I wouldn’t call Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series junk, but you know that feeling that happens after you start eating a large serving of chips and they taste so good that you eat much more than you should? That’s me after reading Dauntless and Fearless in quick succession.
The series’ protagonist, Captain Jack Geary, is a man who’s been in suspended animation for a century and has reawakened to find that the war he had been fighting in never ended. Not only that, but his actions in his last battle have made him a legendary hero. Due to desperate circumstances, he’s placed in charge of an Alliance fleet faced with overwhelming odds. The changes that have been made to military protocol over the years are as much an enemy as the Syndicate as he tries to return the fleet, and the valuable technology its flagship carries, safely to Alliance space.
The action in this series is addictive; Campbell sets out his pieces well. Geary faces so many challenges and the plot moves through them so relentlessly that reading on becomes irresistible. The setting has friendly glimmers of the Battlestar Galactica reboot, albeit with an element that could not be shown on television: ships move at speeds relative to the speed of light, so space battles can be planned well in advance and take hours or days to begin. The acceleration involved means that when the ships do draw near, they pass each other at speeds imperceptibly fast for humans.
The setting also has elements of sea-faring series such as those by C. S. Forester and Patrick O’Brian. Mathematical skill is just as important to victory in these battles as it is to those fought on the ocean waves. The fleet’s structure is naval in design, and the depths of space garner folklore much as the sea did for its sailors. Geary, meanwhile, has almost as many insecurities as Horatio Hornblower.
Appealing though Dauntless is, Fearless grows tedious by just offering more of the same. Everything starts to seem too much like pieces being pushed around a board, including the character relationships. Developments are telegraphed in advance so clearly that there’s no surprise involved. The story is all surface, and what seemed to be an enjoyable adventure becomes pointless and tiresome. I don’t always learn my lesson after binging on chips, but I have here. Maybe these books would be more palatable if read only occasionally, but that doesn’t change the fact that they don’t have much substance. I won’t be going back for more.