- Frontlines (#8)
- Published by 47North
- First published in 2022
- Military SF
- 320 pages
Stranded nine hundred light years from home, the NACS Washington and its crew face their darkest hour. Among the crew is Andrew Grayson, veteran of the Lanky wars, a man determined to see his wife and home again . . .
Centers of Gravity is allegedly the final book of the Frontlines series. I say ‘allegedly’ because this is a series with no real structure. When I first encountered the series, there had been six books released, and I assumed that to be the complete series, especially as Kloos was then working on another, unrelated series. Then along came Orders of Battle, a seventh novel that appeared top be setting up a whole new arc. That arc comes crashing to an end with this, the very next book, leaving me more confused than ever. From the pen of Kloos himself comes the acknowledgement that this is the final Frontlines novel ‘for now’ but that he does intend to return to the universe at some future point.
All of this goes some way toward explaining why the eight and ‘final’ novel of a series that has run for the best part of a decade ends up feeling in no way climactic. Part of the problem, if you regard it as such, is that the series has no real plot. It’s a simple account of one man’s experience of living, and fighting, through humanity’s first war against an alien species. Yet while Andrew Grayson has got into more than his fair share of scrapes over the years, it’s very much a boots on the ground approach to storytelling. All of the major tactical decisions are made at a higher level than the narrative tells. Even in this book, where Grayson is present for the decision-making, his is not the deciding vote very often.
The setup for this book is one that hits one of my favourite tropes. The lone ship being stuck far from home. Battlestar Galactica, Stargate Universe, Star Trek Voyager, The Lost Fleet, all of these are similar in premise, but better in execution. because aside from the odd moment of introspection, the stranded element doesn’t really come into play. What we get is more ground-based action of foot soldiers trying to avoid being stomped to death by giant aliens while trying to achieve tactical objectives. This is where my structural complaints about the series come into play, because while Kloos writes this material very well indeed, it’s the same thing we’ve seen in every book. Frontlines is a series that doesn’t need to be as long as it is. On their own merits, ever book is strong, but as a series it’s highly repetitive. This eight-book series could easily have been a trilogy of slightly fatter books, and I do wonder about the reasoning behind it’s actual publication schedule. I have nothing against shorter books (honestly, I’d like more of them) but for a long series of them, it feels like an unnecessary level of serialisation. Having to pick up an endless number of thin books rather than a handful of slightly bulkier ones is the reason I’m unlikely to pick up any of the myriad military SF sagas Amazon throws my way every time I search for Kloos. Series of this style are only a step away from becoming a subscription service in their own right.
Leaving aside this issue hanging over its head like the sword of Damocles, the Frontlines series has offered some top-notch military SF action, which is honestly all I was looking for from it. The action may be repetitive, but it’s always well-written. The examination of – and respect towards – military hierarchy and the military lifestyle in general, could only have come from personal experience. Frontlines feels genuinely authentic to the military experience in a way few other series manage to capture, and is worth a read for that alone. This final book doesn’t do what I wanted it to, as nothing is wrapped up and very little has changed by the end. But it is a consistent and solid finale to the series. A finale, that is, for now. Who knows what the future will bring?
If you enjoyed this book, you might also like:
A Just Determination, by Jack Campbell
Aftershocks, by Marko Kloos
Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi