Welcome back to the Frontlines battle, my friends. In the final installment of the trilogy, Angles of Attack, Marko Kloos brings the battle back to Earth. If you’ve joined me for the first two books of this series, Terms of Enlistment and Lines of Departure, you know I’ve been impatiently waiting for the conclusion to this story. Kloos had set up a monumental conflict between our heroes and a seemingly undefeatable alien life form that was well on its way to wiping out humanity. Oh, and, on top of all that, our heroes have all sorts of political issues to muck their way through.
In my previous reviews, I’ve compared the Frontline series to Starship Troopers and Aliens, and with Angles of Attack, I’m willing to throw in some Battlestar Galactica (the 2004 version). Imagine, though, a military that sees the Cylons coming, decides to pack up all the good stuff, and abandon the Twelve Colonies to their own fate. As Angles of Attack begins, we have more opposing political factions than you can shake a stick at, our heroes are stuck on the backside of the galaxy, supplies are way beyond the dwindling stage, and there may be no more home planet to go home to.
In his “out of the frying pan, into the fire” way, Kloos continues to give us exciting action sequences, expert military exposition, and a wonderfully realized sci-fi environment to romp around in. The dialogue is quick, sarcastic, and darkly humorous. He brings back all of the characters we’ve come to love and introduces a few new faces to the team.
Over the course of this trilogy, Kloos accomplishes a number of refreshing things in the Science Fiction Action Thriller genre. One, his main character does not fall into over-used, tired “Action Hero” tropes. Two, the action itself is grounded firmly in the realm of physical science with a nice seasoning of science fiction. Three, Kloos avoids predictable, climactic plot rescues, holding himself bound by the realistic structure he’s set up.
In my review for the first book of Marko Kloos’ Frontlines trilogy, Terms of Enlistment, I noted that the story was told from the perspective of the guy that you’d expect to get “red-shirted” in the very first chapter. Kloos maintains this perspective over the course of the trilogy arc. At the close of his story, Andrew Grayson is a matured military veteran. But, regardless of the experience he has attained, he still very much occupies the expendable position that would be more typical of a side character.
Kloos has done an interesting thing by infusing his “Action Hero” with a healthy dose of realism. Grayson never finds himself in a position where he is unduly in control of his fate. He doesn’t suddenly discover the key to everyone’s survival, nor is he given a “deus ex machina” level of influence over the fates of his friends or enemies. While he makes significant contributions to the plot, he never becomes the central catalyst for the resolution of the story. He starts off as a cog in a very large machine and remains at the whim of the universal forces at conflict around him.
Likewise, Grayson’s motivations remain focused on what he has some influence over . . . namely himself. While he struggles with very unselfish desires to save his friends and rescue humanity from its seemingly inevitable fate, he never wallows in unrealistic expectations about his place in the universe. And, at the end of the day, he still has the same basic desire he’s held from the beginning, the slim hope he might get to be with his fiancée for more than a few days at a time. I like Grayson that much more for the honesty with which he acknowledges his personal desires while still being willing to sacrifice all of it to fulfill his duty, even as he feels more and more betrayed by those to whom he’s sworn his duty.
On the larger, universe-building scale, Kloos keeps a firmly realistic hand on the science fiction he employs in his narrative. This is a futuristic society with the ability to travel with some ease to other star systems than our own; however, the laws of physics apply, and this space travel feels very much like the space travel we know today. There are no hyper-drives, warp-drives, FTLs, transporters, or tractor beams to save the day. Colonizing alien planets is a common, but not peril-free activity, subject to the availability of tangible resources. There are no food replicators or holodecks to ease the realities of day-to-day life.
Survival in this interstellar environment is restricted to the ultimately finite capabilities of both the protagonists and antagonists. Fuel supplies are rapidly depleted, collateral damage hard to avoid, and crew morale severely tested. As the various factions attempt to outmaneuver each other, the conflict feels much more like a terrifying chess game, where the players get locked into their chosen strategies and the opportunity for last-minute escape is truly minimal. As much as I love Star Trek-worthy plot devices, I’m enormously grateful Kloos keeps Frontlines rooted in a grittier space-travel and combat realism.
As a result of all this realism, the possibility of there being any level of victory at all for our heroes started to seem all but impossible. I will admit that I kept feeling the need for miraculous rescue, for the sudden reveal of that “One Magical Thing” that could save the day. I’ll compare this to an unhealthy addiction to processed sugary foods, and thank Kloos for serving up some lean proteins and green veggies in its place.
As the final climax commences, I truly had no idea where Angles of Attack was going to take me. Happy ending, tragic ending, utterly unresolved ending . . . anything was possible. I’m not going to tell you where the dice landed. Suffice it to say, there was plenty of whooping, hollering, and tears on my part through those last few pages. I’m going to miss Mr. Grayson and the Frontlines world. Oh, and if anyone is looking for some casting ideas for the movies, I’ve got quite a few.
LOVED the new character, Dmitry Chistyakov, introduced in this installment. Russian, badass, and in a same-sex marriage with another Russian Marine . . . because, hey, why not?! Great little detail.
I won’t reiterate most of what I’ve already said about the audiobook narration by Luke Daniels in my previous reviews, as most of it remains true for Angles of Attack. I will say again that Mr. Daniels does a spot-on job of bringing Andrew Grayson to life.
I would very much like a Star Trek-modeled TV series chronicling the many adventures of the intrepid crew of the stealth ship, Indianapolis, as it sneaks around the galaxy on whatever mission it decides to undertake. Got some casting ideas for this one, too.