Thursday, June 16, 2011

I Read Books: The Lost Fleet Sextology

In which I begin to review my backlog of books. I note that 1. this is space opera, so if you are uninterested in this sub-genre, feel free to leave; and 2. a sextology is not the same as a sexology.

The Lost Fleet is a 6 book long space opera series by Jack Campbell. The protagonist is Captain John "Black Jack" Geary, who disappeared a hundred years ago while making a heroic rearguard action against the Syndic fleet. Frozen after his ship was destroyed, he is picked up by an Alliance fleet making a deep strike into Syndic territory in an effort to end the century-long war. However it is a trap, and when the Admiral is killed Geary, as senior captain, finds himself in command of a fleet that is lost behind enemy lines...

My description of the setting reads like the pitch for a mediocre sci-fi Tv show, in which "Buck" Rogers "Black Jack" Geary introduces the 25th century to such things as rock and roll, unlikely fighter manoeuvres and sexism. But that's not what's going on here.

Geary is a hero to the Alliance fleet. However, like all dead heroes, he's used as an example to justify things he did not and does not subscribe to. He's remembered for his the courage of his last charge, when to him this was a manoeuvre of desperation and even failure. The long apprenticeship required to learn to control a fleet over relativistic distances combined with the heavy casualties in the early part of the war have left both the Syndic and Alliance fleets with a "doctrine" of mass charges and individual action on the part of captains. As might be imagined, this has led to a war of attrition.

Worse still, the war of attrition has lead to widespread atrocities in an attempt to break the deadlock. Geary* ends these, which leads one of the more perceptive officers to say
It seems so obvious, really. Deplorable practices adopted during the last century were repeatedly declared necessary if regrettable in order to end the war. Oddly enough we've yet to win. You'd think somebody would have asked before this why the regrettable but necessary measures haven't actually produced the promised results. Not until you came along and started us really thinking about it instead of just accepting it.

As also might be expected the economic, human and political cost of the war has strained the stability of both the Alliance and the Syndics. As well as having to fight the Syndics, Geary faces opposition from within the fleet from those who think his tactics are dishonourable, those with political ambitions that will be derailed if legendary hero Geary returns. He also finds himself the target of a faction who believe that he should be made dictator, and, awkwardly, won't take no for an answer. All of this, before the mystery of the cause of the war and the destructive capability of the hypernet gates begin to be revealed...

The books never stray very far from their Military SF/ Space Opera roots, but they are very competent and pretty intelligent. For all the talk of "honor" the Alliance Fleet is much more like modern navies rather than the loosely Napoleonic-era fleets (IN SPACE!) popular at the moment, which is refreshing. The point of view is exclusively from Geary, who simultaneously has to have modern situations explained to him, while explaining his old school tactics and strategies to other characters. The set up is very like Xenophon's Anabasis; the end though is closer to de Bello Civilli, or maybe Cincinnatus****.

I have the American editions, which have covers of Geary in Space Armour, often standing on moons and planets. Geary never wears anything but regular uniform** and doesn't leave his flagship, the Dauntless*** during the first five books. The recent UK editions have ships in orbit with a moody face (presumably Geary's) in the background, which reflect the text better, although the ships are described as sharklike, which isn't quite the vibe I get from the pictures. Anyway, the books are all named after ships in the fleet and are:

The Lost Fleet: Dauntless (Geary is daunted, but never despairing)
The Lost Fleet: Fearless (Geary is not actually fearless)
The Lost Fleet: Courageous (No arguments here)
The Lost Fleet: Valiant (Again, fine)
The Lost Fleet: Relentless (Ironically Geary actually dithers a little in this book)
The Lost Fleet: Victorious (Spoilers!)

Read this: For smart, well written Mil-SF/Space Opera that has relevance to current concerns, without being heavy-handed about parallels.
Don't read this: If you're not interested in spacecraft blowing up.
Be warned: That it is, of course, a love story.

* I don't think it too much of an assumption to suggest that Geary's position is also Campbell's (the author is a former US Naval officer).
** Actually, there are some scenes when he's in the nip, but we'll gloss over those.
*** The Alliance has ocasionally discussed naming ships after planets or people, but no one could agree on who got named, which is just as well as otherwise Geary would inevitably have found himself onboard the John Geary which would be embarassing as Honor Harrington found out.
**** Cincinnatus is of particular interest to Americans who consider George Washington to have been inspired by him in giving up his powers once the crisis of the American Revolution was over.
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