fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsLeviathan by Jack Campbell military science fiction book reviews space operaLeviathan by Jack Campbell

Leviathan is the most recent book in Jack Campbell’s LOST FLEET: BEYOND THE FRONTIER series. It wouldn’t make any sense to read Leviathan before reading the ten books that precede it. This review will contain spoilers for the previous books, but not for Leviathan.

At the end of Steadfast, Admiral Blackjack Geary’s fleet had been escorting their new alien friends back to the hypernet gate to their own star system when they discovered a fleet of invisible ships laying waste to a nearby planet. They realized that a virus in their own software made the ships invisible, that the “dark ships” were nearly invulnerable, and that when Geary’s ships engaged them, they seemed to be programmed to use Geary’s own tactics against him in a sort of What Would Jack Do scenario. Most alarmingly, the ships appear to be made by the Alliance. Geary worries that the Alliance government may be plotting against him and that all of their political machinations may eventually not only destroy him, but also undermine the stability of the entire Alliance. Are they trying to kill Geary, or have they been secretly building a fleet with artificial intelligence that has gone haywire? Geary and his crew must discover the truth, find and destroy the secret base of the rogue ships, and try to save the Alliance. This will be their most dangerous mission yet and they don’t expect to come out of it alive. There will be some tragic deaths and a very unexpected and touching sacrifice in Leviathan.

After the episodic and disjointed feel of Steadfast, Leviathan is focused and tight. The plot is exciting and the climax at the end was a real tear-jerker. My main problem with the book was that I didn’t at all believe the plot. I couldn’t believe that the  Alliance was not able to control the software on the dark ships. That’s just not how software works. If there’s a problem with the software, engineers can fix it. They’re good like that. Unfortunately, the whole plot hinges on this one issue, and I could never get past it. If you’re willing to suspend disbelief, though, Leviathan is one of the more thrilling installments in this series.

Another thing that’s really hard to believe, but maybe that’s just due to my ignorance of military matters, is that while they’re on the ship together — the entire time, which is most of their married life so far — Geary and Tanya are not allowed to act like they have a personal relationship. This is a far-future high-tech society. Everyone knows they’re married. They’re on this ship together for months at a time. Yet, they don’t visit each other’s staterooms so as to avoid “gossip” while Victoria, Geary’s former lover, does have private meetings with Geary in his room. Weird.

One thing that Campbell does so well in the LOST FLEET series is to keep reminding us that space is huge and empty and that the physics of relativity affects trajectories of projectiles. The space battles may not be as fast and furious in Leviathan as in other military space opera series, but they are a lot more realistic. As they are fighting, Geary’s crew members are constantly having to consider relative velocity, distance, turn radii, acceleration, mass, momentum, and gravity of surrounding objects. I enjoy this part of the story. I also enjoyed the preposterous but amusing discovery of how the humans could finally communicate with the alien Dancers.

Leviathan isn’t nearly as teachy as the past couple of books were, but Campbell again takes the opportunity to discuss national security and secrecy, how sometimes the end justifies means, how soldiers are real people who sacrifice themselves for the safety of others, and how governments need to be transparent. The biggest lesson in Leviathan, though, is the danger of automated systems and why we should be careful about developing artificial intelligence. Blackjack makes the good argument that when war is necessary, it should be people pulling the triggers instead of robots because robots are remorseless and people need to realize how horrible war is.

Chriatian Rummel continues to do an excellent job with the narration of Audible Studio’s versions of LOST FLEET. I love his voice for Blackjack Geary and even his voices for the female characters sound nice. The audio productions are so good that I wouldn’t think of reading this series any other way. Leviathan is 10.5 hours on audio.


  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.