Tuesday, June 16, 2009
The Lost Fleet: Valiant by Jack Campbell - guest review by Jim Haley It’s a little difficult to review the fourth book in a series for potential new readers. To start, I’ll give a little introduction to the series in general and one line summary of the books leading up to Valiant. First, this series is like (the new) Battlestar Galactica crossed with the movie Master and Commander. If those two ideas merged together sounds like your cup of tea, this series is for you. Dauntless, book one of the series, starts in a place I always enjoy; the final battle. The Alliance Fleet of starships has used an enemy (aka Syndic) hypernet key to access their homeworld for a final strike to end a hundred years of war. But the Syndics have set a trap, and the Alliance fleet is defeated. To negotiate their own surrender, the Alliance command staff goes aboard the Syndic command vessel, only to be killed before the eyes of the watching Alliance fleet. Captain John Geary, recently found by the Alliance fleet after being in cryogenic sleep for a hundred years, is called upon to try and lead this fleet back out of Syndic space to the safety of the Alliance. He must also learn to live with the larger than life persona that has been created by the Alliance about him during his years in stasis, because ‘Black Jack’ Geary was there at the first battle in this war, defending his ship ‘to the death’ while his crew escaped. In the second book, Fearless, John Geary is faced with a mutiny, as a well liked Alliance commander is picked up from a Syndic POW camp. Geary, who didn’t really want to command this fleet, for the first time must choose to continue to do so. He knows that the ways the Alliance has fought over the past century has cost the fleet dearly, and this new commander will only revert to those ways. In addition to knowing that the lives of all the people in the fleet are at stake, he is also becoming aware that the safety of the Alliance itself is at stake, as there is an alien threat lurking behind the scenes. In Courageous, the third book, Geary must face his first defeat at the hands of the Syndics. His fleet is overwhelmed, deep in enemy territory, using lesser known Hyperspace routes between stars, to avoid using the Syndic Hyperspace network. Ultimately, he retreats from the large battle in Courageous, only to turn around at the very end of the novel and head back to the site of his defeat, determined to surprise the an enemy that’s not expecting his return. Obviously, I’ve read and loved each of these novels, and can highly recommend reading all of them, and in fact would not really recommend reading book four, Valiant, without having read the other three first. That said, it's hard for me to say 'book 4 is better than book 2 or 3' with this series, as they all flow so well together and really feel like they're written in a consistent voice by the author. There's a reason for that which I'll come back to, but I will go on record as saying that I think Valiant is my second favorite book in the series after Dauntless - but if I was rating these books they'd only be separated by tenths of a point; the whole series is excellent. Valiant makes some great strides in moving some important plots forward. The conspirators within the fleet start to make more overt moves against John Geary. John's first 'love interest' (lust interest?) Rione, the only politician left in the fleet, moves on as she senses he's actually in love with Tanya, the captain of the Battle Cruiser Dauntless. But this is bittersweet as they both realize their feelings for each other, but neither one of them can do anything about it due to his being her commanding officer. We also get the fleet back to the Lakota star system (where in part 3 they were nearly destroyed) where this time they kick ass and take names. The reader is also finally given a look at some of the Syndics themselves. The Syndics are humans under another government whom the Alliance (Earth) humans (the Lost Fleet) are fighting against. From some Syndic corporate settlers left behind whom the Alliance choose to save from their fate, Geary learns a number of things. First, are the lengths the Syndics will go to in the war against the Alliance (i.e. sacrificing an entire world and its population). But he also learns which Syndic leaders are sympathetic to the Alliance and may be willing to work with the Alliance to end the war, should Geary be able to get his fleet home (and thus discredit the current leaders of the Syndics, who have told the Alliance leadership that the Alliance Fleet led by Geary was long ago destroyed). All this happens, plus the confirmation of some non-human aliens putting pressure on the Syndics - though we are still left in the dark as to their motivation. If there are any failings in this series, and I'd call them only minor quibbles, they'd be these. First, there's only one point of view in these books. This story is only told from the point of view of John Geary, captain of this 'Lost Fleet'. It is a 3rd person narrative (meaning the story does not use the perspective of 'I' in each sentence) but in some ways it's limiting. I actually want to see what's going on the minds of some of the other characters. But then, it would also ruin some of the surprises we've had, and ones that I suspect are yet to come. Second, there is a tendency by the author to provide too much attention to some details in the battles. Are you a battle junkie? Do you like to know every move each starship makes? The description of maneuvers found in The Lost Fleet (i.e. “Echo Delta squadron move port 13 degrees, 12 percent thrust on mark one-five”) is just way too much for me to follow. However, in a book that's 300 pages long, if I were to add up the amount of sentences where the above takes place it might fill 4 pages. I usually just skip those paragraphs in battle - I was trying at first to follow it, but I just can't. I do get the gist though, and that’s enough for me. And credit where credit’s due; Jack Campbell uses real science, light speed and relativistic laws, when plotting out these battles. There are no sounds of explosions in space or hard right turns in zero gravity to be found here. And these are minor issues. In fact, I can't wait to see how this series ends - though I'll also say, I can't imagine how the author is going to wrap up all these plot lines in another two books. But then perhaps only the Syndic war will wrap up at the end of 'The Lost Fleet' series and another series will grow out of it to deal with the 'alien threat'. But if you enjoy space opera, military science fiction, realistic space battles, a desperate quest, alien intrigue, conspiracy – heck, a good story, do yourself a favor and pick up any of The Lost Fleet books by Jack Campbell. You’ll be glad you did. Guest reviewer Jim Haley is a regular contributor to the Star Wars fan site Beyond the New Jedi Order, His regular weekly column is featured each Friday, featuring news and reviews of non-Star Wars books by Star Wars authors, as well as other media tie-in fiction. His latest column, a review of Kevin Anderson’s The Edge of the World can be found HERE.