Sunday 11 May 2014

The Lost Fleet: Dauntless by Jack Campbell

I hadn't heard of Jack Campbell until I read a recent recommendation from the Classic Science Fiction discussion group, but I was intrigued that he was so highly rated as a writer of military SF, so I bought the first book of his Lost Fleet series, Dauntless, first published in 2006.

The setting is in the far future with humanity spread over many star systems and engaged in a civil war between two equally matched forces; the Alliance and the Syndics. John Geary, an Alliance spaceship captain, is rescued from suspended animation in a survival capsule after having his ship destroyed right at the start of the war. He is horrified to discover that a hundred years have passed, and the war is still going strong; what is worse, his valiant battle has resulted in a legend being created around him as "Black Jack Geary", and his reputation has been used for generations to inspire the fleet. He has no time to recover from his hibernation before the fleet that rescued him is defeated in a huge battle and he inherits command of the remainder, deep inside Syndic space. He finds that a century of war has led to a very different kind of fleet to the one he trained in: discipline is slack, tactics are poor and ethics have disappeared. He faces an uphill task in fulfilling his promise to return the fleet to Earth.

In an interview at the end of the book (Titan Books edition, published 2011), the author says that he decided to combine two famous and epic elements: the "lost hero" myth, which occurs in many cultures (most notably the Arthurian legends of England); and the long, fighting retreat through enemy territory, as first featured in Xenophon's The Anabasis (better known as The March of the Ten Thousand), a description of an actual event 2,500 years ago written by a man who was there.

The result is highly impressive: a gripping page-turner of a tale in which Campbell puts to very good use his experience as a US naval officer, bringing the ring of authenticity to his hero's command problems and meticulous accuracy to his description of the complexities of fighting a space battle in which the distances involved are so great that enemy actions can only be observed some (constantly varying) time after they have happened.

That is not to say that the book has no weaknesses. The total focus on Captain Geary's viewpoint and command problems is unrelieved by any other elements; it's a bit like a meal which is all meat and no veg. Furthermore, although Geary's personality is clearly drawn, there are no physical descriptions of him or anyone else in the book, other to say whether they are male or female, and look young or old.  This gives no guidance to the reader's imagination in conjuring up mental pictures of the scenes. Despite these points, I will be placing an order for the next couple of books in this series.


Bill Garthright said...

Excellent review, Tony. I've read the next three volumes in the series, too, and so far, it's really held my interest.

Anthony G Williams said...

Thanks Bill, I'm looking forward to the next two!

Dan said...

I found myself turned off by the opening the fist time I gave this a look, but maybe I'll give it another look. I've enjoyed the JAG in space books by his alter-ego John Hemry, so I know he's got the chops.

Anthony G Williams said...

Dan, military SF in general and space battles in particular don't come any better than this, so it's worth another try.