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The Lost Fleet: Dauntless, Jack Campbell 13 June 2014

First of a six-book series. In the distant future, a long-frozen space-navy captain may tip the balance in a century-long war.

"Jack Campbell" is a pen-name of John G. Hemry, whose Stark's War and Paul Sinclair series I've previously read and moderately enjoyed. This book is that odd beast, a military SF novel that largely avoids going into technoporn details about the tools of war.

The setup is simple enough: the Alliance and Syndics have been waging space-war for nearly a century, and the Alliance has been getting the worst of it. As the book starts, it has just lost the big battle that was meant to bring victory, and the leaders of the fleet are asking for terms.

Fortunately for them, they've got John Geary, a legendary naval hero believed to have been killed in action just before the war began. On the way to this final battle, the fleet passed through a little-used system, and found his lifepod, where he was still viable in cold sleep.

Geary's clearly the core of this series, and he's portrayed as having a mixture of talents and drawbacks based on his personal situation. He's unfamiliar with modern technology, but he's been trained as an officer in a peacetime navy without the punishing casualty rates that the long war has brought: so he has the benefit of having learned space-war tactics when there was still professionalism in the officer corps, rather than aggression, glory and tradition.

Unfortunately some of that tradition is his own legend. Because of reports of his actions in his last battle, he's become known since his "death" as Black Jack Geary, a heroic figure to the navy. Once all the admirals are gunned down by the Syndics, he finds himself in uneasy command of a fleet that's at best enervated and at worst actively rebellious, with a lot of space to cross before getting home.

This is in many ways a treatise on command. There's a big space battle near the end, but in some ways it's more important to see who fights in what manner than which ships go boom prettily. There's no lingering over the shape and size of the ships as one might find in other space-opera authors; I couldn't even tell you at the end of this book what they use for power. That's not tactically important.

One technical point that's well-handled: with these ships travelling at low relativistic speeds over great distances, but restricted to lightspeed sensors and communication, the major problem of space war is information. Never mind the enemy, how do you coordinate your own ships to make a concerted strike? The hours of delay between an event's occurrence and someone elsewhere in the system learning about it are often of major importance.

The hardest thing for me to swallow was the way all the Alliance commanders except our hero seemed to have taken stupid pills. A high casualty rate in a prolonged war only goes so far to explain this, even with a military using the old American system of keeping its best fighters on the front lines rather than rotating them back for training duties, and even with the suggestion that training times have got shorter and shorter as new junior officers have to be thrown into the front lines. If the fleet has collectively forgotten something as big and complex as sophisticated space war tactics, how has it managed technological gains at the same time? I do hope that the Syndics, when we see more of them, turn out to have been having the same problem, or I'm going to be wondering how the war ever managed to last this long. (It would also help explain their stereotypically Eeeevil behaviour.)

The characterisation isn't all it might be, there's a bit too much of Geary's italicised inner turmoil, descriptions are sparse, and the plot is basically looking like the Anabasis in space; but that's a good plot, the ideas are interesting, and I'll certainly give this series another book's worth of chance.

Followed by Fearless.

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See also:
The Lost Fleet: Fearless, Jack Campbell
The Lost Fleet: Courageous, Jack Campbell
The Lost Fleet: Valiant, Jack Campbell
The Lost Fleet: Relentless, Jack Campbell
The Lost Fleet: Victorious, Jack Campbell

Series: The Lost Fleet | Next in series: Fearless

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