By Marty Mulrooney
The Lost Fleet: Dauntless is the opening instalment of the New York Times bestselling space opera series The Lost Fleet, written by Jack Campbell. Originally published in the US, Titan Books have finally brought the series to the UK in exclusive paperback editions that feature original covers and added extras, such as interviews with the author. This first novel – originally published in 2006 – follows Captain John “Black Jack” Geary and the Alliance fleet as they flee across space from the advancing Syndic enemy…
Captain Geary certainly makes for a highly interesting protagonist, especially due to his unique situation at the beginning of the story. Presumed dead for over a century, Geary has finally been recovered from survival hibernation by the Alliance, waking up to find that not only has his name become legend, but the war is far from over. Before long, things have gone drastically wrong and Geary is in command of the entire Alliance Fleet. Can he get them back home safely and live up to his name before it is too late?
Another ship’s Captain spoke up, her voice ragged. “Dammit, if he can’t get us out of this, who can?”
All eyes focused on Geary again as the woman openly voiced what so many of them had been thinking. He wanted to avoid those faces, but he had to meet their hope and scepticism dead on. Geary couldn’t hide anymore. “I’m going to try.”
The majority of the story is a slow retreat though space. Rather than making up some sci-fi magic to do impossible things, the story of Dauntless always seems anchored by the laws of physics. It may make for a slightly less exciting read at first, but in the long run it raises the stakes substantially. It also allows the reader to understand the great skills that Geary possesses, skills that his descendants have almost entirely lost. For example, he is able to bark orders to the ships of his fleet, taking into account the huge time delays caused by space. In turn, this makes the later battles, although sometimes obtuse, sufficiently awe-inspiring and impressive. It comes as no surprise that author Jack Campbell (John G. Hemry) is a retired Naval officer and graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.
Elsewhere, there is much to enjoy. Geary has to contend with people who see him as a walking legend, as well as deal with people who want nothing more than to see him fail. Also, war has changed the Alliance in many ways for the worse. Prisoners are routinely shot dead (foolishly copying their enemy’s bad ways) and battles are largely uncoordinated affairs, resulting in major losses for both sides. The writing sometimes teeters on the cheesy side, but overall Geary comes across as a believable hero, trying to do the right thing in a world that has left him far behind.
There were triumphant cheers on the bridge of Dauntless, but Geary barely registered them as he watched his fleet on the display. Even though he’d known how badly those ships wanted to be cut loose, he was still surprised to see just how rapidly his neat formations dissolved, as the individual ships spread away to engage targets of opportunity.
Overall, the sometimes slow pacing and heavily detailed space talk won’t be for everyone. However, this book did manage to hold my attention and I would still class it as memorable read. It is a shame that some of the more interesting plot points – such as a subtle hint at alien life – are pretty much brushed over, but I guess they will be expanded upon in later instalments. Regardless, The Lost Fleet: Dauntless is an enjoyable military sci-fi read that manages to ring authentically true whilst painting Captain “Black Jack” Geary as a heroic protagonist who could certainly support multiple sequels.
7 OUT OF 10