Hey Space Cadets, I hope this blog post finds you well. I’m doing well, making headway in my projects. But enough of that, let’s look at some other books in the military science fiction genre! So, without further ado, here is the next installment in my series of book reviews. However, because I got so into this series, I forgot to write individual reviews. Instead, I’ll be writing a review of the entire series.
Title: The Lost Fleet Series
Author: Jack Campbell
Narrator: Christian Rummel
eBook Price: $41.94 US (for all 6)
Audiobook Price: $148.78 US or 6 Credits
Obtained: I bought these with Audible credits
Pages: Not Applicable
Hours: Not Applicable
Rating: 4/5 Grenades
First, let me say that none of what I’ll say in this section couldn’t be found on the back copy of the novel. Heck, I cribbed this summary from the back, and then I added my own twist! And not even much of one, since most of the books I read have kick butt descriptions (aka blurbs). If the blurb doesn’t catch my eye, then I tend to skip the book unless a friend recommends it. Generally speaking, my goal is to provide a spoiler-free review, so here goes nothing!
The Alliance has been fighting the Syndics for a century—and losing badly. Now its fleet is crippled and stranded in enemy territory. Their only hope is a man who’s emerged from a century-long hibernation to find he has been heroically idealized beyond belief….
Captain John “Black Jack” Geary’s exploits are known to every schoolchild. Revered for his heroic “last stand” in the early days of the war, he was presumed dead. But a century later, Geary miraculously returns and reluctantly takes command of the Alliance Fleet as it faces annihilation by the Syndics.
Appalled by the hero-worship around him, Geary is nevertheless a man who will do his duty. And he knows that bringing the stolen Syndic hypernet key safely home is the Alliance’s one chance to win the war. But to do that, Geary will have to live up to the impossibly heroic “Black Jack” legend….
Follow this adventure as the Alliance Fleet fights a long retreat home
This series of novels had four main characters, at least how I interpreted the novels. There were so many secondary characters that I got dizzy from the constant breeze from them exiting stage right. The main characters, however, were entertaining enough to make it worth the hassle; Captain John “Black Jack” Geary, Co-President Victoria Rione, Captain Tanya Desjani and the Battle Cruiser Dauntless. Like most novels with multiple POVs, each one served a unique purpose in the evolution of the plot. Each of these characters were well written, and you could feel enough depth to make them believable. Because I know tracking characters during a long series can be tricky, especially if you don’t read them all back to back, I’ve included hyperlinks to the Lost Fleet Wiki for each of these characters.
Captain John “Black Jack” Geary: He’s an officer in the Alliance Navy during the start of the war between the Alliance and the Syndicate Worlds. His first command, the Merlon, was destroyed at the Battle of Grendel, where he fought a desperate last stand. He did so to allow the rest of the fleet to retreat and regroup. After the other ships in his task force jumped out of the Grendel System, John ordered the rest of his crew escape, before taking on the Syndicate forces himself. When everyone was safe, and he couldn’t do more, John manages to get into his own escape pod just before his ship blew up. He spends the next 100 years in cryosleep, only to wake up and find that he was turned into some mythic hero, destined to return to save the Alliance. I took him to be somewhat of a modern retelling of the Arthurian Legends.
Once his escape pod is recovered and brought aboard the Dauntless, John suffers a deep depression that’s only abated by the responsibilities of command that Admiral Bloch thrusts upon him before he’s killed by the Syndicate naval forces. His dictate to John was to get as many of the ships of the Alliance Fleet home as possible, so they could be used to defend their homes against the inevitable Syndicate counterattack. During the course of his long retreat home, John struggles against his own navy. The skills and military culture of the Alliance have gone into disrepair, caused by the high casualty rates it suffers. So many naval personnel die that they can’t pass on their traditions and skills, making each successive iteration less competent than the one before it.
During this series, we get to relate to John as a man and as a naval officer. I found him to be entirely believable, reminding me of the officers I served with in the U.S. Army. He was a likable enough man, though his constant “am I really the man from the legends” nonsense got old. It felt overdone, though this was more to do with publishing timelines than anything else. Each book had months and/or years between them, so the author had to keep key points fresh in our minds. However, when I binge-read the books they were all already published. I cut them slack on this one and think you should too. Overall, he’s the kind of guy you’d drink a beer with. He was a well-rounded character who was sympathetic and believable, precisely what you’d expect from a beloved main character.
Victoria Rione: She’s the co-president of the Callas Republic and an Alliance Senator who also speaks for the Rift Federation. She was a hard woman to like, though I suspect that to be done by design. She’s a woman who lost her husband to the war with the Syndicate Worlds and who managed her grief by throwing herself wholeheartedly into her work as a politician. She went on the mission into Syndicate space as a representation of her political faction and as a counterweight to the Senate’s distrust for the military establishment. Her additional role in the crew is to prevent the military coup that she fears the senior naval officers are planning. Overall, I found her to be an unlikeable but believable character. She was well rounded with a fleshed-out back story that we learn as the series progresses.
Captain Tanya Desjani: She’s an officer in the Alliance Navy during the war with the Syndicate Worlds. She’s the commanding officer of the battlecruiser Dauntless, which leads the Fourth Battle Cruiser Division. Her ship has also become the flagship for the Alliance Fleet as it fights its way out of Syndicate territory. During the series, we see her as a competent and efficient officer, one who’s beloved by her crew. Tanya Desjani also genuinely cares for those serving under her command – something not common in other officers. During the course of this series, she becomes the love interest of the fleet commander, John Geary. The romantic tension between them is one of the many undercurrents of this series. Overall, I found her to be a tough person to relate to on an emotional level because she’s so stiff and business-like. She has a personality; she just isn’t someone you can picture yourself drinking a beer with. Despite her gruffness, she was a believable character whose devotion to duty was something I could empathize with. Finally, Desjani was a well-rounded character, which is all we can ask for.
Dauntless: This is an Alliance battle cruiser and serves as the backdrop of the entire series. It’s where the main characters spend the entirety of their time during The Lost Fleet Series and become a character in its own right. This vessel is the flagship for the Alliance Fleet and Fourth Battle Cruiser Division. In this series, the captain and the majority of the crew from this ship are from the world Kosatka. The Dauntless has many of the newest upgrades to make her combat effective; a null field projector, hypernet keys, missile, and gun batteries and a superior intelligence department.
Like most of the military fiction, I love to read, this was an action-packed series of novels. The overarching arc of this series was one of a long retreat home, with shades of the Arthurian mythos of the hero who didn’t really die but instead is waiting in the wings for when humanity needs them the most. This was all expertly done in a way that was easy to follow. It never really lagged for me; the adventure was non-stop but with enough lulls in the fun for the reader to catch their breath. I was able to suspend my disbelief and buy into the entirety of the premise, so I’d call that a win for author Jack Campbell. Overall, the premise was interesting, and the set-up was well executed. I couldn’t ask for anything more; an excellent premise, perfect execution, and fantastic pacing!
This is one area where author Jack Campbell shines like a nova! His universe felt very real to me, and it was so gripping that I dove in. This series had a very fleshed out world that was consistent, made sense, and sucked you in. I loved the way they handled inserting new tidbits about the larger universe and history in such a way that you didn’t even notice. The author did it so well that you never felt like you were missing anything important. Though parts of the world were not described, however, rather than detracting from the world-building, it made the universe feel larger. It definitely made me want to become part of the larger world. I never felt like I was missing key bits of information, though I do feel like this is a universe where there’s room to expand the canon. Okay, I’m hinting here, in case Jack Campbell is reading this, but I wanted more. Like, more than the four spin-off series that are already out there. Overall, the world-building was well done, and I was sold on the way it happened. It felt believable, and the characters fit within the universe Jack Campbell created. It was a fun ride that made me wanna suit up…which is the goal of action/adventure authors!
This series was chock-full of visualization, and you could definitely imagine yourself in this world. Except if you wanted to know what the characters looked like. What he did describe, Jack Campbell, hit the entirety of the sensory spectrum; sights, sounds, smells, and even how the world felt. However, as I mentioned before, there were plenty of places where I couldn’t visualize things and had to jump over to the wiki to get a better picture. I know that there’s a trend where less is more for descriptions, and I hate it. For me, this is the one place where I felt let down and why this series was rated as a 4 instead of 5 grenade series.
I’ve read this series many times, it’s one of those worlds I revisit from time to time. In the past, I’ve enjoyed this series in both audiobook and ebook format. However, this time around I listened to the books exclusively as audiobooks. In full disclosure, Christian Rummel narrated my book The Reservist. I love his skills as a narrator, and I’ve listened to many of his books. This series of audiobooks was published between January 2008 to April 2010. This meant that we’re listening to Rummel’s older body of work. That showed because some of the narration wasn’t as well done as his later stuff. Still, it was well done; the accents were consistent, and I didn’t want to rip my ears off. There wasn’t a whole lot of range from the character accents, but the narrator did good! His audiobook was professional quality and got progressively better with each subsequent book, so I had nothing to complain about. Well, except the occasional sprinkling in of music for the dramatic scenes. It was enough to be annoying, but not so much that I turned the book off. Most importantly, he didn’t commit the Cardinal Sin, which is my only real requirement; he didn’t sound like a robot, he didn’t bore me, and he didn’t use accents that annoy the bejeezus out of me! Overall, I give him 4 out of 5 grenades for his performance.
Okay, this is one area where I am floored by this series. The current covers for these books are amazing. They had just the right blend of space fleet action and space marine goodness. There as spaceship ass everywhere and plenty of PEW PEW. The color scheme for the covers was dark and set the perfect tone of gritty survival against the odds. The author’s name and the book title were colored in such a way that they stood out, but at the same time blended in with the painting used for this cover. Obviously, I loved it, and I would seriously put a print of this on my wall if my wife would let me!
Okay, let’s get into the weeds on this one! I’ve organized my overall assessment by putting the stuff I didn’t like first so we can end on a high note. I also want to be clear that I really loved this series overall, it’s why I plowed through the audiobooks so quickly that I had to write a series review instead of an individual one for each of the six novels that make up The Lost Fleet Series. And the entirety of this series got better as the author continued to expand and grow the universe.
Alright, let’s rip off the band-aide and dive in. There were many parts that I wasn’t thrilled with in this series. There were a lot of places in the series that felt repetitive, re-treading the same events. This often happened between books, which I knew was to refresh the memory of the readers. This was specifically important given the four-year window that existed between the start if this series and when the last book was completed. However, this also manifested with tiresome references to whether or not John Geary was a man of myth and legend. I understand that that part of the story was necessary, but the author was a bit ham-fisted with it.
As well as the repetitive details of the myths, I also felt there were too many secondary characters. I never connected with them, we never really learned anything about them, which made them feel one-dimensional. There were so many officers zooming on and off the stage that I felt like I was going to catch a cold from the breeze. I realize that this was done to add depth to the series, but it just rubs me the wrong way. This could just be an issue of taste, so your mileage may vary.
While I loved the audio narration, I did have one complaint about the production decisions. During several periods where they were trying to set the mood, to ramp up the tension, they added dramatic music to the audiobook. This was done at a volume just below the narrator’s voice, so it created a layered effect that allowed you to still hear Christian Rummel’s dictation. For whatever reason, it annoyed me and I briefly considered putting the audiobook down. I’m glad I didn’t because once I tuned that out, this audiobook became a rollicking good adventure!
Finally, let’s look at one more area that was a little disappointing was the combat scene between the fleets. It was really hard to picture the battles; I knew they were massive, but I never really knew how many forces were in the Alliance Fleet at the start of the campaign into Syndicate space. Without that sense of scope at the beginning, everything was just a list of random ship names and combat maneuver formations. I wanted to see it in my head, but I couldn’t visualize it. That was frustrating because military science fiction is my jam and I want to get to know all of the characters. However, this wasn’t enough to make me put down the series despite having run several times.
Right, now we get to talk about the good things! First, I loved the basic premise of this series. The concept of a long retreating action in space was a lot of fun to see played out, especially given that the technology in most science fiction negates this as a possibility. The way Jack Campbell pulled this off was nothing short of amazing. The tension was high the entire time, and I often wondered if he would live. I forced myself not to acknowledge that the follow-on books existed so that I could experience the tension of their dire situation.
If it wasn’t clear, I really liked this space odyssey. It felt like a modern adaptation of the classic Horatio Hornblower saga, which I’m a huge fan of. If you didn’t know this was set in space – you could almost imagine the smell of salt in the sea and the creaking of the wooden boats. This, when combined with the undercurrent of the Arthurian mythos, made this a highly memorable universe. I really felt like the two concepts merged well together, and I really wish I’d thought of it first!
Next, I’d like to say that this series was a lot harder on the physics than what I’d typically read. However, the focus on the laws of relativity was dumbed down enough that even I could understand them. I didn’t check his math, but it came off as extremely believable. I would probably never try writing a series that wasn’t vetted by professors at Handwavium University, but the author made it work!
Another area where the military culture it was spot on. There was even that rivalry between the fleet and her marine compliment! This was just what I’d expect from a naval officer and ship handling veteran. That’s right, Jack Campbell served in the U.S. Navy, and it showed in his understanding of the culture of the swabbie! Because of this, the author made it clear that his world was flushed out and didn’t fall into some of the traps most military sci-fi did. The sailors run out of bombs and power cores for their cannons, dumb luck happens, and good sailors still die. It was everything you want from the space fleet subgenre of military science fiction. The battle scenes were believable, gripping, and I never felt like the author missed a chance to get creative with the tactics. Well, at least with the parts that I could visualize. Such a detailed portrayal of fleet tactics is rare, so it was nice to add another universe to the list!
Am I gushing too much yet? Because another way that this universe shined brighter than a nova was in the multiple distinct political groups that the author created. There were at least four main polities, and every single one was slightly different, giving some depth to the universe. I really wanted to know more about all of them, to explore the nooks and crannies of life in the worlds that Jack Campbell’s imagination spewed for us to read. I think that you’ll feel the same, so let’s pressure the author to keep writing and giving us more to love!
Okay, have I hinted that I enjoyed this universe yet? Good, I want it to be obvious! So, to wrap this bad boy up, I loved this series. Each one of these novels was at least 90,000 words long, about what you expect from the genre. Despite the length, each book felt like a quick read. If you didn’t know how long each novel was, you could almost imagine them as short stories. This is because they were so engrossing that the reader loses track of time, while they temporarily live in the story. The author definitely made me want more from this universe, and I’ll definitely be reading the follow-on series that are already available. Seriously, any offer that can make me read their books multiple times is doing something right. This is at least the fourth time I’ve read through these books, and I never felt like I was wasting my time in coming back to this familiar stomping ground.
Seriously, I realize I’ve gone full fanboy, but the author definitely raised the bar for space fleet military science fiction authors everywhere. I was hooked from the first page/minute! Jack Campbell wove the action into the onboard drama among the fleet in such a compelling way that you wanted to sign up in the Alliance Fleet, despite the stench of their sailory ways! Basically, Campbell had me hooked from the beginning and kept it going throughout the whole series. These are books that I would happily recommend, and an author I will definitely read again. Buy these novels! But hey, it’s easy to spend someone else’s money! I give these books a 4 out of 5 grenades!
If this book sounds like it’s right up your alley, check it out! You won’t regret it! Well, unless it keeps you up all night and you’re late to work… and then your boss fires you because you became a book addict and a rabid Jack Campbell fan. And then you track him down and climb into his window in your skivvies, and he shoots you with his phasers set to kill. Okay, the fanboy/fangirl syndrome MIGHT kill you. Be warned, but enjoy the high!
Until next time, stay frosty and don’t forget to keep your powder dry!
–> As usual, all images came from Google’s “labeled for reuse” section or are used on the Fair Use Doctrine.