The Lost Fleet: Dauntless
Audible Frontiers, 2008
Audible Frontiers has so far done a bang up job of producing accessible and quality productions of recent and classic science fiction and fantasy works and their release of Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet: Dauntless is no exception. One of my favorite things so far is that they often include an introductory note by the author (true for this audiobook and for Mike Resnick’s Starship series) that give a little bit of background information on how the title came about and some of the thematic notions that spurred the authors into writing what they did. For Dauntless, Campbell explains that one of his inspirations were the notion of ancient heroes and particularly the Ten Thousand. In terms of the former Campbell focuses his attention on John “Blackjack” Geary. Geary, who secured a victory in the opening phases of war with the Syndicate was subsequently believed dead. Flash ahead a century or so and the novel opens with Geary, whose cryochamber has recently been discovered finds himself struggling to adjust to living again. Of course it’s more than that as those hundred plus years have served to transform what was a simple desperate battle for survival on Geary’s part into something much more mythic and turning the man into a legendary hero.
Much of Dauntless focuses on Blackjack’s attempt to reconcile his own humanity with the mythic image that his person evokes in the present day. Unfortunately for Blackjack Geary he soon finds himself at the head of the fleet, forced into a head on collision between John Geary the man and Blackjack Geary the legend. The “man-out-of-time” trope (or as TV Tropes refers to it “Fish out of temporal water“) is a time honored classic and one that Campbell elevates to a different level by turning our newly awakened lead into a bonafide legend, worshiped and adored by those around him. Such a juxtaposition would be difficult enough on an average day but throw in the fact that fleet suddenly finds itself trapped behind enemy lines, nearly at the heart of Syndic territory, and the tension and angst generated by that confrontation is heightened.
While a picked up Dauntless more or less looking for a classic tale of militaristic space opera what I got was that and something a bit more. By tossing in that Rip Van Winkle aspect together with something like a folk hero Campbell adds a wonderful new dimension to the story. The focus of Dauntless remains squarely on John Geary leaving the novel, for all its desperate flight and large scale battles, feeling as much a character study as anything else. There are a stable of characters that surround Geary they all seem to serve more as foils than well-rounded counterparts. Some begin to emerge as something a bit more by novel’s end but they never quite feel complete. The focus on Geary meant that his inner struggle could have distracted from the dire straits of the titular lost fleet. Thankfully I found the inner struggle was so tightly interwoven with Geary’s believed tactical infallibility, and his ability to lead, that the quest to return home almost felt like a physical manifestation of that struggle.
Narrator Christian Rummel does a great job with the reading. I found him especially adept at conveying emotion through tone, particularly where Geary was involved. While the novel doesn’t leave too much room for Rummel to show his skills at dialogue, this is not a novel of witty banter, what little he does get to do comes off quite nicely and I was presently surprised at his facility in pulling off female characters, and provided distinct vocal quirks for each. I certainly look forward to future Lost Fleet novel’s read by Rummel.
Dauntless was a satisfying book to listen to. The struggle of John Geary one that is both intellectually and emotionally engaging. Campbell’s skill at narrating space battles serves well enough (though it doesn’t come quite on par with say David Weber) the most curious aspect being the sort of detached feeling and lack of emotional involvement with the other individual members of the fleet. Campbell lays some other interesting groundwork regarding other forces at work in Syndic space walking a fine line between wild speculation and plausible deduction leaving me eager to see how that aspect of the series plays. I can easily recommend Dauntless for an easy and entertaining listen that is a fascinating combination of the well tread and the wholly original.