Book Review: Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos

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I bought this book, sight unseen, after hearing some Twitter buzz that it was being criticized for having too many strong female characters. This, of course, pissed me off enough that I immediately ordered one for myself and one to give my brother for his upcoming birthday (if you’re reading this, dear brother…um, surprise??).

It wasn’t as much of a risk as it sounds since the buzz was generated by John Scalzi and I figured if he liked it, chances are I would too. Nonetheless, I was prepared to feel a bit foolish and chalk it up to a learning experience if the book turned out to suck.

I finished it in a day and a half. Suck it did not. This book was a ride. It was almost exhausting at times, but more like vigorous-round-of-sex-exhausting, not slogging-up-a-mountain-exhausting…and that’s always a good thing.

The near-future story follows Andrew Grayson – a young, intelligent, self-described welfare rat who enlists in the military to escape his hopeless and seriously shitty life in Boston public housing. He says goodbye to his sad mother and cancer-riddled, abusive father hoping to get a ticket off of Earth and a chance for a new life. We follow him through basic training, where the abundant food alone is enough to make him stay through the hardships of the program.

He makes friends, discovers his skills, and even strikes up a romantic relationship with a fellow (yep, strong female) soldier. All great stuff, but fairly relaxed until Andrew graduates and gets his first assignment. I don’t want to inject spoilers here, so I’ll just say he gets an assignment and many, many explodey things happen. It’s running and shooting and battle tactics and grenade launchers and wanton destruction followed by skin-of-the-teeth survival. It’s basically one damned thing after another for this guy and his unit and we are happy to be along for the ride.

Afterward, Kloos lets us up for a breath of air and then plunges us back into the shit for some seriously surprising space-alien adventure. Awesome stuff, full of both male and female bad-ass characters, great dialogue and quality storytelling. I see that it has a sequel, which I’ll be buying ASAP. Maybe I’ll even get two!

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Book Review: Weapon – A Visual History of Arms and Armor

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A few weeks ago, I saw a piece on boingboing.net about a book on weapons. The book is called Weapon – A Visual History of Arms and Armor and it may have been the best $25 I’ve ever spent. Actually, I ordered it from Amazon, so I think it ended up being a bit less than that, but that’s the price listed on the back of the book.

This book is a fabulous resource for weapons of all kinds, from the very first throwing and stabbing weapons of the ancient world to modern firearms being manufactured and used as you read this. It has high-quality photos of most of the weapons along with detailed descriptions of their uses, years of popularity, materials they’re made of, problems with durability or functioning, particular advantages, etc. There is also some great information about the culture and history behind the weapons and the context for why certain weapons and means of warfare evolved.

While I own a few weapons of my own, those are the only ones I feel qualified to talk about or to use in my writing. I’ve ordered other books on firearms, etc. in the past, but always felt like they fell short in helping me understand the weapons such that I could write about someone else using and owning them.

This book changed all that. Reading through it with my little pack of post-its, I was able to go back through my current book to enrich so many of the fight descriptions in ways I would not have been able to without this book and its detailed descriptions and lovely, glossy pictures. An Indian punching dagger that allows my character to weave his hand and wrist through the handle like an extension of his arm allows ever so much more capability and description than would a glorified kitchen knife gripped in his hand.

I won’t even get started on the guns because I could write all day. Great information on ammo, weapons with jamming problems, how firing mechanisms began and how they work now, gun weight, speed of barrel replacement on sub-machine guns, handguns, rifles, grenade launchers, anti-tank weapons! As I said…I could go on.

Information about armor spans from the ancient world to modern military helmets and their composition.

Extremely cool book. In short, if you need to write about weapons, get it!