18th Feb2011

Book Review: The Lost Fleet – Dauntless

by Jack Kirby

Written by Jack Campbell | Distributed by Titan Books

thelostfleet-CVR

The first novel in Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series begins strongly where other novels might end – in the aftermath of an enormous battle. The reader is thrown into the deep end and expected to catch up fairly quickly. We soon learn that Jack Geary, the series’ protagonist, has been rescued from a hundred year sleep in an escape pod by The Alliance space fleet. The fleet is waging war against the Syndic forces; the same war that Geary was involved in over a century before.

Having since become a figure of legend to the Alliance forces, Geary finds himself in control of the defeated fleet after the battle is lost and is faced with the impossible-seeming task of escaping the Syndic forces and returning to the safety of Alliance space, like an interstellar Kenny Dalglish appointed to save the Liverpool United Alliance.

This may seem like an awful lot to get to grips with in a short space of time, but Campbell manages to convey the necessary background information with subtlety, organically and quickly without resorting to weak exposition. His measured tone is an enjoyable aspect throughout the book. Also enjoyable is the admirable dedication to realism adopted by Campbell, specifically in the commitment to time delay and the relativistic effects of light travelling across the vast distances of space. For example, when enemy spaceships arrive in systems, it is often a matter of hours before they are registered, communication between ships takes several minutes and battles can also last for hours. This may sound potentially dull, but in practice it adds an interesting layer to the strong military strategy parts of the book. The politics of the universe created by Campbell are also intriguing and Geary must learn to become a diplomatic as well as military leader.

Other appreciable themes of the book are Campbell’s study of the distance between the legend that Jack Geary has become since his assumed death and the man he actually is and the effects of war on the morals and practices of a people over an extended period of time. Less decent is the fact that everything seems a little too easy; whilst the reader is constantly reminded of the huge odds against survival faced by the fleet; these aren’t reflected in this first book of the series at least, which has the effect of reducing the jeopardy of the plot somewhat. Sometimes the book strays into predictable or clichéd territory, but there are, thankfully, few instances of this. The dialogue is often a little ham-fisted at times and occasionally Campbell oversimplifies issues and situations unnecessarily, which is disappointing given that he usually has enough respect for his reader’s intelligence not to do so. And okay, the actual prose is no work of art, but Campbell has no pretentions of grandeur. Dauntless is a thoroughly decent science-fiction/military strategy novel and a compelling read. Best of all is the engaging universe that Campbell has created, which is more than interesting enough to encourage revisits in future instalments in the saga.

The Lost Fleet: Dauntless is available now at Titan Books.

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