I anticipate the latter part of this review will give me trouble. The front part, not at all.
This is the latest book in my run-up to the Hugos. Until he withdrew, Marko Kloos' book "Lines of Departure," the second book in his "Frontline" series, was nominated for Best Novel. "Terms of Enlistment" is the first of the series.
Andrew Grayson has gone as far as he can go. There are no jobs, and he has finished all the education that's available. He lives with his mother in a bleak, crime-ridden Public Residence Center, and can look forward to a future of nothingness. Each week, a government-supplied ration is available. And that's the way the rest of his life will go.
All of the world is not like life in the PRCs. He is aware that more affluent people exist, and that they live in houses outside the wreckage of the city. He just has no way of getting there; it seems that just about all the mobility in our society has vanished by the time the story takes place. There are really only two options to get away from the trap: take a hitch on a space colony, or join the military.
Both of these are long shots; I find I can't recall the chances of getting on a colony ship, but less than 10% of applicants make it to the first day of Basic Training, and only half make it to the end. Five years is the term of service, and all pay is deferred until discharge. They aren't joking about the drop-out rate; when they get the uniform issue, all of the items are clearly used. The only new clothing they get is underwear and socks.
It sounds great to Andrew. He gets fed. He's never had anything but the synthetic food provided by the government, so his first meal is the best he's ever had.
I am of the firm belief that every time an author writes about Basic Training, they have a whole world looking over their shoulder. It's composed of every veteran, and every non-veteran who is a fan of military fiction. We don't just read over their shoulders, we poke them and make comments and make rude noises. Most of us happen to think that Camp Currie in Starship Troopers is the best, but that may just be because it was the first version most of us ever read. If you are a real geek, pencil-necked, thick glasses, pipe smoking type, you might have read William Goldman's version in "The Temple of Gold," which came out in 1956, but chances are, if you read it at all, it's because you saw "The Princess Bride" and then read the book. Modern versions were written by Robert Buettner, Brad Torgensen, and Tom Kratman; but in every case, all the vets are muttering,"they'd never have gotten away with that in MY outfit." It's more or less ground into the fiber of our being, somewhere around Week Four. My own personal nightmare was at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, D-7-2, September to November 1972.
Now, I can't argue at all with Kloos on the subject of GI chow. I ate great meals in the Army, and the only time I ever went hungry was when I was sent to Germany, and jet lag took me out of the chow rotation and I hadn't enough money to buy both beer AND food at the NCO club. For me, potatoes for breakfast was a delicacy, and I've never gotten tired of that.
I do have to snark over the coed barracks. I don't know if ANY military is doing that, but if they are, I'm sure there is more coupling going on than Kloos describes. Andrew and his upper bunkmate Halley hit it off, and develop 'date night' in the latrine at 2:00 AM. I don't want to hammer on this too hard; Kloos is a young man, and this is his work. They'd have never gotten away with that in MY outfit, though.
Basic Training completed, the new troops are assigned for further training to one of three branches: Navy (which means space navy), Marines (space marines) and Territorial Army, which is regarded as the dregs by the trainees. Halley turns out to be a natural pilot, and is the only trainee assigned to the Navy. Andrew, of course, gets picked for Army, which almost causes him to quit on the spot. His drill sergeant, Sergeant Burke, notices his reaction and counsels him.
“At ease. You don’t seem too happy with your assignment.”And he's right, ya know. The United States has a combat service and some support services. The Army does everything. The Navy gets us there, the Marines protect the Navy, and the Air Force does something. The Coast Guard is different; they handle the incredibly tough stuff the Navy can't take. The Army is boots on the ground. Now, my perspective MAY be altered by the fact that I'm 3rd in a 4 generation string of Army enlisted. My dad WAS a gunner on a B-17, but it was the ARMY Air Corps back then.
“No, sir,” I say, trying to not look dejected.
“There’s not a thing wrong with the Territorial Army. I was TA myself before I was assigned a drill instructor slot.”
“I was looking forward to going into space, sir. TA gets all the **** jobs.”
Sergeant Burke looks at me and shakes his head with a snort. “TA is the real military,” he says. “Let me tell you something about the spaceborne careers. The navy guys spend their service mopping decks in windowless metal tubes. The marines get to go play battle kabuki with the SRA, one company against another, arranged like a ****ing sporting event. That’s not soldiering; that’s ******* ***. They’re so convinced they’re the sharp tip of the spear, but you know what? Any TA company I’ve ever served with could mop the floor with any marine company. You know why TA gets all the **** jobs? Because nobody else could handle ’em, that’s why.
Back to the book: following graduation from Basic Training, Grayson gets assigned to an infantry unit, and Kloos gives us approximately 130 pages of excellent combat description. Then there is a major plot development, which I can't say much about without a spoiler warning, and then Andrew gets to apply his skills in a different environment.
I can say THIS: under normal circumstances, you don't get extreme behavior. You will find good people and nasty people, but under normal circumstances, everybody tends to behave in normal ways. However, the world of "Terms of Enlistment" is not what any of us would describe as a normal world. The grinding hopelessness of life in a PRC is the human equivalent of an over-crowded rat cage. Some give up, some prey on their fellows, and some escape; and having escaped, will do anything to keep from having to return. That little sociological lecture goes pretty far in explaining the reason for the best leadership Grayson finds. Under duress, maybe most crumble, but those that emerge are given a lot of opportunity to excel.
I like Kloos' writing. I liked his characters, and the way he tells the story. His world is bizarre in ways I haven't seen before; Andrew Grayson's journey is just as meaningful as Johnny Rico's.
And this ends the easy part of this review.
Here's the hard part. And if you are EXCLUSIVELY a casual reader of sci-fi, the following may not make any sense to you at all. Don't worry about it; it's like trombone music.
Marko was up for a Hugo for the second novel in this series, and on April 15, he announced to the world that he was withdrawing his book from competition. In part, he wrote:
It has come to my attention that “Lines of Departure” was one of the nomination suggestions in Vox Day’s “Rabid Puppies” campaign. Therefore—and regardless of who else has recommended the novel for award consideration—the presence of “Lines of Departure” on the shortlist is almost certainly due to my inclusion on the “Rabid Puppies” slate. For that reason, I had no choice but to withdraw my acceptance of the nomination. I cannot in good conscience accept an award nomination that I feel I may not have earned solely with the quality of the nominated work.Here's what I knew, before I read the book: Marko got the shaft.
I also wish to disassociate myself from the originator of the “Rabid Puppies” campaign. To put it bluntly: if this nomination gives even the appearance that Vox Day or anyone else had a hand in giving it to me because of my perceived political leanings, I don’t want it. I want to be nominated for awards because of the work, not because of the “right” or “wrong” politics.
I have no informed opinion on either Vox Day or the Rabid Puppies campaign. I DO know more about Brad Torgersen and the Sad Puppies campaign, and THAT'S what I knew to be the source of Marko's nomination.
I ALSO knew, once it was pointed out by Dorothy Grant, that for the first time EVER!!!!! an indie made it to the Hugos. 47 North is the Amazon publishing imprint. That's HUGE. I do not know how many new authors are broken in by the mainstream publishers, but where I'm sitting by the creek, it looks like all the action is happening with Amazon. And Marko's nomination was just as important an event as was the decision by the Science Fiction Writers' Association to allow indie sales to count for membership.
So far, this is merely bad to me, but not gut wrenching. But then I read the heartfelt acknowledgement Marko wrote at the end of the novel:
This novel had its genesis as an application piece for the Viable Paradise SF/ F Writers’ workshop. As such, I owe thanks to all my VP XII friends for their critiques, suggestions, and encouragement, especially Tiffani Angus, Claire Humphrey, Katrina Archer, Sarah Brandel, Madge Miller, Jeff Macfee, Chang Terhune, Steve Kopka, and Curtis Chen, my current VP XII Twitter posse and occasional critique partners. I also owe much to my instructors: Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Steven Gould, Laura Mixon, Uncle Jim and Dr. Doyle, Elizabeth Bear, and John Scalzi, who kindly shoehorned an unscheduled personal critique into his schedule for me. You have all been instrumental to the success of that little Space Kablooie novel you critiqued at Viable Paradise XII.
Here's what tears at me: he lists, with gratitude, the names of people who gave of their time and energy and expertise to his work. They offered him a lot.
But why didn't they offer him a contract? Why must he self-publish, when the instructors include people of importance at Tor Publishing?
Marko withdrew his book from consideration for a Hugo because it was recommended by Rabid Puppies/Vox Day.
Why wasn't this book recommended by John Scalzi and Patrick Nielsen Hayden? Why didn't they get on the phone with him, why didn't write blogs, why wasn't Marko Kloos given the consideration by those he is so grateful to?
I do NOT have an answer for this. Maybe I'm just ignorant; maybe I missed the stalwart defense given by those named above to Marko's inclusion on the list. Maybe they DID offer him private encouragement in the middle of this public storm. I hope that I AM just ignorant, and that my review will be castigated by people presenting clear evidence that I've missed one of the biggest chapters in the 2015 Hugo story. PLEASE: tell me I'm ignorant, tell me that those who taught Marko have never failed to stand by him and applaud his success.
I don't know if it will explain away the fact that he is an indie writer and not in the Tor stable, but ya know what? It's more money in his pocket this way.