GrogHeads Reviews Marco Kloos’s “Frontlines” Series

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We take a look at Terms of Enlistment and Lines of Departure, by Marco Kloos

Avery Abernethy, 28 October 2015


Terms of Enlistment and Lines of Departure are military science fiction leaning towards hard science.  Mr. Kloos has served in the military and it shows in his writing.  Both books are in the Frontlines series with the 3rd book Angles of Attack released in April, 2015.

In the Frontlines books Earth has fractured into two factions: the North American Union (dominated by the former USA) and a Russian/Chinese block.  Independent countries either no longer exist or are never mentioned.  The conflict between the two power blocks has an uneasy truce on Earth itself, but all-out war rages for the 100 or so colony worlds accessible through jump gates.


The Earth’s resources are being depleted, the majority of humanity lives in high rise slums with a minimal ration of food, and the proles are restless and becoming lawless.  Part of the military is deployed to maintain minimal order in the high-rise clustered slums while the rest focuses on space colonization and interplanetary war for colonies.  Slum dwellers have a tiny chance of winning a lottery to become colonists on worlds which can minimally support human life through terra-forming.

Andrew Grayson a young, high-rise slum dweller, wins a 100-1 shot to join the military.  Terms of Enlistment focuses on setting up the dystopian world and the harsh basic training that washes out 80% of the inductees.  Andrew’s first posting is in the military division tasked with keeping order in the slum cities.  After a few initial conflicts, Andrew’s unit is thrust into a disastrous mission which decimates his unit and generates bad publicity through use of heavy weapons in an urban environment.

Mr. Grayson then is granted an almost-unprecedented transfer to the space navy and space marines.  The focus of the book changes to ship-to-ship combat and drop ship attacks on Russian/Chinese colony worlds.  In yet another major plot twist, aliens with hyper-advanced technology start capturing the colony worlds of both factions.

I greatly enjoyed Terms of Enlistment.  The world is far more dystopian than Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, but the viewpoint of a new recruit in brutal basic training and their subsequent integration into a ground combat unit was well done.  The transition into the space navy/marines was also handled in an excellent manner.  This is an unusually well done combination in a single novel.

Lines of Departure finds Staff Sergeant Grayson as a space marine who uses advanced communication systems to call down nuclear strikes on colony worlds which have been captured by the aliens.  Unfortunately for humanity, the aliens are so advanced that they rapidly exterminate human colonists much in the same way that those of us in Alabama poison fire ant nests.  The space navy can nuke a former colony world until it is uninhabitable by both humanity and aliens, but cannot damage any of the alien colony ships.

The two Earth factions continue to fight it out on the rapidly dwindling number of colonies while the aliens are rapidly closing in on Earth itself.  As you might expect, the grunts in the military believe this strategy is insane.  Lines of Departure was very enjoyable to me up until the final chapters.  Grayson’s new unit is made up of ships recently taken out of mothballs to reinforce a minimally habitable ice world.  Then the aliens attack.  What irritated me was the entirely obvious means of attacking the alien colony ship was ignored by the high command until an astrophysicist discovers the only means of attacking a colony ship.  I know of at least a dozen books which use the exact same counter-measures to attack technologically superior alien space forces, and the explanation Kloos used to introduce this plot element was utterly obvious.

Like many space operas, both of Kloos’ books have unbelievable coincidences which enable the protagonist to maintain a romance with another member of the military in a totally different branch of the military.  Old friends and foes in his previous service branches continue to cross his path.  You expect some of this in any space opera, but Kloos takes this to ridiculous extremes.  But then again, in Starship Troopers, Heinlein also relied on one-in-a-million reunions with people important to the main character.

If you like action packed space opera starting with a new recruit I strongly recommend Terms of Enlistment.  If you can stomach some truly idiotic grand strategy decisions, implausible reunions with old squad mates, and a blindingly obvious means of finally winning a battle against an alien colony ship, then Lines of Departure will be just as good.  Kloos is an excellent writer for both space battles and small unit ground conflicts with future weaponry.


Avery Abernethy is a Professor of Marketing at Auburn University.  He tried to write this review without too many spoilers.  He still thinks that Starship Troopers is one of the best SF books ever written.

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