Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Book Review – The Lost Fleet: Victorious by Jack Campbell

Three years ago, on a whim, I picked up The Lost Fleet: Dauntless in a bookstore. It sounded like my kind of book, but as usual I’ve got lots of books to read and it sat on my shelf for a long time. Then about two years ago, I started to clean out my shelves – removing books that I had lost interest in or just had decided I was never going to get to and would be better off donating. As Dauntless was headed towards that pile, it caught my eye again though – and I decided right then to give it a try. As it turns out, that was a very good decision, as it remains one of my favorite books and the start of an excellent series (as I’ve described before, a mix of Battlestar Galactica and Master & Commander). Now, with Victorious the series comes to a satisfying conclusion – providing the same consistent level of entertainment as all the previous installments, while also closing out most of the remaining plotlines. When the fifth book in this series (Relentless) ended, Captain John Geary had finally managed to bring his war weary fleet back to Alliance space, having managed to defeat the Syndic backup battle fleet that had been arrayed against his return. But the war isn’t over, and the Alliance leadership gives Geary permission to lead the fleet back into Syndic space – knowing their enemy has been crippled by the massive losses they’ve sustained against Geary’s Lost Fleet. But this time Geary’s mission is to end the war, by whatever means necessary – and then determine what threat the unknown aliens who have made a nuisance of themselves throughout the series really are to humanity as a whole (both Alliance and Syndic). In this book a couple of additional politicians join Geary’s fleet – to both determine what kind of threat Geary himself might be (as he has now managed to save the Alliance, they fear he will attempt a coup against the established government) and to negotiate the terms of Syndic surrender. These two politicians are a nice addition, providing new insights into the feelings of the people of the Alliance (their hatred of Syndics, the antagonism between the military and the government) – since at this point Co-President Rione has become a trusted part of Geary’s advisors, it was refreshing to have these new perspectives. We also get to know some Syndics, as a captured CEO (the ranks used by that government) advises Geary on both ending the war and engaging the enigma aliens. I even thought the battle maneuvers were toned down in this book as compared to prior entries in the series. Which is not to say there were no battles – there is a large scale battle at the Syndic homeworld with a number of twists and turns, as well as a short engagement with the aliens towards the end of the book – just that the battles were written in such a way that they were easily followed. One thing that I’ve loved from the very beginning about this series is how easy I find it to read Jack Campbell’s prose. Some authors I’ll struggle to get through 50 pages – I was halfway through this 350 page book in a few hours of reading. The characters are all well realized, from the duty-bound captain of Dauntless (Tanya) that Geary has fallen in love with, to the tough-as-nails Marine officer who leads her troops firsthand onto Syndic warships – and even the captain who no longer has it in him to fight, and commits suicide when he fails to engage the enemy. The whole series has a wonderful balance of character and plot. But talking about plot, I did mention that most of the plots are closed out in this volume – which means that some aren’t. Now these aren’t the kinds of plots that would necessitate a follow up series – I actually thought for sure that Campbell would never be able to completely finish off this series in one more book, figuring the alien threat would be a part of the next series – and while that could still happen, and the dangling plot threads could be used in a follow up, it isn’t the kind of plots that require resolution. For instance, Co-President Rione had found out in an earlier novel that her husband, who was thought killed in action years earlier, was still alive as a POW in Syndic space. But he is never found in this novel (though she intends to keep looking for him, and POW exchanges are meant to be part of the peace process). Similarly, a relative of Geary had covered the retreat of the Lost Fleet in the opening book – his fate is not revealed (though talked about in this book, and Geary assumes he is dead at the end). Still, we get resolutions to the war with the Syndics, the alien threat is headed off (though it could easily be resurrected in a follow up series) and Geary manages to avoid being Tanya’s superior long enough to propose to her and start building the life he always wanted. And having said all that, I just checked out the author’s website (http://www.johnghemry.com/) to discover that there will in fact be two follow up series, one following John Geary called The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier, the other called The Phoenix Stars which is set in Syndic space. But while I anxiously await both of these series, I still highly recommend the first six Lost Fleet books as a complete science fiction story on its own – drama, action, space-opera, military sci-fi – if any of those staples of the genre are of interest to you, this fantastic series is worth looking at.

5 comments:

Alec said...

I'm sold. This is right up my alley. I am honestly surprised I haven't already read this... at least I hope I haven't because I just ordered the series. If you have any similar mil-sf recommendations make sure to let me know.

Wilson said...

I just laughed to myself when I realized I'd buy this book in a pinch without reading the back based solely on the awesome space marine soldier guy with the big gun on the cover =_=

Charles Gramlich said...

I have, I think, the first in this series, though I've not read it. Have to dig it out of my pile.

Budd said...

I have read the first two in the series and enjoyed them very much. Quick reads too. Scifi Boston is reading this as their June discussion book.

Jim Haley said...

@Alec - I'm not sure I'm well read enough in military scifi to provide recommendations. I recently read Helsreach and found I want to read more in the military scifi universe of Warhammer 40K. I've got a number of other books to read/review for this site (including House of Suns & Kris Longknife Intrepid) which might provide the same kind of entertainment. I'll review them as soon as I can. I've always meant to try Stephen Kent's Clone books though - the first one came out right around the same time as Dauntless, and it looked like another book I'd enjoy. Glad my recommendation of this series helped you decide to give it a try.

@Wilson - I completely understand, as it was the cover that first caught my eye. It didn't hurt that the description sounded right up my alley as well.

@Charles - as Budd said, the first book (all the books really) is such a fast read, you should know very quickly if the first book is something you'll like.