An entertaining sci-fi yarn with a good central character.
For a hundred years two human civilizations, the Syndics and the Alliance, have been locked in a brutal and grinding war, the conflict has raged for so long that no one can remember why the war is being fought in the first place. What is clear is that neither side is winning, and that the price being paid is not going to be sustainable for much longer.
Dauntless is the first book of a six novel series by Jack Campbell. The story focuses on Captain ‘Black Jack’ Geary, a hero of the Alliance, a legend who was thought to be dead. At the very beginning of the war Geary fought a valiant last stand, sacrificing his star ship and what many believed his life to save the rest of the Alliance fleet from a Syndic attack, but Geary survived. He spent the next hundred years in a deep freeze hibernation, only to be recovered by an Alliance fleet on its way to deliver a fatal blow to the Syndic home world.
But things to not go to plan for the Alliance and Geary finds himself thrust back into the fight, placed in command of a damaged, ill-trained fleet and set the task of getting them home.
Campbell’s style is very readable, sharp and to the point, it suits the story he is trying to tell and compliments the no-nonsense hero he has created in ‘Black Jack’ Geary. It is light, military Science Fiction and with Campbell being a retired U.S. Navy officer he certainly adds elements of gritty realism to the novel. The chain of command and battle procedures within the fleet feel well thought out and rather genuine considering the story is set in deep space and features huge battle cruisers beating the hell out of each other.
While it all sounds rather superficial there are touches of real class within the writing, Geary is a rather complex focal point. While at times he comes off as a little worthy and too perfect, Campbell has given Geary plenty of issues to deal with, he is a man who has to live up to his God-like reputation and is challenged at every turn by a hostile enemy, his fleets expectations and his own sense of responsibility. There are other nice touches; the Syndics have developed a more efficient way of travelling at light speed, a hypernet that allows them to cover their space a lot faster. But not every system is deemed important enough to have a hypernet gate, this means that the systems without a gate will wither and die; the lost fleet encounter a few on their journey. Also the high cost of the war in both personal and hardware has rendered both sides ineffective; they have forgotten how to fight. It is up to Geary to whip his fleet into shape causing much internal conflict and politics to be played out.
There are however some weak points, Campbell has tried to pry in some eastern philosophy into the mix, with much talk of honouring ancestors and taking your place among the living stars. While the sentiments of putting some spirituality into a rather macho environment is a good one, it does not work here. Campbell has also let himself down a bit when it comes to creating the differences between the two civilizations, the Syndics are the bad guys because in their society everyone works for the state and there is little freedom of expression and too much bureaucracy. Sounds a little bit like communism and feels a little bit lazy.
Finally though, and this is the biggest problem I can’t help feeling that this has all been done before and done in a much more compelling and complex way. A lost fleet on the run looking for a way home? A leader who has become a legend to his own people? A long and devastating war that no one can remember starting? Hello Battlestar Galactica.
Perhaps it is an unfair comparison and if you’ve never watched, read or heard of Battlestar Galactica then the similarities won’t bother you.
Campbell has produced an entertaining sci-fi yarn with a good central character and a series of books to work though and explore, at the end of the day isn’t that what most people are looking for?
Review by Charlie White
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