.
Overall, an enjoyable read but not one that stayed with me.(less)
After running down and killing a jogger, the guilt-ridden driver takes to visiting his “deceased” victim at a cryogenic dating facility where dead wom...moreAfter running down and killing a jogger, the guilt-ridden driver takes to visiting his “deceased” victim at a cryogenic dating facility where dead women are kept in stasis for future resurrection, provided a prospective suitor is willing to foot the bill for the pricey process.
Provocative and smart, it’s a novel chalk full of moral and ethical complexity. Eventually, however, the fascinating premise is stretched a little too long and thin. (less)
A sequel to The Explorer, a novel that started strong before devolving into silliness, The Echo offers an equally promising start before essentially c...moreA sequel to The Explorer, a novel that started strong before devolving into silliness, The Echo offers an equally promising start before essentially covering familiar territory. It feels more like a re-do than an actual sequel – but, having said that, it IS superior to the original.(less)
Adam Warlock’s swan song is one of my favorite single issue comic books, so when I came across this at my local shop, I had to pick it up. Jim Starlin...moreAdam Warlock’s swan song is one of my favorite single issue comic books, so when I came across this at my local shop, I had to pick it up. Jim Starlin’s complete run on the celestial hero has a definite 70′s vibe, at times trippingly delightful, and at times cringingly silly (I’ve got two words for you: Space Shark!). Recommended if you’re a fan.(less)
Interesting discussions of time, life, and death in this novel about a woman in Canada who finds the diary of a young Japanese girl when it washes ash...moreInteresting discussions of time, life, and death in this novel about a woman in Canada who finds the diary of a young Japanese girl when it washes ashore one day. My biggest issue with this book is that the writings of the young Nao don’t read like the voice of a 16 year old Japanese girl. They read more like what a 50-something year old North American writer would think a 16 year old Japanese girl would sound like. Young Nao is impossibly erudite and profound throughout but then, at one point, expresses a desire to visit Tokyo Disneyland so that she can shake hands with Mickey-chan because they are kindred spirits. Also, the late foray into meta-supernatural territory feels like a misstep.(less)
Our sleepwalking protagonist’s somnambulist sorties appear to coincide with a rash of recent murders. Is Ted Hall responsible? Or does the serial kill...moreOur sleepwalking protagonist’s somnambulist sorties appear to coincide with a rash of recent murders. Is Ted Hall responsible? Or does the serial killer’s true identity lie within the ranks of the circus rolling through town? The answer may not surprise you, but it confused and frustrated me. Very weird – and not necessarily in a good way. Though fast paced, at times it reads as if it the entire novel was written in one furiously inspired sitting.(less)
An ordinary schlub is enlisted by an alien parasite in a civil war against a merciless enemy.
A fun read and one I would have enjoyed a lot more had I...moreAn ordinary schlub is enlisted by an alien parasite in a civil war against a merciless enemy.
A fun read and one I would have enjoyed a lot more had I not got stuck on one egregious logic lapse early on. The bad guys are incredibly powerful, yet can’t be bothered to fork over twenty bucks and do a license plate check on our hero’s abandoned car and thereby learn his identity. Of course, their doing so would have meant their discovering his whereabouts early in the narrative, which would have deep-sixed the majority of the story involving Tao’s secret agent training, his roommate, his job, and love life. Amusing if you’re not too analytical a reader.(less)
Heralded for being incredibly inventive, this book opens with a scene as hoary as time travel fiction itself (the old “If I could go back in time and...moreHeralded for being incredibly inventive, this book opens with a scene as hoary as time travel fiction itself (the old “If I could go back in time and kill Hitler” chestnut) and ends with a scene that, quite frankly, doesn’t make a lick of sense. But, in between, you have a very well-written and engaging book that isn’t quite as clever or original as many critics would have us believe – unless, of course, you never saw Run, Lola, Run which uses the exact same convention.(less)
Shadow, our protagonist, is released from prison early so that he can attend his wife’s funeral. On his way back home, he is approached by the enigmat...moreShadow, our protagonist, is released from prison early so that he can attend his wife’s funeral. On his way back home, he is approached by the enigmatic Mr. Wednesday who offers him a job working for him. And so begins Neil Gaiman’s head-spinning masterpiece about life, death, faith, and deific survival. An epic narrative that twists and turns, confounds and surprises. To quote my second grade teacher Mrs. Vowels: “It’s time to put your thinking caps on!”(less)