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The Lost Fleet series by Jack Campbell

I just finished Jack Campbell’s (pseudonym of John G. Hemry) The Lost Fleet series which is made up of six books:

It’s been a few few years since the first novel was published, so I decided to re-read the first few again before diving into the last two.  First off, I have to say that I love the names of these books since they invoke the names of ships in the age of sail and also reinforce the commitment and will of the fleet and its commander.

The storyline is about a fleet of Alliance ships which, due to a trap, are caught far behind enemy lines and must laboriously jump from system to system in order to (1) protect their own star systems since the fleet action leaves the Alliance woefully undermanned and (2) deliver a copy of their enemy’s hyperspace key.  After the trap is discovered and the admiralty staff is brutally executed, the command devolves upon one man, Captain John Geary due to the fact that his promotion to captain predates any other officer by at least 80 years.

Captain Geary had participated in one of the earliest battles of the war nearly 100 standard years earlier and in a daring last stand was forced to abandon ship in a life boat in hibernation.  Granted posthumous promotion to captain, he was found by the fleet just prior to the enemy engagement.  In the intervening years, the legend of “Black Jack” Geary’s heroic last stand grew, both in popular culture (his name is used as an oath and to describe certain aggressive, valiant behavior) but also cultivated by a war-weary government who needed to inspire its population and military.

Meanwhile, the Alliance has forgotten the ideals for which it stood and even military tactics to the point where crews and materiel are merely thrown at the enemy.  Fleet captains have become more political animals than tacticians and commanders, leading by consensus and charisma rather than merit and strength of will.

Geary is forced to literally wrest away command, re-inspire faith in the tenets of civility and morality (e.g. not attacking non-military targets unless defending oneself),  counteract the unattainable vision of “Black Jack” Geary, and bring his people home.

What I enjoyed most:

I love stories where an individual is thrust into authority precipitously and must rise to the occasion.  In particular, the author does a great job describing how Geary wrestles with the “Black Jack” name and all it means to the current generation.

I like what I call “nuts and bolts” scenes.  By this I mean when authors take some time to walk through specifics on how a job is done, what thinking goes into a decision, and not merely surprises the reader with an unexpected fully hatched plan almost out of nowhere.   The definitions of up, down, starboard, and port as it relates to three dimensional space was also very clever and believable.

I found the ancestor worship consultation (?) faith to be very interesting.

The concepts of time and distance that are part of the military positioning and tactics.

  • These books really made me think of the rather large spans of time it would take for two space flotillas to engage, even considering speeds of fractions of light speed — hours and days instead of minutes.  The two sides would be on edge for days, knowing that the confrontation was nearing, but unable to strike.
  • Also, the speed of light would greatly impact how soon the fleets would even see each other.  For example, if a fleet arrives (via hyperspace) into a planetary system, it would instantly be able to see the fixed emplacements such as planets, moons, and orbiting stations as well as the positions of ships in the system as of, say, 4 hours ago — the time it took the light to travel across the system.  But, conversely, a ship already in the system would not see the invading fleet at all until 4 hours had passed (or less if the fleet was moving toward it) because the light from the arrival would not have hit the observer on the ship.  This concept was fascinating to me.

There are enough different plot elements — initially taking command, freeing prisoners of war, counteracting rebellion and even treason within the fleet, suspicions that there is another enemy — that the books never become a trudge from point A to point B to point C.

I would have to say, however, that the last novel ends more abruptly than I expected; it does have a solid enough ending that I didn’t get the impression that a direct sequel is needed.  According to his website, two additional outrigger series are contracted:

One will be called The Lost Fleet – Beyond the Frontier.  These will continue to follow Black Jack and his companions as they deal with events following VICTORIOUS.  The other series (The Phoenix Stars) is set in a formerly Syndic star system as the poeple there cope with the ongoing collapse of the Syndicate Worlds.

As I think about the books, they remind me strongly of other series which I’ve enjoyed:

  • John G. Hemry’s JAG in Space series which starts with A Just Determination for the, to me, realistic portrayal of the military of the future in space.
  • The Military SF Honor Harrington novels by David Weber (starting with On Basilisk Station) for the portrayal of the “enemy”.  The corporate Syndics who are essentially oppressing their citizens who are largely ignorant of the big picture is very analogous to the “People’s Republic of Haven”.  There are also a lot of comparisons that could be made of the conflicted main characters, the strength of will, and the military creativity.
  • The Seafort Saga by David Feintuch (starting with Midshipman’s Hope) — one of my all-time favorite series, especially the first 4 or so — which similarly describes an individual who is thrust into command before his time.

4 out of 5 stars (series as a whole, read late September thru 10/13/2010)

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  1. January 1, 2011 at 11:43 pm

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