John “Black Jack” Geary’s escape pod has just been rescued from deep space. He’s been in cold-sleep for a century after he single-handedly held off enemy spaceships while letting the rest of the Alliance fleet escape. Everyone thought he was dead, but his brave sacrifice went down in the history books and many people still whisper that Black Jack Geary will come back to save the Alliance in a time of great need. And so he has… or at least that’s what many soldiers of the Alliance believe. Geary himself is bewildered to learn that not only is he alive, but that his one famous deed was exaggerated and now he’s a hero of legend. All he really feels like doing is grieving over the loved ones he left behind a century ago. But duty calls.
Now Geary finds himself again trying to save the Alliance fleet. They’re still fighting the Syndicate Worlds — the same enemies they’ve been fighting since Geary’s time — and they’re stuck in enemy territory with damaged ships. They’re also carrying a stolen key to one of the Syndics’ hypernets — a tool which could help them finally win the war. Can Geary get the fleet and the key back home safely?
Well, that’s a hard enough task for any fleet commander. What makes it even harder for John Geary is that this modern Alliance fleet is far different from the one he knew before. The technology has advanced enormously (Geary doesn’t even know what a hypernet is!), but what has changed even more is the structure of the military. Geary lived in a time when the military was well-trained and the leaders gave orders which their subordinates obeyed. But because of the devastating losses the Alliance has suffered over the past several decades, younger commanders have had to step up. They lack skills and experience and the military is now run more like a democracy than a hierarchy, with commanders discussing and voting during meetings instead of receiving and following orders from superiors. Black Jack Geary’s own legendary exploit is also a factor in this decline — his heroic status has caused many ship commanders to try to seek their own glory. Geary recognizes that all of this is bad for the Alliance Worlds, but changing an entire military organization may be too much for one man. Unless that man is a legendary hero who has returned to set his people free…
Dauntless, the first book in Jack Campbell’s LOST FLEET series is highly entertaining space opera. Black Jack Geary makes a great reluctant hero. He’s smart and experienced, but 100 years behind in his understanding of technology. He has a disadvantage when he has to rely on others to help him understand and navigate his controls, but his old battle tactics, which rely on careful fleet coordination rather than personal glory-seeking, are an advantage. Not only are they better for the fleet as a whole, but they confound the enemy who is now unable to predict what the Alliance forces will do.
I didn’t much care for the other characters in Dauntless, but I enjoyed the story enough that I didn’t mind. One thing that sets this series apart from other space opera is Campbell’s attempt to deal with the problem of relativity in a war that spans so much space. For example, if your computer is reporting the location of an enemy that’s lightminutes away from you, they are no longer in that location when you get the report. This distortion has a lot of implications, especially when you’re trying to shoot the enemy and the enemy is trying to shoot you. Campbell’s constant reminders about this get tedious, but I appreciated that he tried to deal with this problem that’s too often ignored.
I listened to Audible Frontier’s production of Dauntless. Christian Rummel was a perfect narrator and I thought the voice and tone he used for Black Jack was a perfect reflection of Geary’s humble but confident personality. After listening to Dauntless, I immediately downloaded book 2, Fearless. THE LOST FLEET looks like it’s going to be a good series.
Jack Campbell is a pseudonym for author John G. Hemry who writes other military science fiction under his real name. He’s a retired Navy officer.