Jack Campbell,
The Lost Fleet #2: Fearless
(Ace, 2007)

This is the sequel to the excellent Dauntless (The Lost Fleet, Book 1), wherein we met John "Black Jack" Geary, a captain who was long thought to have been killed in a battle a century earlier. Centuries into humanity's future, colonies have spread out to the stars, and eventually settled into two groups: the Syndicate (authoritarian regime that de-emphasizes individuality, akin to the communism of China or the Soviet Union) and the Alliance (a group of allied democratic colonies, akin to NATO). A century before the events in the first book, war broke out between the Syndicate and Alliance and, in the first battle, Geary sacrificed himself to save a convoy of ships. But, he was not killed, surviving in stasis in a lifepod, only to be rescued a century later. As Dauntless ends, Geary is just being revived as an Alliance Fleet falls into a trap, with all the senior officers wiped out. Black Jack Geary inherits the mantle of leadership, and manages to get his "lost fleet" part of the way home.

This story picks up right where the last one left off. The Lost Fleet goes into a Syndicate star system, does some damage, and rescues a group of prisoners of war. In that group is Captain "Fighting" Falco, a man known for many bloody victories, in which both sides took equally heavy losses. Falco is arrogant, ruthless and power-hungry, as he sincerely sees himself as the savior of the Alliance. He promptly challenges Geary for leadership of the fleet, and eventually leads a mutiny.

With about a quarter of the Lost Fleet now gone, Geary continues to guide the remainder toward Alliance territory, in as unpredictable a manner as possible, causing the Syndicate severe damage along the way. Geary also continues to try to come to grips with how much has changed during his century of stasis, while reintroducing forgotten values and tactics to the Lost Fleet. But he is not done with Fighting Falco.

There is a nice balance between action sequences, dialogue and philosophical introspection. Geary's character continues to develop, especially as romance and friendship both come unexpectedly into play. Geary also faces temptation, as he is given almost complete obedience by his officers and the opportunity to enact revenge, without questions or second-guessing. Will he stick to his values or vent his rage? Two of Geary's officers, Duellos and Cresida, also experience good character development in this sequel. I like the writing of Jack Campbell (a.k.a. John Hemry), as it flows well and creates one of those "I don't want to stop" experiences.

However, the author missed a chance for this to be an even better story than it is. I have to be careful about making this point, as I do not want to divulge too much of the story, but there is a major confrontation between Geary and Falco, but the Falco character, by that point, has changed in such a way as to make the confrontation almost meaningless. When Falco first enters the story, he is a powerful, charismatic, but flawed man who could go toe-to-toe with Geary. This prepares the reader for an eventual showdown between two heavyweight contenders, like Muhammed Ali and Joe Frasier. But, instead of being treated to "The Thrilla in Manilla," it's more like Frasier stepping into the ring right after his right arm was amputated. Falco has so changed by the time the showdown occurs that he is clearly out of contention, and is no match for Geary. If the author had kept Falco more intact, we could have had a lot more drama and complexity to the story, which could then have carried over to the next book in the series, Courageous. Perhaps, Falco will be rehabilitated and again be a match for Geary. I hope so, as I want Geary to defeat Falco, instead of winning by default.

So, where does the title come from? I kept expecting Geary to move from the Dauntless to the Fearless (another ship in the Lost Fleet), but Fearless does not play a significant role in this story.

This is good military science fiction. Despite the flaw in the storyline involving Falco, it's a good read, although not quite on a par with John Scalzi's Old Man's War or The Ghost Brigades.

review by
Chris McCallister

28 July 2007

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