You may have noticed my affinity for old science fiction. It seems most of the stuff I like to read is thirty to forty years in the rear view mirror and, honestly, that’s fine. Folks like what they like. However, I despise the notion of “the good old days” that never will come again. Because human imagination and creativity go on and older does not always mean better. Frankly, there was just as much crap back then as there is now, we have only forgotten it.
Newer authors also deserve a chance, and it’s not just the Carter/Regan era SF I like. So, allow me to introduce you to Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series, vintage 2006-2010…Okay, so the first book came out ten years ago. Sue me. Firefly is older than these books anyway.
The Lost Fleet series is a collection of six novels by Jack Cambell (John G. Hemry) about a space naval fleet that is trapped behind enemy lines and has to fight its way home. The books are also about the fleet’s commander Captain John Geary who has a bit of a back story, as told in the first book Dauntless.
It seems that the fleet was once commanded by Admiral Botch, who’s grand plan was to use “hypernet” gates to sneak this massive fleet deep into enemy territory for a surprise attack on their homeworld. While traveling to his fateful battle, Admiral Botch’s ship discovers a lost escape pod with a survivor in cryo-suspension. The survivor is Captain John Geary, the legendary hero of the first battle of this war that has by now raged for over one-hundred years. Geary was believed dead and his return from this navy’s mythic past is seen as a good luck blessing by the more superstitious crewmen. But any luck he brings comes too late for Admiral Botch.
The fleet is ambushed and the surprise attack is a total failure. The enemy insists the admiral and all officers above the rank of captain get in a shuttle and come to their flagship to discuss surrender. The enemy, being rather treacherous, execute the senior officers instead and then insist the rest of the fleet’s captains surrender unconditionally. What the enemy fails to realize, however, is they just put a hundred-plus-year-old war hero in charge of the fleet by reason of his seniority to all the other captains.
Now the stage is set. Captain Geary must acclimate himself to the new age he finds himself in, take charge of a fleet he knows little about, save an impossible military situation from complete disaster and do so without preparation of any kind. What could possibly go wrong?
Campbell does a great job in creating a flawed and very human protagonist. Captian Geary is an excellent officer but not a perfect one and has a lot to learn. Thankfully for him, he is a product of a civilized age that provided first class education to its military and he was trained by the best. Unfortunately for him, one-hundred years of war has yielded a barbaric age where military officers are unschooled in the finer points of strategy and tactics. This rough mob of new captains chafe under Geary’s tutelage and resent his insistence on rules of war. It seems that since Geary has been asleep in a life pod, practices such as the execution of prisoners and the bombardment of civilians has become commonplace…and that’s something he won’t stand for.
I seldom read series, but I devoured every last book in this one. The descriptions of space battles are highly realistic and superbly well written. But my favorite scenes are the ones where Geary faces moral dilemmas. He must not only convince his captains that obeying the law of war is moral, but it is also essential to victory.
I served in Iraq, and I can attest that moral behavior is key to victory in any war. Enemies will not surrender when they believe they will be abused, a population will not submit to cruelty, and information gained under torture is always tainted with falsehoods. To win, the good guys MUST act like the good guys and Cambell seems to understand this (and I’m not surprised as the man did serve as a Lieutenant Commander in the US Navy).
To put it simply, these books are awesome. I highly recommend these books to any fan of military science fiction. My only complaint was that all the action takes place on the flagship, and I would have liked to see Geary visit some planets from time to time, but oh well.
Enjoy the books.