Coming of Age in a Dystopian Future

posted Jan 13, 2015, 11:06 AM by Martin Roy Hill   [ updated Aug 4, 2015, 4:14 PM ]
Terms of Enlistment (Frontlines, #1)In the year 2108, the North American continent has been consolidated into a North American Commonwealth. Commonwealth, however, is a misnomer; it's actually a continent-wide oligarchy with a handful of wealthy residents, a small middle-class population, and massive slums. The only way out of the slums is to win a lottery for a slot on a colony ship to some distant planet or to join the military.

Andrew Grayson, the narrator of Marko Kloos' Terms of Enlistment, chooses the latter. Hoping to get off world by getting a slot in the NAC Navy or Marines, Grayson instead ends up in the Territorial Army, the service branch that fights the NAC's earth-bound wars against enemies both foreign and domestic, including its own citizens.

At its foundation, Terms of Enlistment is a classic young-man-comes-of-age-in-war-time story wrapped in a science fiction novel. A comparison to Robert Heinlein’s classic military sci-fi book Starship Troopers quickly comes to mind. But I actually found myself comparing it to Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage, Anton Myrer's The Big War, or Jim Webb's Fields of Fire pushed forward into the 22nd century.

Kloos was born in Germany and served in the German army. His talent as a writer is shown by the fact that he can write so convincingly of what in this book seems essentially an American military experience. His description of basic training was so detailed and so familiar to my own experience, it almost made me nostalgic for the months I spent in boot camp. I emphasize almost.

Grayson eventually does make it off world, but not before learning the horrors of combat while fighting his fellow slum-dwelling citizens in a battle that is a thinly disguised recreation of the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia, made famous by the book and movie Blackhawk Down. (Kloos acknowledges the inspiration by calling the chapter describing the battle "Drop Ship Down.") Recreating the Mogadishu battle in a futuristic Detroit raised in me poignant questions about our military activity abroad and at home, especially as I read this book not long after the militarized response of the Ferguson, Missouri police force to public demonstrations against police shootings.

Terms of Enlistment is the first installment in the author's Frontlines series. Kloos is a talented writer and, if this book is any indication of that talent, the series should be a great success.

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