by Jack Campbell, Reviewed by Terry Mixon
This book is part of a follow on series to the original six-book series The Lost Fleet. It is the second book of the Beyond The Frontier follow on series involving the same characters and thus is the eighth book in the saga of John “Black Jack” Geary.
When Justin offered this book for review, I jumped at the chance. I’ve been meaning to read the Lost Fleet series for a number of years, but just never seemed to get around to it. As part of a continuing series, I read the previous books to get the full flavor and story before reading this book. As those previous books were required to understand everything that had happened, they colored my review.
John “Black Jack” Geary was an Alliance ship commander woken from emergency cryogenic sleep a hundred years after his ship was destroyed in the opening rounds of a war with the Syndics. With little warning or preparation, he was thrust into command of a large fleet of ships when all senior officers were killed and his date of rank as Captain superseded the nearest officer by many decades.
He discovered to his horror, that the Alliance government had created a mythology around his last stand a century ago, making him almost a demigod to support them in the war effort. Those exceedingly high expectations and misconceptions of who he was caused him no end of frustration and problems in dealing with a navy that had had so many experienced officers killed and vessels destroyed that the institutional knowledge of his time was long gone.
Now fleets fought head-to-head in bloody melees that killed tens of thousands, where good tactics would save so many. Dealing with the inbred concept that bravery meant never retreating or doing anything less than going right at the throat of the enemy caused instant strife with his fellow Captains. That made the enemies inside his command almost more dangerous than the Syndics.
The original six-book series was one long story detailing his fighting withdrawal of the Alliance fleet from deep inside Syndic space to bring them safely home to the Alliance. It also dealt with his counterstrike to bring the century-long war to a conclusion.
The second series, Beyond The Frontier, followed now-Admrial Geary on to explore beyond Syndic space with the remains of his fleet under the orders of a distrustful Alliance Government. It seemed they feared he’d stage a military coup and seize political power. It quickly became apparent that some kind of secret orders were in play that made their return to Alliance space unlikely. In fact, they seemed destined to be destroyed in a way that let the Alliance government wash their hands of the troublemaking warriors.
In this book, they escaped the home system of a zenophobic alien race that was determined to destroy them rather than let them escape. In doing so, they met another race that might be more inclined to befriend humanity. They still had to return to Alliance space through yet another alien race’s space, with the clock ticking.
To my mind, this series had significant flaws. Some of them had been improved on by the time I got to this book, but if you can’t get to the island without walking neck-deep in a swamp, you talk about the swamp. I’ll briefly discuss the previous books and then discuss how my complaints and praise carries over into this book. My opinion is, of course, my own. Others seem to like the books much more than I did.
The story idea was original and inspiring. There ws so much possibility in waking someone from the past to command a war in the present. The scope of the canvas could have made for a grand story. The space technology and battle scenes were good. Unfortunately, the potential was squandered through, in my opinion, weak storytelling and poor characterization. I won’t dwell on all the things I hated about this series, but I’ll hit some highlights.
The story was told solely from the point of view of Black Jack Geary. That meant every other character was not as fleshed out as it could be. Many authors manage to give the supporting cast the feel of real people in similar circumstances, but that didn’t seem to happen for me in this series. With the exceptions of his Flag Captain and the Alliance Representative (whose names have already escaped me even though I read eight books with them in it), all other characters were two-dimensional cardboard cutouts.
This single point of view might have been relieved if Geary had left the single ship he was on more than a very few times. That lack of travel meant that the reader saw a lot of his control room, the conference room, and his quarters. That’s pretty much it. For eight books. The repetition of the same space and the same characters was like an anchor around my neck.
The motivations of the other Alliance officers and government officials were stereotypical and not nuanced in the slightest. The heavy handed way that they were made into foils grated on me.
The never-ending “I’m not really Black Jack” commentary by Admiral Geary got old fast, too. Sure, he’s not, but at some point he should have accepted that he couldn’t change how the universe saw him and stopped bitching.
The reflexive heel-digging resistance by every officer in sight to the tactical skills he brought from the past to aid them (when their own legends said he’d come to lead them to victory) got old in book one. After half a dozen more it was a significant negative to the story. It made everyone look like homicidal, suicidal idiots.
Lastly, a personal peeve. Geary married one of his officers when they returned to Alliance space. There was a small window where they were of equal rank and he was not her commanding officer. Great. It was one of the high points of the story.
The restriction imposed on them for the next several books, after he was named Admiral, where they couldn’t even be seen alone together, much less share a room or a marital relationship grated on me like fingernails on a chalkboard. A huge opportunity for making a secondary character more solid was squandered for a situation that added little real conflict to the story.
In all, the first seven books of this series did not entertain. They paled in comparison to any other military science fiction I’ve read, particularly the Honor Harrington saga by David Weber or The Heritage Trilogy (and subsequent books) by Ian Douglas. Virtually every other piece of military science fiction I’ve read made this series a very poor last choice. The series as a whole gets two stars out of five from me, with only the battle scenes saving it from a single star.
Invincible, the book I had to wade through the swamp to get to, showed some improvement. Not a lot, but enough to be mentioned. Not everyone inside the fleet was ravening to go kill everything in sight. The machinations of the government representatives felt a little more realistic. There were things other than combat happening that really mattered. Aliens were met and some depth was shown in other characters. A little.
This book earned itself three stars out of five, for what I would consider average quality. My recommendation to anyone tempted to read the series is to reconsider. You’ll never get those hours back. Find some different options to explore and save yourself the irritation.