'Lines of Departure', Maro Kloos
Military science fiction - or, at least military science fiction written by authors with practical experience in the various branches of the armed services - has long been the preserve of a cadre of primarily American authors. Robert Heinlein and Joe Haldeman lit the torch, and it was picked up by the likes of David Drake, John Ringo, and Tom Kratman, each bringing a wealth of personal experience to their writing. That isn't to say that there aren't occasional exceptions to the rule, but they are few and far between. That is what makes the discovery of Marko Kloos and his novels such a pleasure.
Kloos is based in America, true enough, but he is a German by birth, and spent a number of years serving in the German army prior to becoming a full-time author. His foray into military sci-fi came last year, with the publication of 'Terms of Enlistment' (2013), a novel which introduced Andrew Grayson, a disillusioned teen living in one of the Public Residence Clusters (for which read 'slums') which have sprung up all over Kloos's futuristic North American Commonwealth, set a couple of hundred years into the future. The social aspects of future society are just one of the areas in which Kloos excels - while American authors such as Ringo and Kratman moan about the socialised living experiement that is modern-day Europe, and bemoan the fate that awaits the West if it continues to embrase a welfare-driven culture, Kloos has seen the beginnings of it at first hand, and abandoned them in favour of the American Dream. His descriptions of inner-city life in the filthy, crime-ridden high-rises that house the 'welfare rats' has the troublesome ring of truth about it, and makes Grayson's struggle to break free all the more believable.
The key premise of 'Terms of Enlistment', the first novel in his 'Frontlines' series, is simple: in a world where the only possible escape from crushing poverty, overcrowding, and mob violence is to join the military and use that as a vehicle to leave Earth behind, the military will have way more volunteers than it has billets to fill, and the recruitment and training programmes will be nightmarishly tough. Using his other unique perspective - that of a soldier from something other than the US forces - Kloos details a boot camp experience to make the eyes water, as Grayson is turned from a flabby, disinterested teen, into a trained combat solider. The uses to which the government of the North American Commonwealth (a combination of the modern US, Canada, and Mexico) puts those trained troops - mostly maintaining a fractuous peace within the PRCs of its own cities, then accounts for the second half of 'Terms of Enlistment', as Grayson discovers that getting into space is not as easy as he had first thought. Indeed, nothing in Kloos's world is ever as easy as it was advertised, with cynicism winning out in a variety of forms.
When an alien threat presents itself towards the end of 'Terms of Enlistment', Grayson learns another old axoim - be careful what you wish for. Sent into space, he soon discovers that the aliens have the upper hand in almost every respect, and that humanity is battling for its very existence, and losing colony after colony as a result. The ensuing battles are well choreographed, and filled with military detail, carring the reader seamlessly into 'Lines of Departure' (2014), and the fight for humanity's survival.
What the NAC goverment hasn't taken into account, however, is the fact that some of its troops are just as interested in fighting for humanity's soul.'Terms of Enlistment' and 'Lines of Departure' are both outstanding additions to the sub-genre that is military science fiction written by grunts with experience. They are perhaps not quite as polished as the tales produced by the Drakes and the Kratmans of this world, nor do they aim to be classified as Space Operas, preferring to focus on the little man in the equation, and to look at his role in the larger philosophical debate. That doesn't make them deficient in any way, just different, and that difference is a welcome one. Fans of the more mainstream authors in the genre will find these new offerings both enjoyable and refreshing, while looking forward to more from Herr Kloos's pen in the near future.
'Terms of Enlistment' and 'Lines of Departure' are both available now in paperback from 47North, Seattle.