Ace Books, 2006, 304 pages
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 has emerged from a century-long hibernation to find he has been heroically idealized beyond belief.
Captain John "Black Jack" Geary's legendary 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 from survival hibernation 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.
The author credits the story of Xenophon and the Ten Thousand as his inspiration for The Lost Fleet series, but the less classical reference is Battlestar Galactica. A battered fleet is being chased by a superior force, with drama generated both by internal dissent and enemy action.
Throw in a bit of the "Chosen One" archetype, and you have a military SF novel that reads like a Real Time Strategy game where you get to outfit your forces and then send them into battle, with little pop-ups (here coming in the form of Captain "Black Jack" Geary's loyal advisors) giving you hints on strategy and tactics.
Because this is the beginning of a long-running naval warfare series that can be prolonged as long as the audience will put up with it, The Lost Fleet also has a lot in common with the Destroyermen series, which so far (on the basis of three books) I find much more entertaining.
Dauntless is well-written when it comes to the tech and the combat: the author's prior career as a naval officer shows, and while this isn't diamond-hard SF, it treats relativistic space combat realistically and the weapons and technology are realistic extrapolations based on the laws of physics.
It is, however, quite flat as far as the universe and the characters go.
Captain John "Black Jack" Geary was in command of a convoy a hundred years ago when the Syndicate worlds attacked. Thanks to his inspired (and lucky) leadership, the convoy survived, but Geary had to go into emergency hibernation. A hundred years later, the remnants of the Alliance fleet find his survival pod and revive him, just in time for him to witness the attempted surrender of the Alliance fleet to the Syndics, following an ambush at the Syndic homeworld. The Syndicate instead kills all the Alliance officers who were supposed to be negotiating with them.
Geary is left in command, and rather than turn the fleet over to the Syndics, he devises a strategy to flee through a jump gate, thus starting the Alliance fleet's long, multi-volume retreat.
In the hundred years while he was asleep, he's become a legend, and much of the fleet views him as a King Arther returned from the grave. Unfortunately, most of them aren't ready to deal with an actual flawed human following command policies and rules of war from a hundred years ago. This gives Geary plenty of opportunity for reflection and character development, but all the other characters are pretty shallow, being merely foils or sounding boards for Geary.
Other than the bit of treachery at the beginning of the book, we only know that the Alliance are the good guys and the Syndicate are the bad guys because the Alliance says so. While much detail is lavished on weapons and ship types, none is given to description, or characters, or even the universe itself. There are some hints of a bigger enemy — i.e., aliens — waiting for whenever the trying-to-get-home storyline wears too thin, but this seems to be a series for people who want to read about space battles and don't care about much else.
Verdict: Competent, technically and militarily sound SF with mostly cardboard characters and almost indistinguishable sides. Good if you want to read realistic space combat, but Battlestar Galactic and the Destroyermen have much the same plot, with more fun. 6/10.
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