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BOOK REVIEW: The Lost Fleet: Dauntless by Jack Campbell

REVIEW SUMMARY: Getting introduced to a book discovered by my now-adult son turns the tables, as he matches my enjoyment of military history, historical figures and strategy with a series that lays out all of these factors in a future 100-year war between the Alliance and the Syndics.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Captain John “Black Jack” Geary, awakened after 100-years spent in an escape pod, finds himself in mid-battle and in charge of the Fleet, fighting the same opponent as he was 100-years ago, but with a chance to turn the tide and end the long war.

PROS: Builds believable rules of warfare and technology; explains the thought process of the strategies without bogging down the pacing of the story; flawed characters, even the legendary Geary.
CONS: A series, that might not end? Never explains why the 100-year war began (perhaps later in the series?).
BOTTOM LINE: Mixing a believable set of technological rules with complex characters, The Lost Fleet: Dauntless is fast-paced military SF that my son calls “believable.”

I was reading The Civil War books by Shelby Foote (receiving lots of encouragement/taunting from fellow SF Signal Irregular Fred), right at the detailed part in Volume II of the Battle of Gettysburg, when my son starting talking about this new series he’d started reading called The Lost Fleet by Jack Campbell.

In my reading, Robert E. Lee was lost without Jeb Stuart, leader of the cavalry, who was normally his eyes and ears scouting ahead. Lee was also dealing with the normal pre-telecommunications era delay in getting his orders to his commanders; they met the night before the battle, and sometimes were given written orders. But any in-battle improvisation had to be communicated from the General to the messenger, who had to ride into battle to find the commander to relay the orders. How long that could take would be anybody’s guess, and, of course, impacted the outcome of several battles.

Just then a courier arrived with a message from Ewell, sent before the one from Lee had reached him. Rodes and Early believed they could take Cemetery Hill, he reported, if Hill would attack it simultaneously from the west. Lee replied the he was unable to furnish this support, except by long-range artillery fire, and after repeating his instruction for Ewell to take the height alone, if possible, added that he would ride over presently to see him…..It was now past 5:30 and the guns had stopped their growling on both sides. The staff officer returned to report that he had deliver the hour-old message to Ewell, but there was no evidence that it had been received. (The Civil War, Volume Two, Fredericksburg to Meridian, pg 480-481).

I have had the distinct pleasure of introducing my son to several different books as he has grown up. But having his 22-year-old self recommend a book to me, especially a science fiction book which is where I grew up (I’m an SF Signal Irregular, after all) is like….well, it’s as weird as when my eyes look his six-foot-two-inch self in the chin. It’s just…hard to get used to. I’m still skeptical that he’s actually taller than me. And, as far as book selection…

Josh: Dad, I picked up this book today that I think you’d really like.

Larry: Did you read that Tad Williams book I sent you?

Josh: Of course, I finished it in a day. [The boy is a speed reader.]

Larry: So what’s this new book called?

Josh: Dauntless. Part of The Lost Fleet Series.

Larry: Really? What is it about?

Josh: Well, briefly, it’s about an Alliance captain named Jack Geary who awakens from cryo after 100 years to find out the war that started before he fell asleep is still going on and he might just be the only hope for the Alliance.

Larry: Really? Why do you like it?

Josh: It is realistic. How he talked about communication, it just made the book more believable. Stories like Star Trek are enjoyable and cool with instant video chatting in space but then you realize that the ships talking could be thousands if not tens of thousands of miles from each other; instant chatting doesn’t seem realistic at that distance.

And now the really hard part had come, making sure he ordered the next maneuvers at the right times and in the right ways. Geary watched the data and the displays as the two opponents hurtled towards each other, trying to let his training and instincts feel the right moments to call the next orders. The images of the closest Syndic ships were still five minutes old by the time the Alliance saw them. Five minutes wasn’t a huge amount of time, especially given the momentum of these huge warships. but it was enough time for the Syndics to make some last-minute moves to mess up Geary’s carefully coordinated attack. (pg 251)

Larry: Interesting. (Now he’d hooked me). Who is Geary?
Josh: He’s a ship Captain who was in one of the first battles with the Syndics and had to sacrifice and leave his ship in an escape pod…where he was stranded for 100 years. What I like about Geary is his attitude toward how the fleet acts today versus in his time. I thought it was amusing when he proposed how to escape and the ship captains were like ‘we need to vote’ and he was so astounded by the fact that the military has become more of a political game.

“What’s wrong? Somebody tell me.”
Captain Desjani spoke with visible reluctance. “It’s customary for proposed courses of actions to be finalized, and then debated by the senior officers and ship’s commanders, with a vote afterward to affirm support.”
“A vote?” He stared at her, then around the table. No wonder Admiral Bloch had sometimes struck him as a politician running for office. “When the hell did this ‘custom’ begin?”
Desjani grimaced. “I’m not personally familiar —”
“Well, I don’t have time for a history lesson right now. And we don’t have time to debate what to do. I may not know what everything is like now, but I don’t know that waiting, paralyzed, for a snake to strike is the worst possible course of action. Indecision kills ships and fleets. We have to act and act decisively in the time we have. I will not conduct any votes while I am in command. I open to suggestions and proposals. I want input from you. But I am in command…” (pg 25-26)

Larry: Sounds very interesting. Is it a trilogy?

Josh: Naw, it’s a whole series. Six books, and then a series after that. I’ve already ready five. [If it’s a good book and series, Josh will consume them in record time, and then usually re-read the entire series…all before I’ve gotten to the third book.]

Larry: Aw. I hate when they do that.

Josh: Why?

Larry: Well, cause the story never ends, and you know the main character is not going to get killed off. Caused that would end the story line.

Josh: C’mon, Dad, everyone can’t be George R. R. Martin. Besides, the series is about Captain Geary trying to get the fleet home while instilling discipline and teaching them fighting techniques that have been lost during the 100 years he was asleep.

Larry: Did you know Jack Campbell wrote a world building article for SF Signal? In it he talked about “saying what your tech cannot do, and what actions it then enforces upon the characters.”

Josh: Right, that’s what I was saying.

Larry: Did you know Jack Campbell is a pseudonym? [I had to show my son a hint of authority and intelligence.]

Josh: Interesting. A lot of these military writers seem to use pseudonyms.

Larry: Harry Turtledove doesn’t. Did I tell you he was stalking me at WorldCon?

Josh: Several times. He wasn’t stalking you, Dad. You guys were just cruising through the same book stalls. He was signing his books. You were looking for hard-to-find James Gunn books. You’re delusional.

Larry: We’ve talked about that, son. It’s never been medically proven. Can you loan me the rest of the series?

Josh: Sure thing, Dad!

About Larry Ketchersid (55 Articles)
Author of two novels (Dusk Before the Dawn, Software by the Kilo) and one volume of non-fiction stories. CEO of a security software and services company; co-owner of JoSara MeDia, publisher of iPad apps, print and eBooks. Runner, traveler, Sharks fan, Rockets fan, Packers shareholder.

13 Comments on BOOK REVIEW: The Lost Fleet: Dauntless by Jack Campbell

  1. Fun review of a book series I have thought several times about picking up. Over the past few years my desire to read military science fiction has inexplicably grown. The seed was probably planted with Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series, which probably isn’t technically military SF, but then grew with reading Tanya Huff, David Weber and most recently William C. Dietz.

    You, and your son, have me sold!

  2. Jeff A. Smith // December 9, 2013 at 6:05 pm //

    I’ve been curious about this series as well. I have picked them up a few times already as I dig the covers. Consider me sold as well. Thanks to you and your son for the review.

  3. It’s like ‘sh*t my son says’ only better.

  4. I actually just completed the 6 books in this series and have to say it gets extremely repetitive and drawn out, when the author could have tied it all up in around 3 books. I was relieved when I got to the end with my interest waning. There’s a further three books in the Lost Fleet series, but by the end of the sixth book I just couldn’t go on anymore.

  5. This was right up my alley, so I read it and enjoyed it. And then found I had absolutely no desire to read the rest of the series, thanks to his disagreeable captains. One book of herding cats is fine, but 6? I wish you the best, Captain Geary, but I’m glad it’s you and not me.

  6. Brandon Grasley // December 10, 2013 at 11:49 am //

    I just finished listening to The Lost Fleet: Dauntless on Audible. I enjoyed it, especially the mechanics of space travel and the battle strategies, but I still couldn’t get over the idea that EVERY SINGLE PERSON in command of a spacecraft would be so ignorant. That niggling tidbit drew me out of the story many, many times, and it’s a short book. Great world, but the premise in book 1 is too shaky.

  7. I wonder if Campbell picked the Geary name after William Geary, who was territorial governor of Kansas during part of the “Bleeding Kansas” period about 1856? Back when I was trying to sell movie scripts in the 1990’s, I wrote a script set in that period. In my research, Geary came across as a lot more admirable, competent and moral a character than many of the other historical participants.

  8. Nice review – and I’m definitely sold! I’ve been circling this one for a while now. This seals the deal. Thanks!

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