Monday, December 14, 2009

The Lost Fleet: Dauntless by Jack Campbell

One of the things about military-SF is that sometimes the books are more concerned about the toys than trying to create a setting that undeniably feels military in nature. That's why it is so gratifying when my friend handed me Jack Campbell's book, and it turned out to have that "feel" in spades.

Campbell (a pseudonym for SF writer John G Hemry) creates a universe that is "light" on the toys (he gives very basic descriptions of the ship's weapon systems), but heavy on the military aspect, dialogue and especially on the SF of what ship-to-ship combat might look like in a Newtonian/Einsteinian universe.

The story is clever -- although not necessarily original -- in its exploration of themes. And there are a few. The main character, John Geary, is the survivor of a battle nearly a hundred years ago that launched the war between the human populated Syndicate and Alliance worlds. Recovered from his escape pod -- in which he had been in hibernation -- Geary is suddenly thrown into a setting that is both familiar and very alien to him. But, in true Arthurian form, the fleet that recovers him are going into (what they hope) is a decisive battle against the Syndics, only to face defeat and Geary assuming responsibility as the most senior captain (after the commanding admiral is gunned down in cold blood). Through Geary we learn the pressures of military command, and the need for military discipline, no matter how silly it might look to a civilian.

On the other hand, we are introduced to Co-President Rione, whose role is not only to act as a foil against Geary, but also to explore the disconnect between military and civilian spheres that often happens. This is particularly notable when Geary decides to fight a battle against an inferior Syndic force, highlighting the necessity of discipline, but also the divide between rational decisions as they are seen by the military and civilian apparatus.

Along the way we are treated to a lot of battle descriptions, and the uniqueness of fighting a battle based on Newtonian physics, touched on by Einsteinian relativity effects.

One of the really gratifying elements is, as I mentioned, the military "feel" of the setting. For people that might never have served in the military, this aspect might not be as apparent, but for those that have, I thought it was an excellent detail. Of course, this is no mistake, since Hemry is retired US Navy. But the way he crafts dialogue is the most convincing aspect; he crafts it in such a way that it is soldiers talking to soldiers, rather than what a civilian might think it would be. Although this is a small detail, for me it goes a long way in reinforcing the immersiveness of the setting.

Overall this was a very good book, and rather enjoyable. I'm very much looking forward to reading the rest of the series.


Sergeant Crunch said...

It's a great series. Though he gets a bit formulaic as it progresses. The feel is the same, it just gets predictable. Hopefully he mixes it up in the next installment.

Damon said...

Well, I'll be finding that out as I go along!

NukeHavoc said...

I liked it. I think his greatest sin is that he tends to repeat key plot points from the earlier books. This is no doubt because he wants to make it easy for people to jump in to the series at any point, but when you're reading them in rapid succession it gets a little old.

The space battles make up for it though; I really enjoyed the realistic way in which those were portrayed. There's a real sense of battles slowly unfolding on a stellar scale, slow that is until the ships actually close and everything happens in an instant.

Definitely good reads. I have the next four books in the series to lend you; the sixth and final one doesn't come out until 2010.