Series Review: The Lost Fleet

Dauntless

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Four Royal Crowns
(4 out of 4 rating)

The Lost Fleet series by Jack Campbell (pen name of John G. Hemry, a retired naval officer) is one of my favorite science fiction works. As a new book in the series (Steadfast) was just released today, I thought this would be a good time for a Lost Fleet blog post. I read a number of reviews at a popular book-related website claiming that the Lost Fleet books lacked depth of character. (Of course, this is the same website which had glowing reviews of “Whipping Star”; you can read my review to see my opinion of that.) I suspect that many literary types just aren’t comfortable with the idea that a military officer can be competent, stick to his beliefs, and succeed; The Lost Fleet isn’t a story about a man overcoming character flaws, it’s a story about a leader who solves problems within his fleet and defeats enemy forces.

Our hero, “Black Jack” Geary, was the commander of a small ship which was ambushed in an attack that started a war between two human interstellar empires. He continued to command his ship as it was being destroyed, allowing the rest of a convoy to escape. He finally was the last man off the ship, jumping into a stasis/survival pod at the last minute. He is picked up roughly a century later by a fleet belonging to his nation; the fleet is on its way to a decisive battle.

There are six books in the series which follow the Lost Fleet’s fight against the enemy human empire ( Dauntless, Fearless, Courageous, Valiant, Relentless, and Victorious) and four additional books where aliens get involved ( Dreadnaught, Invincible, Guardian, and Steadfast). If you enjoy the first book in the series, you will probably enjoy them all. There are two additional books I haven’t read yet; they are set during the same conflict, but are told from the perspective of the opposing empire ( Tarnished Knight and Perilous Shield). I’m not going to give away the plots of the individual books in the Lost Fleet series, instead I will just point out a list of things which I thought were innovative or made for good reading:

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MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW – TURN BACK NOW

  • Geary was presumed dead during his time asleep in the survival pod; when he wakes up, he learns that his nation’s propaganda people embellished his story and built him up into a mythological hero. Some sailors almost worship him, and some officers get upset at being overshadowed.
  • Near the beginning of the story, the captains of all the ships in the fleet go to a negotiation with the enemy and are murdered, leaving Geary (who up to that point was just a rescued person, not an active officer) as the senior officer and in command of the fleet. Hemry got this particular plot element from historical events, but I really like how he applied them to a sci-fi setting.
  • Geary ends up in command of his niece and nephew, who (since he didn’t age in the survival pod) are older and more experienced than he is.
  • Naval discipline changed significantly while Geary was asleep. Geary decides on a course of action, and expects his captains to follow their orders. The captains instead want to have a debate whenever possible.
  • Naval tactics have changed as well. Ships mostly rush full speed at enemy fleets, as too much maneuvering can be seen as a sign of cowardice. Geary has to convince his captains to maneuver, without seeming too timid himself.
  • Because the navy’s tactics have meant short lifespans for ships, they are only designed and built to stand up to a couple of years of service. Geary’s tactics improve lifespans, but maintenance then becomes a serious problem.
  • The fleet has a computer system that sends false reports back to headquarters, making it appear that all the idiotic orders from HQ are being followed.
  • The sailors and officers of the fleet share an ancestor-worship religion. This is a refreshing change from most science fiction, which seems to assume that the minute humans step into space, all religious thought will disappear from their minds. Although the sailors seem to share the same religion, I like the fact that different characters appear to have different degrees of devotion to it.

A couple of additional characters I feel are worth mentioning:

  • I don’t want to give too much away, but in the second book in the series (Fearless), a new character arrives who really shakes things up and poses a dangerous new challenge for Geary. If I hadn’t been hooked on the series by the first book, this would have done it.
  • There is a high-ranking politician accompanying the fleet, and I found her annoying as she is obsessed with her fears that Geary plans to lead a military coup when the fleet returns home. This comes off as silly since Geary is their only hope to make it home, and their chances don’t seem very good even with him. Of course, this wouldn’t even make the top 100 list of dumb things I’ve seen politicians do, so maybe it’s not a problem with the story.

Hopefully something I’ve listed above will spark your interest. If you subscribe to the theory that all characters have to undergo a monumental change to their outlook on life in every story (in which case any multi-book series should be set in a psychiatric institution), then these books may not have enough “depth of character” for you. For me, the depth of the story makes up for any perceived lack of depth in other areas.

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23 comments

  1. Hmm I found such interesting mixed reviews on this series that I’m not quite sure what to think. But I’ll certainly keep this book in mind if I ever see it on special. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    1. I think the first book, Dauntless, is on sale this week at places like Amazon and Audible, at around a 15-20% discount.

  2. I found the series interesting with some clever plot twists and situations. Most people who read military scifi will most likely enjoy the series. I still am behind a few books, but recommend it for anyone who likes this genre.
    http://www.scifibookreview.com
    Nice review btw

  3. I stopped reading sometime during the third book. You make me want to pick it up again.

    1. There was one book in the series which I didn’t feel was a bad book, but it didn’t introduce any brand new whiz-bang element or twist to the story. I suspected it was the third book, but didn’t want to say so in my review as I wasn’t sure. If you do finish that book, you might consider giving the fourth a shot as well. Or, if you really like aliens, you could jump straight to the later books. They have a slightly different strategic situation for the characters, but I don’t think you’d be confused by skipping ahead in the series, each book has enough of a contained plot.

  4. gutenbergsson · · Reply

    One of the best military speculative fiction series (perhaps even the best) I’ve ever read. I’m glad you’ve given a brief overview of the entire series (as it stands).

  5. Lost fleet is one of my favourites, though I’d put the Honor Harrington series before it personally, especially the first five or six

  6. I’ve looked at this series several times, but feel kind of cool towards military SF, so had shied away from it. But I appreciate knowing more of what I’m hovering towards and away from.

  7. Thanks for the reminder about The Lost Fleet series. I need to find out where I left off and get the next book.

  8. I’ve read most of the Lost Fleet series, and enjoyed them. Tarnished Knight is definitely worth a read – it was great seeing the view from the other side. It’s true that the character development side of things is not as strong as some other books, but the plot and setting make up for it. Great review!

    1. I’ll have to try Tarnished Knight eventually. I’ll probably read the Stark’s War series first, though. My to-read list seems to get longer every day.

  9. lauraeflores · · Reply

    I just purchased the first book on amazon for my Kindle, I’ve been looking for something like this, so excited! This should be a nice learning experience as well.

  10. […] will be a brief review, as I recently posted about things I liked in Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series. As the Lost Fleet is one of my favorite science fiction series, why didn’t the latest book […]

  11. Thanks for bringing this series and author to my attention. I just put Dauntless on my Kindle and I’m looking forward to giving it a read, based on your review.

    1. Let me know what you think after you read it.

  12. […] story is primarily plot/event driven. The main character is reminiscent of the hero in Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series; he spends his time dealing with problems which pop up, rather than struggling with internal demons […]

  13. Hey PDC, I am not as familiar with Science Fiction literature (Though I am most certainly working to change that) and I wanted to clarify something from your review. What did you mean when you say the story doesn’t revolve around the main character’s character flaws? I am writing a science fiction work myself and I do not believe that any of my story’s character’s fits this dynamic but I was hoping to understand what some of these might be from what you have experienced.

    1. In stories like this one, the pages are spent describing the main character’s struggles against the enemy (or in the Lost Fleet, often the other captains in his own fleet). He isn’t struggling with alcoholism, or a fear of spiders, or his childhood lack of self-esteem. A lot of people who write about science fiction, or fiction in general, assume that every work needs to be a character study, where the protagonist undergoes a life-changing epiphany. My opinion is that if a work is about a character who has made it into a top leadership position, he/she would have already dealt with those issues, or failed to reach the top. Of course, in the case of the Lost Fleet, where Geary became the top man under highly unusual circumstances, a character study might have worked. Personally, I’m just a little tired of book reviewers who insist that every character spend several chapters staring into their own navels.

  14. Synical Duffer · · Reply

    I have just finished Steadfast his, latest offering. Good, I have read all the Lost Fleet and Lost Stars, I feel he has developed the characters along the way. They seem much stronger now, somehow more believable. I like the way Geary’s relationship with Desjani has changed. Given the ending of Steadfast I see at least two more books. Can’t wait.

  15. […] blogged about why I enjoy the Lost Fleet series and why I was disappointed with Steadfast; now I’m glad to see the series got back on track […]

  16. Nice to hear the rest of the series is well received. I am unfamiliar with this series & it would be interesting to hear your take on the 2 you haven’t read. I read those – only. Here’s the link to my review: https://readerreading.wordpress.com/2013/12/05/jack-campbell-the-lost-stars-tarnished-knight

  17. […] could play out, or there could be a never-ending war of attrition between the two empires.  Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet Series heads in this direction, but doesn’t go full […]

  18. Anonymous · · Reply

    This series is garbage. It is very unrealistic in so many ways that to list them would take me days. The Characters in the novel do not act as human beings would. I will give a quick example through history. The premise that the navy started to use crap tactics and that they kept them for a hundred years do too culture is ridicules. In history there were many times were tactics were absurd or fought with rules that were at a disadvantage to one side or other but then a commander would come and innovate. Futhermore, these tactics and rules were not followed to the letter, and commanders on the spot would learn from doing. One hundred years?, , No way. You want good books about navel life, check out Patrick O’Brian´s Aubrey–Maturin series.

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