The Lost Fleet: Dauntless by Jack Campbell

Anthony G Williams

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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.

(An extract from my SFF blog: Science Fiction & Fantasy)
 

Foxbat

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I'm about half-way through this book and would say your review is a pretty fair assessment. I notice (after reading your review) that there are also little or no descriptions of the crafts involved.

The real star of this tale, however, is the manouvers during battle - that's when the writing really comes alive:)
 

Anthony G Williams

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On to volume 2 of The Lost Fleet: Fearless.

Fearless continues the story of the revived hero, John Geary, controversially put in charge of the Alliance fleet deep in enemy territory with the task of getting as much of it home as he can. Cue lots more of the same: detailed considerations of strategic and tactical options and gripping space battles. There really aren't any new elements included in the story, just a continuation of Geary's complex and developing relationship with Co-President Rione, and the dissatisfaction of some of his starship captains boiling over into mutiny with the arrival of a new catalyst.

My previous reservations about the author's writing weaknesses remain, and I am already becoming a little weary of Geary; the way he never puts a foot wrong, always finds exactly the right words, and invariably wins every battle, usually by annihilating the enemy while suffering minimal losses. Despite this, Fearless is addictively exciting and I read it quickly. I already have the next volume on my reading pile but I'm not sure how many more I'll want to read unless the author injects some variety into the stories.

(An extract from my SFF blog: http://sciencefictionfantasy.blogspot.co.uk/)
 

J-Sun

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I found sufficient variety (complications, variations on themes, and the further clarification of a couple of mysteries) but it really does stray very little from Geary and the mission to return, with focus on the tactics thereof. But it might be fair to say that the six books are really a single story so not too much extreme variety could be accommodated. Much more variety is to be found in comparing the Lost Fleet to the next set of Beyond the Frontier books and each of those to the parallel Lost Stars series. While Geary looms over even the Lost Stars, he's not actually in them to speak of and the focus is on two ex-Syndic leaders while, of course, he's still the star of the BtF books but there's a different story arc (eventually, though it starts out feeling like a repeat of the first).

Either way, "gripping page-turner" is an excellent assessment and "addictively exciting" is even better. :)
 

Foxbat

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I've read the first three books and that's it for me. As much as I enjoyed what I've read so far, it wasn't anything really outstanding and I'm just not that interested in investing time in another three of his books to reach the conclusion.
 

Brian G Turner

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As it was only 99p I picked it up...

At first I had a few niggles - seemed very convenient that only Geary had any sense of military discipline, and also that technology had barely progressed over the length of a century. I might also have personally preferred some of the tactics condensed down, rather than explained to Desjani, as well as Rione.

However, am nearly half way through now, and can see the importance to the plot of all of the above. It's proving a good-paced read, and I do like the way the limitations of light speed for communications and sighting over a large area are playing out.

If this continues in the same vein to the end, I may just pick up the sequel from the charity shop at some point in future. :)
 

Brian G Turner

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Oh - I've finished it already! That was a quick read - I was expecting this novel to be longer, ie, reach a point of conclusion, rather than stop at a pause for breath. Even still, it was enjoyable - especially the point of conflict between Geary and the ship captains, not least their "French knights" preferred method of battle.

The idea of a third party is intriguing, but I'm not sure why "non-humans" was suggested - why not a splinter group from the Syndics that have been conveniently wiped from the public record?

Will be happy to keep an eye out for the next in the series. :)
 

Vertigo

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first series and will soon be getting around to the Beyond series. Nothing momentous, they had their flaws but, as I've said elsewhere, I particularly liked the realistic feel of the space battles.

Can't comment on your Spoiler comment, Brian, without... well... more spoilers, other than to say he clearly had plans for the second Beyond series right from the start...
 

Anthony G Williams

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On to volume 3:

Courageous is the third of Campbell's Lost Fleet series, which is simply one long, continuous story of a running fight between opposing starship fleets as seen through the eyes of John Geary, commander of one of the fleets (see my reviews of the first two volumes, and repeat). Nothing very new happens in this one and the repetition ought to be boring, but every time I pick up one of Campbell's books I am gripped by his storytelling skills and find it hard to put down again. This one finishes on a cliffhanger, but I will try to resist buying any more for a while – too many other books in my reading pile!

Incidentally, in an interview at the end of the book, the author lists his favourite TV series. The one in first place is no great surprise (the original Star Trek), but in second place comes The Prisoner (1960s British mystery) and in third The Avengers (not the comic strip characters, but another 1960s British series). I can't disagree with any of those, and I enthusiastically endorse his comment on The Avengers: "Emma Peel. Best. SF. Female. Character. Ever."

(An extract from my SFF blog: http://sciencefictionfantasy.blogspot.co.uk/)
 
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