Review: Dreadnaught by Jack CampbellPosted by Darwin - 18/07/11 at 01:07 pm
So, once upon a time there was this middle-aged writer/author/editor kind of schmuck who had just received his Kindle. After fiddle farting around a bit and converting some stories of his own into MOBI form just so he could see how the devil device worked, he thought to himself, “I wonder how this ‘instant download’ bull pockey works?”
Thus our protagonist began sifting through the “browse” feature of said Kindle interface, looking for something that wouldn’t either bore him to tears or make him vomit blood. Since he liked space opera, he fastened onto the blurbs for a series that he’d also seen in real life on shelves at the bookstore but never worked up any enthusiasm for parting with his money for: The Lost Fleet series by someone named “Jack Campbell”. Since the Kindle-y versions were, in fact and as is moot and right cheaper than the dead tree versions, our intrepid writer/author/editor hero plunked down a debit against his credit card to purchase one of the books on speculation (which turned out to be right smack dab in the middle of the series) as a test file.
And thus did I end up entrapped in the trials and tribulations of The Lost Fleet and the excellent narrative voice and pacing of “Jack Campbell”, the pseudonym of author John G. Hemry, who is a navy veteran among other things.
Dreadnaught is actually the first book in a follow-on series to the original Lost Fleet saga. In the first go-round, the hero of the tales, Captain John “Black Jack” Geary, is revived from a long suspended animation in a damaged escape capsule to discover that he has been elevated to “heroic” legend by a government desperate to keep up the population’s morale at the tail end of a century-long war. Over the course of six books (Dauntless, Fearless, Courageous, Valiant, Relentless, Victorious), Captain Geary takes the survivors of a truly stupid attempt to achieve final victory from flight for survival to resurgent conquerors and inadvertently cements his “legendary” status by example.
In Dreadnaught, our pseudonyminous author – Mr. Campbell – returns to the universe he has created to deal with the complete and utter mess his main character has made of things between shattering the pseudo-empire that had been his enemy for so long and smiting the nose of a rather screwed-up race of violently introverted aliens who attempted to sneak solar-system killing mines into most of humanity’s safeholds.
That’ll do for an overview. Basically, this entire series is military space opera, naval focus, without any kind of bizarre diddling of physics to make the ships behave like Napoleonic-era men-of-war. There’s hand-waving for the interstellar travel bit and then something of a solid and quasi-rational approach to the almost-reality of Newtonian physics within which we all have to live normally. That makes the whole set-up a lot easier to swallow from a reading standpoint. There’s only a couple of “gimme”s and you can then get on with the story.
And telling a gripping story is where Mr. Emry’s talents lay. The characters are empathetic, the plots and subplots appear straightforward but rarely are, human behaviors affect outcomes, pro and con, and it’s easy to cheer for the “good guys”, even though they have issues. Best of all, there’s none of that half-rotten squishy leftist politically correct navel gazing stupidity that inundates much of the current fare of fiction in the world.
Is it a little shallow in places? Well, yeah. He doesn’t do many scene settings. You won’t get great sweeping vistas of alien worlds from the ground level, just orbital views as things are targeted for destruction. There’s a few places the characters go aboard ship, and that’s about it. And, let’s be honest, some of the “bad” guys are totally stupid-shallow. Sorry. There. I said it.
Regardless, the books entrap a reader into flipping on to the next page as fast you can take in the words. The main elements are there in terms of empathetic characterization, engaging plot, very accessible prose, and the author’s innate ability to keep you reading to Find Out What Happens Next. That’s what I like in my entertainment fiction and that’s what Mr. Hemry aka Jack Campbell delivers in spades.