Four Royal Crowns
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:
- 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.