RogerBW's Blog

Lines of Departure, Marko Kloos 21 August 2015

2014 SF, sequel to Terms of Enlistment. Humanity is losing the war against the aliens, but Andrew Grayson might as well re-enlist: there's nothing else for him to do.

This book starts five years after Terms of Enlistment ended, and that's immediately something of a problem: some things have changed hugely (the aliens have invaded lots of colony worlds, various armed services have been renamed, navy ranks have been turned into army ones, etc.), but we're expected to believe that our hero hasn't done anything particularly interesting during that time. Even though he's changed military specialty again, from naval sysadmin to combat controller (a sort of naval gunfire support forward observer who goes in with the infantry to call in strikes from ships in orbit, and for reasons never adequately explained is trained in battle management far above his rank), and one would like to think that that might not have been an entirely trivial process. But it's all glossed over in the first chapter.

More interestingly, we see the effects of the alien invasion on humanity as a whole: not only are the colonies no longer generating profit to pay for the military, since emigration has been stopped there's not even the pretence of hope for the inhabitants of the massive Public Residence Clusters, who are finding their rations cut even further; unsurprisingly, they're even more inclined than ever to riot. (But there's still no suggestion of how the welfare population got so large, why there are still any middle class enclaves as opposed to welfare blocks and the ultra-rich, or much other explanation of how the world is meant to work.) What's worse, humanity hasn't decided to pull together: the ongoing war of North American Commonwealth against Sino-Russian Alliance continues, even as both sides are having their colony worlds picked off by the aliens.

But mostly this is Grayson's story: he drops onto an alien-infested world to call in a strike on their terraforming engine, he goes on leave and learns that his mother isn't the nothing he thought her before he joined up, he joins an assault on an SRA colony which is interrupted by alien invasion, and finally he gets assigned to a task force of ageing ships that turns out to be shifting unreliable regular army units (formerly Territorial Army, now Homeworld Defense) to a frozen colony world where they can be split up and not cause too much trouble. What a pity for that plan that Master Sergeant Fallon, whom Grayson got to know when he was in the TA himself, is one of those unreliable personnel.

That's where things really depart from the military fiction stereotype, as Fallon leads a mutiny when the military is ordered to seize civilian assets, and there's a brief and nasty war between loyal and mutinous units. (Though, curiously, nobody seems to have any trouble persuading their tactical sensors to show everyone in the appropriate colours as friend or foe; indeed, nobody thinks of making a false claim as to which way their loyalties lie.) This would work better if we'd had more of a sense of any of the people involved: even Grayson is still something of a cipher, who gets on all right with his fellow soldiers but doesn't seem to have much personality of his own or form lasting friendships beyond the two that are significant to the plot, and everyone else is even flatter. Picking a side in a mutiny is a difficult business, and while there's a show of complexity it comes over as false. Of course we know which side he's going to pick.

While that's going on, an alien ship turns up, and someone comes up with an idea for attacking it that nobody has ever had before. Did they all take the stupid pills? I realise that in this world the higher your rank the stupider you are, but really, throwing big things fast is not hard when you have effective space drives. Also, adding more mass to your improvised missile does not increase its energy at impact! But actually the harder the science gets in this book the more wrong it feels. I am not impressed by a "nuclear warhead in the fifty-microton range" when I can work out that that is fifty grammes, tiny even compared with a modern air-to-air missile. Similarly, there's no consideration of the massive spacelift capacity that would actually be needed to reduce Earth's population: even at a contemporary growth rate of around 75 million per year, shipping people out by the few thousands every so often simply isn't going to cut it. In air transport terms you'd be sending out a fleet of nearly 400 Boeing 777s, every day, just to stay even. If Kloos can't get a test reader or editor who can work this stuff out, maybe he should just leave out the crunchy bits.

It's better than the first book and has some unusual things to say, but if this book had remained in contention for the Best Novel Hugo, I'd probably have rated it close below The Three-Body Problem, certainly below the other two. Followed by Angles of Attack.

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Previous in series: Terms of Enlistment | Series: Frontlines | Next in series: Angles of Attack

  1. Posted by Dr Bob at 07:35pm on 21 August 2015

    Thanks for this. Probably won't bother with volume 2 then...

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 07:38pm on 21 August 2015

    It might be salvaged if the third book turns out to be amazing, and the first two were necessary pipe-laying leading up to it. But I can't argue with your decision or claim your life will be significantly poorer if you don't read this.

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