Audiobook Review: Guardian by Jack Campbell

12 06 2013

Guardian (The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier, Bk 3) by Jack Campbell

Read by Christian Rummel

Audible Frontiers

Length: 13 Hrs 41 Min

Genre: Military Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Guardian continues the Lost Fleet series, giving us some cool new subplots in a relatively well contained story. Despite an overall lack of dramatic tension during the battle scenes, Campbell creates enough drama in other areas to provide us with another fun spacefaring adventure.

Grade: B+

Sometimes I wish Black Jack Geary would just die. There I said it. Yet, that is an extreme reaction. In reality, I wish he would get his butt kicked, make some stupid costly mistake, or in some way act inappropriately. I like Jack Geary. He’s a good guy. A really good guy. A REALLY REALLY good guy. He is competent and morally upstanding. He has basically won a war, discovered three new alien species, rescued countless numbers of prisoners and won’t even have sex with his wife because it may end up looking bad to the others in his fleet. He faces seemingly endless odds and comes away with all but a few smallest casualties which of course, he suffers and moans about leading his to a crisis of faith because he only saved 99 of his 100 ships against a desperate suicidal enemy who will stop at nothing to destroy him. Poor Black Jack. The Lost Fleet series is awesome. It really is. There’s a whole lot of fun, some cool physics, space exploration, aliens, government conspiracies and even some creepy ghostly stuff, but the core of the series is the battles and how Black Jack has trained his fleet to win. It no longer has become a series about whether Black Jack will pull their asses out of a fire, but just how he’s going to do it. I long for the days where the good guys may not come up with that last minute plan that saves the day. I’d like to see our heroes retreating with their proverbial tales tucked between their afterburners.  Hell, I will even take a pyrrhic victory or two. Or at least a small nose bleed. This problem of over competence in Military Science fictions bugging me. I need a series where out heroes lose nearly every battle. Where they are chipped away at, demoralized and constantly on the run. This was one of the things I loved about Battlestar Gallactica. You knew they would probably survive, you just weren’t sure how many people would die along the way. So, I now need recommendations for Military Science Fiction where out heroes get their asses kicked on a regular basis. There must be a series that meets this criteria!

Guardian is the third book in Jack Campbell’s The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier series, the spin-off to the popular Lost Fleet series. Captain Black Jack Geary has successfully completed his mission to explore the space occupied by The Enigma, a strange alien species that has been manipulating The Alliance and The Syndicate Worlds during their century long war. Now, Black Jack and his fleet must return home through Syndicate Space with his new alien allies, and a priceless prize ship taken from another aggressive alien species. Yet, a strange quirk in the Hypernet Gate has the fleet traveling through one ambush after another in the hopes to get home. Guardian is another fun space bound adventure by Jack Campbell. Here he  changes it up from more traditional space battles to the fleet dealing with surprise and desperate almost guerrilla style attacks by a subtle enemy who doesn’t want him to succeed but needs to maintain deniability. This creates some interesting moments, but again, very little dramatic tension. You never really feel that the Fleet is in jeopardy, just wonder how they will overcome the latest challenge. While this is frustrating, it really doesn’t diminish the overall enjoyment of the series all that much. To balance this out, Campbell creates tension in other places, like the strange ship with it’s Ghostly defenses, an internal conspiracy against Geary within his own Alliance, a new cocky and comical new enemy and a fascinating look at Earth, which has garnished an almost religious place in the minds of the Alliance. I actually like that there are religious aspects to this series. Too often in far future SF religion is either used as a divisive force, or society has grown past such tomfoolery, Here, Jack Campbell uses a form of ancestor worship as a logical religious system that really is a part of the individuals lives but rarely affects the politics of the times. It’s an interesting look, and one skeptical people like me are comfortable with. I think that the science fiction explorations of this series are beginning to outshine the military aspects, and that is not that big of a deal, unless you are looking for balls to the wall, "once more into the breach" style hardcore Military SF. I do think that Campbell has some interesting subplots, and if played right, things could totally blow up in Black Jack’s face, forcing him to stop being such a nice guy and start unapologetically ruffling feathers and kicking ass. Am I wrong to want things to go bad for him so that I can have a little more vicarious fun? I hope not. Guardian continues the Lost Fleet series, giving us some cool new subplots in a relatively well contained story. The future of this series is a bit up in the air, but I for one am hoping for some dark times ahead for Black Jack and his crew. Yeah, I’m a dick.

What can I say about Christian Rummel that I haven’t already said in my reviews of like the 20 or 100 of his other books I have listened to? Well, I’m sure he’s a snazzy dresser and probably has some kick ass dance moves that make all the ladies swoon, but as a narrator, he pretty much has us all swooning. I enjoy listening to Christian Rummel narrations. You simply know what you will get. Strong characters, razor sharp pacing, and the ability to get a laugh when appropriate, as well as ripping a tear yelling and screaming out of my manliest of eyes. In Guardian, again Campbell provided him with a plethora of characters to play with. It’s funny, there really is not much detailed background on these characters. Who really knows how someone from some future planet is supposed to sound, yet Rummel brings them all to life in a way that just feels right. The Lost Fleet series is a whole lot of fun, and a great series for audio. Fans of military SF who haven’t yet taken the leap, why the hell not?

Audiobook Review: The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight by Jack Campbell

6 11 2012

The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight by Jack Campbell

Read by Marc Vietor

Audible Frontiers

Length: 12 Hrs 21 Min

Genre: Military Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Tarnished Knight is a promising start of a new series that expands the world Campbell has created in The Lost Fleet. While there are plenty of military engagements, overall there is less action, and more emphasis on character development and a complex political plot. Overall, Tarnished Knight is a winner, with the right mixture of action based military science fiction and political space opera.

Grade: B

I have been a big fan of Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series since first encountering it two years ago. I was very excited, after the sixth book of the series, Victorious, which tied up much of the plot of the series, when Campbell announced that he would be writing two spin off series based in the same universe. I have always enjoyed spin-off series, particularly in the worlds of science fiction and fantasy. So much of good SF/F comes down to world building, and these authors create these vast and complex worlds, then the novels only give you a glimpse of it. Often times, when reading a science fiction world set in an elaborate universe, I feel like I’m given a newspaper, but only read the local section. There are so many other stories out there that can be told, and while the main story is what hooks me in, I often wonder what is going on in the world when the main characters leave on their next mission, and people go back to their daily grind. So, when I found out that the first spin-off series was just more of Blackjack Geary doing his thing, just with a new mission, I was sort of disappointed. I liked the book, and there were interesting new things to look at, but I don’t think it really gave us a bigger look at the overall world Campbell had created.  This is why I was really looking forward to Tarnished Knight, the first of a Spin off Series set in the world of The Lost Fleet, yet giving us a glimpse into Syndicate Controlled Space.

When the Syndicate Government lost its century long war to the Alliance, thanks to the efforts of the legendary Blackjack Geary, many of the Syndicate controlled systems fell into chaos. In Midway, a system that borders the space controlled by the mysterious Enigma Race, two former Syndicate CEO’s form an uneasy alliance in order to Midwa as an Independent System. Yet, their instinctive distrust of each other and the populous creates tension as the two new leaders try to figure a way hold onto the power they have. Tarnished Knight is a complex mixture of military science fiction and political space opera that has heavy doses of action, political maneuvering and paranoid conspiracies, both real and imagined. Campbell has created an interesting new perspective that gives us a glimpse into a part of his world that we have only seen through a filter of an enemy and outsider. Here we see how the oppressive nature of the Syndicate government has affected even those who are trying to break away from it. Tarnished Knight reminded me a lot of some aspects of David Weber’s Honerverse, where the complex political systems create a sense of institutional blindness, and an inability to adapt to changing circumstances. We have two main players, former CEO’s Icena and Drakon, who are almost genetically unable to trust each other. It was quite interesting to see the misconceptions and poor assumptions of basic drives of humanity that have been bread into these characters. We are given an outsiders perspective, able to see pieces that they can’t, and full of knowledge from the Lost Fleet series, that make their decisions often seem frustrating. Yet, it also makes a certain bit of sense from their perspective. I find this sort of complex merging of political realities and social engineering fascinating within a science fiction setting. Some fans of The Lost Fleet series, who expect non stop action full of large scale naval battles, may find the concentration on the minutia of everyday static rule to be disappointing. Yet, I felt, with this setting. Campbell has more room to develop his characters, and create something more enduring. Tarnished Knight is a promising start of a new series that expands the world Campbell has created in The Lost Fleet. While there are plenty of military engagements, overall there is less action, and more emphasis on character development and a complex political plot. Overall, Tarnished Knight is a winner, with the right mixture of action based military science fiction and political space opera.

My overall experience of listening to Tarnished Knight as an audiobook came away mixed. There we some definite continuity issues between Marc Vietor’s pronunciation of some names versus the pronunciations used in The Lost Fleet series. I really think this is something the producers of the series should have paid better attention to. Marc Vietor is a solid narrator. He excels at certain productions that are suited to his unique style. He was excellent as the voice of Webmind in Robert Sawyers WWW series, and brilliant as Mack Megaton in the Audie nominated production of AL Martinez’s The Automatic Detective. Yet, here, with a multi-POV tale, with a lot of characters, his almost robotic tones left something to be desired. It wasn’t that his characterizations were bad. I think he shows a decent amount of range for his voice, but, I felt that another narrator may have brought more to the table than Vietor does here. If this was the first entry to a brand new series, the weaknesses of his performance may have been easier to overlook, but since this is a well established world, the deficiencies were all the more glaring. That being said, my problems with the narration were not major enough to want to switch to the print version of this series. I can live with Vietor continuing as narrator, but if they do switch to someone else for future editions, you won’t hear me complaining.