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!

Thoughts on cowardice and writing

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About 18 years ago, I was working regularly as a corporate writer while writing fiction on the side pretty steadily. My dream, my goal, was to make a living from the fiction side of things and to eventually be free of the marketing drivel. So I was steaming along, writing sci-fi/fantasy short stories, submitting to magazines…when I started to get the dreaded rejections. Some were all-business; one in particular was kind of…well…mean.

And it wrecked me.

Yep, like so many bazillions before me, I let rejection and criticism get to me and I stopped submitting. I never stopped writing…I just stopped showing my stuff to anyone and eventually I even stopped writing it down and just kept it in my own head. In the meantime, I started a family, became a fairly successful freelance writer, lived my life, and did get free of marketing drivel in favor of actual journalism for the most part…but I always regretted never making a go of fiction writing.

In the last year, through the “miracle” of Twitter, I’ve discovered advice from wonderful authors like Richard Kadrey, Stephen King, John Scalzi, Jim Butcher, Neal Asher, Joe Abercrombie, and Chuck Wendig. Published, successful authors who are telling me to keep at it – keep writing, “write through the suck,” be arrogant when you can’t be confident, and write it now, fix it later. Why all men? I don’t know. They’re just some of my favorite authors who also happen to have given advice about writing.

I wish Twitter had been around 18 years ago…but on the bright side, I’m only in my 40s now and I’m still writing. And, more importantly, I’m admitting to myself that what stopped me before was pure cowardice. The rejections hurt and I wussed out and played it safe.

Coincidentally, for a few years just before finding this great advice online, my family and I went through a period of one awful disaster after another, which taught me that life is too fucking short not to pursue your dreams. And now that the dust has settled and things are looking up, I find my outlook has changed dramatically.

Now I have this 100% unfollowed Blog …but I don’t care…I’m going to talk my way through this even if nobody is listening. I’m writing a book (which is about 80% finished as of this post) and I’m going to finish that bastard if it god damned kills me. Then I’m going to wait a couple of weeks and edit it. Then I’m going to show it to a few trusted people, make more changes, fix what I screwed up, and start looking for an agent. And while I know it’s a long shot…at least I’ll know I tried and that somebody, somewhere read what I wrote…and that’s worth something to me.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep supporting myself with journalism and a smattering of marketing drivel. I’ll also keep doing fun stuff like Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction and post it here. I’ll probably also post some other short stories. Either way, I’ll keep whoever might be reading this updated on my progress…we’ll see…

–          McKenzie, December 4, 2013