In Review: The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier: Leviathan

Outstanding ship combat that seems closer than the future propels this book beyond other military science fiction series.

The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier: Leviathan by Jack Campbell

Published by Titan Books, May 5, 2015. Paperback of 400 pages at £7.99.

The cover: The battle cruiser Dauntless comes out of a hypernet gate and takes some fire from an unseen host on this cover concept by Amazing15.com with the images from Dreamstime. Now I’m assuming this is Dauntless, since this is the ship where Admiral John Geary commands the fleet, and I would expect his ship to receive damage as he leads his forces. The author’s name is above this image, with the title of the book being just as big as the ship enduring fire. The violet energy released as the ship enters this new region of space nicely sets off the white title of the book and the orange explosions occurring due to enemy fire. I’m always pleased to see book titles be as big, or bigger, than the author’s name, and I’m happy Titan set this image up this way. Overall grade: A 

The premise: From the back cover, “Mutiny and obedience. Two Syndicate World star systems have fallen prey to a mysterious fleet of warships controlled entirely by artificial intelligence. The warships are no mystery to Geary. He knows they were developed by his government to ensure security, but malfunctioned. If the Syndics learn the truth, the war with the Alliance will resume with a vengeance. As the government attempts to conceal the existence of the A.I. warships — and its role in their creation — Geary must track the ships to their secret base in the supposedly mythical Unity Alternate star system and end the conflict — at any cost.” This is my first read of Jack Campbell’s work, whose name I’ve seen for years on novels, so I’m looking forward to reading this book for that reason, and I’m interested in the “mad A.I.” angle of the antagonist ships, which sounds like warfare that’s not too in the future. Overall grade: A 

The characters: Admiral John “Black Jack” Geary is the protagonist of this book, without question. One hundred years previous to the events of this novel, he was a hero for the Alliance, assumed dead, but left in suspended animation in an escape pod. Once revived he finds himself again helping the Alliance, but there is a fantastic twist involving him and his foes, the A.I. ships — they’ve been programed on his fighting strategies from the past. Every decision he makes in moving his fleet to evade and attack these rogue vessels has him pondering what his reactions/choices would be and then thinking of new ways to beat them: it’s as if he’s battling himself. This is a fantastic way to put a hero through the wringer. The ship he’s on is captained by Tanya Desjani. He shares all his hopes and doubts with her and she supports him completely, offering advice whenever it is, or isn’t, sought. There’s a sexual tension between the two, but it can’t be addressed during the battles which don’t let up. There are several other military characters brought in, as there are many ships under Geary’s command, but they don’t remain the focus for too long. There is an alien race introduced in the final third of the novel called the Dancers and I really enjoyed them. Not much time is spent on them, because there’s a mission to be done, but their inclusion was fun. The villains of the piece are the dark ships, newer warships built by the Alliance but turned rogue by those that wish to exit this conglomeration of worlds. I was completely taken with how their A.I. were built upon Geary’s previous battle history. They never spoke, but were wonderful silent enemies. Overall grade: A

The settings: It’s space, pure and simple, with the First Fleet going from planet to planet, chasing the dark ships or avoiding their wrath. Most of the action with the protagonists is done from the bridge of the Dauntless, with Geary giving orders for the fleet and Desjani taking care of her ship. I believed in the setting for the heroes, and it functioned well for them and for Campbell. The last third of the book has a new setting introduced that I can’t discuss without giving away a major plot point, but it was equally fine. I liked the description of this location, which was not what I or the crew of the Dauntless expected. Overall grade: A 

The action: This was a completely new experience for me to encounter in a science fiction book. It seems fairly obvious that this is the way ships would do battle in the future, but reading it was absolutely thrilling. Since the ships are moving so quickly, their encounters must be planned out to finest detail, because they will pass each other in matter of seconds, with each ships’ weapons having to react instantaneously. I never thought I would be on the edge of my seat as a ship nears an enemy, and engages for less than a minute. The give and take between Geary and those on Dauntless as they speculated what to do in each conflict was engrossing. Even better is when they were following an ally and, again, because of speed, the combat had already occurred, but they wouldn’t witness it or the results until six minutes after the fact. This was amazing! And a fantastic monkey wrench thrown into the conflict is a computer virus, sent out in the previous book, where allied ships cannot use their systems to identify friend from foe. This is the type of conflict that seems sooner than later in our world’s history. I loved the action of this book. Overall grade: A+

The conclusion: There is no conclusion to this book, as it is part of a series, but I knew that going in, so that didn’t hurt its enjoyment. However, there is a situation oat the final setting where one individual, who recently joined the book, has to do something that seemed very atypical of war fiction, set in any time period. I didn’t like what was said on Pages 376 — 378 as it took the book into an overly familiar trope. It bordered on cliché. That said, this is one character with one moment. It is a tiny episode in the book, but falling so close to the end it stuck in my mind. Overall grade: A- 

The final line: Outstanding ship combat that seems closer than the future propels this book beyond other military science fiction series. I loved this and I want more! Overall grade: A

 

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer’s Guide for several years with “It’s Bound to Happen!” and he’s reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He’s taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.

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