Friday, July 15, 2011

Book Review: Dreadnaught by Jack Campbell

Aside from the fact that the title has gotten a little ridiculous, The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier: Dreadnaught, this is easily the most approachable book in this series from Jack Campbell since Dauntless (the first book) and one of the best in general as well. This is saying a lot about a book series that I continue to praise with nearly every release, but it’s no less true with this book than it was in the past. Upon the conclusion of a centuries-long war in the stars between various factions of humanity, it has been revealed than an alien presence has been orchestrating said war to keep humanity otherwise occupied with its own conflict and remain unaware of the aliens’ existence. But now Admiral John Geary, who has managed to end one war, may be faced with starting up a new war in its place. Fearing his war hero status, the Allied Worlds’ Government gives Black Jack Geary command of the fleet and a new mission – to explore the territory of the aliens and try to make peaceful contact. This despite the fact that the aliens have repeatedly warned humanity to stay away, have used weapons of mass destruction on humanity to ensure their privacy, and are suspected to have captured humans who ventured into their space before, never to return. As Admiral Geary returns the fleet under his command to action, he finds a whole new set of problems than when he was first put in charge. Now he’s bringing along soldiers who were ready to put war behind them and ships that are beginning to fall apart with no funds to fix them. He’s got commanders who now respect him, but now they’re looking to live up to his example and try to make the kinds of daring decisions he’s known for so that they can impress him. His government liaison is a woman with whom he had a prior relationship – which is awkward enough, made worse by the fact that he’s now married to one of the Captains in his fleet, so jealousy runs high. And the liaison is hiding something from him, a fact made worse by the errand the fleet is forced to run prior to arriving in alien controlled space, as they pick up POWs which include her husband and other high ranking military personnel, Admiral Geary may find his own place within the fleet coming into question once again. While reading the prior 6 books in The Lost Fleet series is a good idea because they are excellent books in their own right, it’s not necessary in order to read and enjoy Dreadnaught. This book goes out of its way to make sure it is new reader friendly, and it achieves it in multiple ways. First, everything and anything you might need to know about the prior series is explained in the pages of this book, and it’s never done in a boring fashion. In fact, it serves as an excellent reminder even for those who have read the books, since it’s been seven years now since the release of the first book. Never once did I feel like it was a dry retelling, only the memories of the events that have shaped this series so far as thought of or discussed by various characters. One of my biggest complaints about the prior books in this series was the very technical way in which space battles were described. I’m sure they were agonizingly correct in their physics, but they made for boring reading. Well, Dreadnaught removed most of that techno-speak and boiled down the space battles to a much more manageable level. Perhaps part of it is that Admiral Geary now trusts his commanders to make the right moves and therefore he does less direct orders to them, but it seemed like an authorial choice to cut back on that kind of detail. There’s still enough detail given in the battle that I can picture what’s going on, without my having to skip over paragraphs that I just can’t follow. I found this to be a huge improvement and one that also makes this book very approachable for newcomers. It’s still a tight 3rd person novel, meaning the reader is only ever privy to John Geary’s point of view. This is both a boon and a bane to the story. On the one hand, the reader will get to know John Geary very well – and he’s a very likeable character so that’s not a bad thing. On the other hand, I’d like to get to know some of the other characters better as well, and really all we ever know about them is through Geary’s interactions with them. At the same time, it also can make for a more intriguing novel, just as Geary doesn’t know the motivations of other characters, so we too as readers are kept in the dark. That means the secrets aren’t revealed until the author is good and ready to let both the reader and the character know. I’m not sure this is something I would change about the book, but I will be curious to see what Jack Campbell plans to do with his “The Phoenix Stars” series that he had previously mentioned was in development, taking place in the former Syndic controlled human space – the prior enemies of the Alliance. Will that series also be written from one perspective, or will it include a larger cast range. I suppose I should warn that Dreadnaught does have a bit of a cliffhanger ending, not terrible, but certainly an ending that begs for resolution in the next book. This is a pattern with most of Jack Campbell’s books in this series (with the exception of Victorious) so it’s to be expected, but if you’re looking for a stand-alone type novel that’s not really what you’re going to find here. Still, it’s a great starting point for new readers, and I highly recommend it for the scifi fans out there.


Charles Gramlich said...

I've been on the lookout for some good military SF. I'll have to check out this whole series.

animewookie said...

Oooo, this sounds wonderful. Great review :D

Hutch M said...

Have really enjoyed reading the rest of the series and would definitely like to know what happens next with the aliens on the other side. Thanks for the write up!