Friday, October 28, 2011

I Read Books: The Lost Fleet: Beyond The Frontier: Dreadnaught

1. Spoilers
This review spoils the six books in the original Lost Fleet sequence, which I reviewed here. Indeed the very existence of a sequel series to The Lost Fleet could be said to spoil the ending; some kind of resolution to the fleet's status has occurred, and even if it is still lost, it must nevertheless have stabilised it's position in some way. Nevertheless, consider yourself warned. Despite my most earnest wishes and the fact it would neatly tie this review together, I will not be spoiling the end of Dreadnaught. You can go to Wikipedia for that, or, perhaps better, read the damn book yourself.

2. Nitpicks unrelated to the content
John G Hemry, writing as Jack Campbell, has had great, and deserved, success with his Lost Fleet series. Amongst the positive results of this are timely publication of his books in this country and the re-issuing[1] of his earlier novels the Stark series and the forthcoming JAG in Space series (originally the Paul Sinclair series). Thank you Titan books.

However the renaming of the Sinclair series to describe it brings me to my nitpick[2]. This is a follow-on to the Lost Fleet series, but the publishers don't want me to be confused about this; it's still Black Jack Geary, still the Alliance Fleet, so they name the series The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier, and as each novel in the sequence is named after a (capital) ship in the fleet, the novel's full name is The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier: Dreadnaught[3]. Which is biggest on the cover? The Lost Fleet. Or rather the LOST FLEET.

I'm beginning to wonder if I'm actually in the target audience for these novels, as the insistence that "Yes, this really is a continuation of The Lost Fleet" slightly annoys me.  I know it is!  It's by Jack Campbell and the blurb on the back cover make it clear!  Why not use that space to say "Beyond the Frontier:  Black Jack Geary and the veterans of the Lost Fleet (also available from Titan Books) face a mysterious new enemy!"

Also, as my current title format for book reviews is "I Read Books: [Insert Book Name Here]" this means I have 3 colons in the title which just looks odd.  Anyway, I have wasted more words on this issue than it deserves, which is probably none.  This is superior military space opera - well thought out and morally nuanced but at the end of the day heroics will be performed and ships will be exploded - so expecting the marketing to be subtle and clever is silly of me.

3. Momentum
Dreadnaught's big problem is getting the story moving.  The first 5 Lost Fleet books all open with the fleet in the middle of enemy territory, and with time, space, logistics, enemy action and internal conflict all requiring action.  With so many constraints, any time things threatened to slow down, the next one reared up; if they avoided the Syndics then the internal divisions in the fleet flared up; if they fought the Syndics they needed supplies to repair and replace the losses etc.  The last one, Victorious, begins with the Fleet returned, but wars still to fight; it nearly bogs down in the politics at the start but then gets moving.

Dreadnaught starts similarly.  The transition from war to peace has revealed many fractures in Alliance society.  As Geary returns to duty with an interview with the political leaders of the Alliance, Fleet Headquarters does something very silly, which nearly causes a mutiny.  This attempt to kickstart the story doesn't quite work for me as the solutions seem obvious.  Geary is very popular in the Alliance, which worries politicians; those who don't know him worry he would be a dictator and those who do worry that someone will perform a coup in his name.  They make a deal with Geary; he and the veterans of the Lost Fleet will go and find out what's going on with the enigma aliens who we almost saw in Victorious.  Then we get a couple of chapters where Geary does the administrative dance with distant headquarters; interesting but saps momentum again.

4. To the Frontier... and Beyond!
After one last bureaucratic attempt to sabotage the mission, they get underway[4] and from there the story doesn't let up.  Some of the captains cause trouble, as always, and a detour to rescue prisoners of war is problematic in several different ways.  As they cross the frontier, the enigma aliens get more and more mysterious, an excellent choice by Hemry.  Everything the fleet learns makes them question what they think they know!  Unless Hemry pulls something really unexpected out of his writing bag mysterious aliens who try to hide everything are much cooler than weirdos with a privacy taboo that we know all about anyway. 

Meanwhile clues seem to show that not everyone in the Alliance wants or expects Geary and the fleet to return.  The ships - wartime builds in a war that had horrific casualty rates - are beginning to fall apart after a handful of years of (admittedly hard) use and the last order from Fleet HQ was to strip the fleet of half it's repair ships (Geary finessed this and left before any queries could return).  Finally we get a big battle and a new mystery.  What will happen? We have to wait until May 2012 for the release of The Lost Fleet: Follow-on Series One: Beyond the Frontier: Maybe That Should Be Beyond The Frontiers: Invincible.

Read This: If you liked the Lost Fleet series; it gives enough information to stand alone, but if you enjoy this, why not start from the beginning?
Don't Read This: If Old-School Space Opera is not your thing, even if it's been polished to a fine modern chrome-steel sheen.
Final Nitpick: Geary and Desjani are married but regulations mean they have to maintain a professional relationship on board ship, even when off duty and no one blinks an eyelid at this situation?  What what what?

[1] This may be the first time they've been published in this country. I don't know.
[2] To be consistent they should have renamed the Stark novels as Broken American Military Mutinies On The Moon series, although I've only read the first one.
[3] I'm okay with the alternative spelling as it differentiates this novel from the recent Cherie Priest steampunk novel Dreadnought.
[4] Or underweigh?  As in weigh anchor?
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