Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Book Review: The Lost Fleet: Victorious by Jack Campbell

About two decades ago, at the close of the first Gulf War, the genre world started a love affair with military SF that lasted through most of the 1990's and into the early 2000's when it was supplanted by Paranoir (a.k.a. Paranormal Mystery or Paranormal Detective stories).  Happily enough for me, authors like David Weber, John Ringo, and Scott Westerfeld keep on writing military SF even though the genre has moved on to a new darling.  Of equal good fortune for those who like this sort of story, new book series do come along from time to time.  I know that I have reviewed the Lost Fleet series previously, however I just finished the most recent entry by Jack Campbell and I wanted to share my impressions.

First of all, one must realize that this is part of an overall series, and that a lot of dramatic tension is built up over the course of the prior books.  To bring you up to speed:
The Alliance and the Syndicated Worlds have been fighting a brutal war for over a century.  The war started with an ambush that forced Captain Jack Geary to abandon his ship after a desperate action to hold off Syndicate ships, allowing the defenseless convoy he was escorting the time to escape.  After all this time, the Alliance has managed to find a way to attack the Syndics' capitol system directly, and is on their way there, when they find Jack Geary's survival pod and the famous Captain frozen in stasis.  They thaw the legend out just in time for him to watch the fleet get blasted to bits in an ambush at the Syndic capital.  He takes over control of the fleet by sheer dint of seniority (the Admiral commanding placed him in charge before going to his death at the negotiating table), and teaches the modern day captains about things like tactics and formations (their military traditions consist of charging headlong into the fight and hoping the esprit de corps is sufficient to win the day), and they fight their way back home.  On their way they learn much about the Syndics, including the fact that the Syndics are worried about an alien threat on their other border!

OK, so Victorious starts off with the Lost Fleet having finally made it all the way back to Alliance space.  Black Jack Geary must now contend with truculent, self-centered politicians and push for his own new strategy of striking back at the Syndic capital with their new found information.  In addition, he must now reveal the truth about the aliens, that he has hidden from his own forces through the entire long trip home.  Suffice it to say that, much as the title implies, Geary achieves victory in ways that few would have imagined possible (especially the reader).

The story, like many military SF stories, is more of a backdrop for character drama than one would think.  Sure there are great battles and well told military life scenes, but the character tensions and drama kicks this from war story to high drama.  From comradeship to cowardice, love to loss, and fleet to family, Victorious explores all of the facets of character that a wartime milieu allows, and then some.  Sure, I know that many of you are thinking "Honor Harrington all over again..." but this is really not the case.  Not only is Campbell's style very different from Weber's (no treecats, no winking knowingly, and a lot more backbiting), but Campbell handles the battle sequences in a very different manner.

THAC0: 10
Fans of military SF will love this series and this book in particular, however those not into the sub-genre may find themselves bored.  A good rule of thumb would be: if you liked JAG, then you will enjoy this.

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