Friday, July 06, 2012

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

1. Covers.
So here we are, again reading a Jack Campbell space opera and again having a pop at the cover. And why not? Even the author has a go in this one.
He felt himself smiling. "Can you at least avoid calling me Black Jack while you're making your money by selling the story of our time together?"

Tanya shook her head. "Nope. I'm sure marketing will insist on it. I can just imagine the kind of book cover they'll insist on. Some really heroic pose by you doing something you never did, probably. Maybe in battle armor. With a gun."
- Invincible page 318

Hmm. The UK cover of Invincible has spaceships shooting at each other overlaid with targeting marks, which does better represent the contents of the book, although Geary sitting and thinking or having a meeting with a small group might actually be best, assuming Titan books didn't actually want to sell any copies. Other countries covers are interesting; Poland goes from baroque Warhammer 40K style armour, through 80s action hero singlet, to dystopian police state riot gear. Some change in art direction there.

The ship mentioned in the title is both thematically and literally referenced; possibly the most strongly used title in the story since Dauntless.

2. Quibbles. Also Spoilers.
Seriously man. Seriously. Geary and Desjani are married and in the same chain of command (Geary as Commanding Admiral, Desjani as his Flag Captain). This is acceptable. Sexual contact between them is against regulations. I would have thought the emotional relationship would be more destabilising - the conflict between marital relationship and the military one, as well as the difficulty of having to order someone you love into danger[1]. Something is screwed up[2] here. Of course, as becomes clear, Fleet Headquarters and the Alliance are screwed up.

3. Aliens. More Quibbles. More Spoilers.
So at the end of The Lost Fleet: Beyond The Frontier: Dreadnought the fleet is lost again; having crossed through several systems of the Enigma race who have done their very best to remain mysterious, they ended up trapped in another star system inhabited by another alien race.

This race, eventually known as the Kicks, are classic uncommunicative killing machine aliens. With, of course, the twist that they are herbivore herd animals, that look like metre tall teddy bear cows. As herbivores, they don't negotiate with carnivores, they form a phalanx and run them underfoot.

The alien expert's analysis and Geary's inspiration for fighting them seems just a touch pat. They're herbivores, so they stampede and charge. Still, my argument, that the way we fight is based on our enemies[3], seems to have been anticipated; the situation that the Kicks live in would not tend for them to innovate.

In general the alien analysis and communication takes place off page. Partly this is due to Geary's developing confidence in delegating, partly due to the fact that the details of translation, important as they are, are less interesting than the content of the message.

The other aliens in the novel work okay - the enigmas continue mysterious but malignant, the other race adaptable and elegant, although curiously lacking in one particular common item[4].

4. Endings and Sequels.
 Campbell's next novel gives us the story of what happens in the Syndic worlds following the end of the war. Are we slightly spoilered, or just teased by the end of Invincible? Only one way to find out I guess. Or perhaps wait until October for The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight.

Campbell[5] assures us that there will be more Lost Fleet novels. Geary is running towards a dangerous selection of conspiracies, many aimed at him, some at those around him and even more worryingly, others acting in his name. Can he return his fleet with honour and convince those who fear him to just stop without any shooting? Can he even sacrifice himself without becoming a martyr and causing the very civil war he wants to avoid? Geary and the series is at his best on the bridge of a starship, but a close second is navigating the shoals of honour and duty. Campbell might just pull off the best novel in the series. If he does, we all win. If he doesn't I'll bake a cake in the shape of the book and eat it, so I win, and maybe I'll put pictures up here so you can enjoy it too[6].

[1] By banning shipmates from having sex, you run the danger on board relationships will be hidden and become abusive. This may be an acceptable trade-off for a difficult situation.
[2] Or not, as the case may be.
[3] Or our perception of our enemies.
[4] Due to the continuing equipment failures on the fleet, I suspect that half the ships are being held together by that commodity.
[5] In his guise as Hemry.
[6] I wasn't sure how to end this, so just riffed off eating the book for a bit.
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