Wednesday, 7 December 2011

You Don’t Know Jack [Review: Dauntless]

Dauntless is the flagship of Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet and the first novel in this military sci-fi series. Soldier Jack Geary goes MIA and presumed dead at the beginning of a hundred year interstellar war - his escape pod is detected and he is revived a century later, to discover that his last stand has become legend and he is now a mythical and revered figure. Meanwhile something is wrong with the Navy. The first signs seem small - the failure to salute, captains having too many meetings or (Ancestors forbid) voting on a course of action rather than taking orders, but it’s worse: the Navy has lost its grip on both strategy and also wartime morality.

A humiliating defeat places Geary in command and only his strategic thinking converts annihilation into retreat. Geary has two challenges which are of course complementary. He must bring the fleet home with its secret cargo of strategic importance, and defeat any threats encountered along the way. Meanwhile he must hold the captains and crews together even as they judge him against the impossible standard of his legend, restore the military skills and attitudes that have been lost and change the culture of the fleet, against strong resistance.

For most of the novel Geary struggles with his fellow captains and soldiers, making allies and enemies along the way. He realizes he will have to go slowly to avoid either alienating his men and women* or, worse, damaging their self-belief. It’s only later that he gets the reasons for their apparent idiocies - the constant attrition of experienced officers and the way that a prolonged and hopeless war has re-shaped their society.

*As with the Honor Harrington series and many other military sci-fi novels, this is a future in which the military has embraced gender equality.

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