Jan 30 2012 10:00am

The Wary Returning Hero: Jack Campbell’s Dauntless

The Lost Fleet: DauntlessMilitary Science Fiction hasn’t always been my go-to Speculative Fiction subgenre. I liked it, sure, but I was more often drawn to Epic Fantasy with toe-dips into Urban Fantasy, New Weird, Space Opera to name a few. Over the past year or so, I’ve been gravitating to Military SF for reasons I can’t quite explain, maybe the space battles, perhaps a yearning for something to fill the post-Battlestar Galactica hole, but for whatever reason, I’ve read quite a few of them in the past year. One series I’ve seen discussed over the past year, in my internet circles, is Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series. Maybe because the first six-book series recently completed and is receiving release in the UK through Titan books this year, or maybe because a new ‘sequel’ series was launched this year with Dreadnaught – including a “promotion” from Mass Market Paperback to Hardcover. These things tell me Jack Campbell has been doing good things with the series. Reading Dreadnaught earlier in the year gave me an inkling those things were right. What finally convinced me was reading Dauntless, the first Lost Fleet novel.

“Jack Campbell” is the pen name of John G. Hemry, a former Naval Officer, who under his own name published two Military SF series (Stark’s War and JAG in Space) before turning his pen to what is now his best known work of fiction. Dauntless sets the stage for the series: a time lost hero, Captain John “Black Jack” Geary who helped save the Human Alliance from their enemies – the Syndicated Worlds (also human) – 100 years prior to the opening of the series, is set into suspended animation after making a heroic sacrifice is found adrift in space.

When Geary is woken he is thrust back into the vanguard of the war, which is fine because it is very much the life he knew except for one major snag. With the passage of 100 years since Geary’s heroic sacrifice the event is legend and Geary himself is looked upon as a Hero out of Myth Who Has Come to Save Us. The parallel to King Arthur is hard not to see.

Throughout the novel Campbell balances Geary’s reluctant living legend status with the situational demand that Geary actually live up to those mythical ideals. In many ways, the novel can be considered something of a Hero’s Journey. Campbell’s balanced cast of characters either implicitly, almost blindly, believe Geary will save them or they think Geary’s legend is just a false belief held by the crew of the fleet. I suspect it isn’t a coincidence that for his pen name Hemry chose “Campbell.”

Geary also struggles with changes to military society in the 100 years since his sacrifice. Rules and mores that were implicit during his time have fallen by the wayside, there’s more talking than action, more voting (from subordinate officers) on what should be done rather than the commanding officer actually commanding. It is only because Geary is the living legend of Black Jack that he’s able to shake up the status quo and return to the effective functioning military to which he was accustomed. In something of an inversion, it is the Old Man who has to break the rules of the Young Ones.

The other driving force of the novel is military life aboard a vessel, which itself is part of a larger fleet. There’s a nice truthiness of the politics of a military organization, the conflict between military officers amongst themselves, as well as the conflict between military personnel and government officials. With Hemry’s military background the credence in the narrative, to this reader, is no surprise. What’s more impressive is Campbell’s ability to keep the narrative exciting and engaging in both the action sequences and the character/dialogue sequences.

Dauntless is a very short novel, just under 300 pages in Ace’s US mass market paperback, so is clearly (as if the five other books on the shelf aren’t an indicator) the first of a series. Though it is indeed a table-setter in terms of Campbell presenting readers with the protagonist and milieu, Campbell brings closure to the initial conflict he set at the beginning of the novel – getting the fleet closer to home. The antagonists in the series at this point – the Syndicated Worlds – aren’t given much depth, which for the first in a longer series is fine. Knowing the protagonist, his supporting cast, and the overall conflict should allow a better weaving into the story of the antagonists. This makes it a quick, digestible read that will leave you wanting more. I know that’s the effect Campbell’s story had on me. He hits a lot of notes very well in Dauntless, and despite the flashiness of what on the surface seems to be a lively batch of space-based conflicts, he examines the many facets of the Mythic Hero. If you’ve read David Weber’s Honor Harrington series and want something that more than fills the void between installments, give Dauntless a try. More simply, if you’re a fan of character, action, and conflict in a Military SF setting, you would probably be more than pleased by Campbell’s offering.

Rob H. Bedford is a lifelong a fan and reader of Speculative Fiction. He has a blog and, for about a decade, he has been contributing reviews and interviews and moderating the discusson forums at SFFWorld. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and dog.

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Clark Myers
1. ClarkEMyers
didn't see the customary read more tag in any form?
Michael M Jones
2. MichaelMJones
You say Joseph Campbell, I always figured he chose the name in honor of former editor John Campbell Jr, after whom various awards are named.

If Hemry actually had both men in mind, then double kudoes to him! I've always enjoyed his writing. Stark's War was a really good read, and I liked the JAG in Space stuff as well. I'm glad he's getting plenty of attention with the Lost Fleet series.
Robert H. Bedford
3. RobB
Either Campbell works, really, you are right. I just had the whole hero motiff simmering in my head reading the book and crafting the review/appreciation.

I'm hoping to read through the Lost Fleet in the very near future as well as Stark's War.

If nothing else, this whole Appreciation theme has done is increase my To Read stack.
Kristoff Bergenholm
4. Magentawolf
I had decent hopes for this series that were dashed by book 2 and trampled underfoot by book 3.

Every little plot point was the same, every argument and discussion and backstabbing and even the harping by the government's representitive was rehashed and quickly grew monotonous as we went from book to book.

It does not have my vote. :(
5. AlBrown
I very much enjoyed this series. Jack Geary is everything an officer should be, humble, thoughtful, brave, and decisive in a pinch. Pitting him against his own inflated legend, and against a decadent military that had lost its way during decades of war, was a brilliant move. It makes the series about more than just adventure and derring do. The series has something positive to say about morality, bravery and character.
That being said, there is also a lot of fun here--the adventure and battles are quite gripping. The books are well paced, and full of lots of excitement.
And the technology and science is well thought out. There is attention paid to strategy, tactics and logistics. Campbell's background as a naval officer is clear, and grounds the series in a consistent foundation. But unlike some other writers (Weber being an example), there is not too much exposition, only enough to keep the story moving.
There were a few points where I grew weary of the descriptions of political bickering and tensions, but in general, this was a good, solid series of books, packed with lots of adventure and lots of fun. Strongly recommended.
6. Char
I had high hopes, reading the rave reviews. Some parts are better than others, but I won't read the rest of this series.

Begins with a bang, then becomes slow and repetitive. Too much internal dialogue, all from Black Jack Geary's POV. His every thought and emotion is reiterated to the nth degree. Nothing is left for me to wonder about.

As Magentawolf said, " quickly grew monotonous."

The cover illustration reveals the over-glorified focus on Geary. Every other character is interchangeable, whether they are siding for or against Geary. I soon grew weary of Geary. Too bad his great-great-nephew died so early in the book. That could have provided scope for interesting dialogue and rich relationship development.

The fleet wide belief system -- a form of ancestor worship -- struck me as a huge step backwards, in terms of religious tolerance, and highly improbable, given that we're talking about people from varied planets, crewing on ~200 ships.

I did like some scenes.

Ps. The narrator on Audible is fine, for the most part.

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