Invincible (Beyond the Frontier #2)
A new Jack Campbell book is a drop everything and read, or in my case listen, affair. I have never been less than satisfied with any of the Lost Fleet novels and the most recent book Invincible is no different. For those who haven’t read the previous Lost Fleet series I highly highly recommend you go do so; particularly if you’re a fan of military science fiction. If you’ve read the previous series but haven’t jumped on board for Beyond the Frontier well…something is probably wrong with you and I can’t help. Both parties should be warned that this review will likely spoil both the previous series and the first Beyond the Frontier novel Dreadnaught.
The conclusion of Dreadnaught introduced a new alien threat as the Geary and his fleet ran from the Enigmas straight into a waiting space fortress. The early chapters of Invincible deal with the fleet’s encounter with this new species. Much to everyone’s frustration these new aliens, much like the Enigmas, refuse to talk instead deciding to fight. As usual the looming presence of a new violent threat isn’t the only thing Admiral Geary has to worry about. The long war between the Alliance and Syndicate Worlds has taken its toll on the ships of Geary’s fleet and it is out in the middle of nowhere that ships’ systems begin to fail.
What I love about this series is that it looks at the aftermath of war, the effect it has on its participants, while simultaneously introducing new elements of exploration and diplomacy to the proceedings. While Admiral Geary has his ships, crew, and the aliens he encounters at the forefront of his mind the degrading political conditions at home (with much of fear and anxiety centered on himself) and hints of new and hidden ship construction (mentioned in Dreadnaught and echoed here) constantly wear at him. The plot and action stay constantly focused on the current threat but Campbell still does a great job at keeping the situation at home fresh in the minds of readers without distracting from the more immediate action.
I won’t speak too much on the alien species revealed in Invincible since I don’t want too spoil too much (even the publisher’s blurb is careful not to mention them). Campbell does a passable, bordering on excellent job at crafting a believable alien society with a fascinating biological and socialogical background. The new threat is interesting and provides a new challenge for Geary to work out particularly how does one defeat an enemy whose tactics and expectations exist outside the sphere of human experience? I am consistently impressed by Campbell’s ability to craft both action and character. Maybe its my own familiarity with the characters but I feel like Campebell’s work in Beyond the Frontier does a fantastic job a fleshing out the major characters as distinct individuals. Both Desjani and Rione get some of the edges rounded out a bit and come off feeling more as living breathing people rather than foils for Geary.
Invincible feels like coming home again. The Beyond the Fleet series is an immensely satisfying read that still manages to leave me wanting more. This is another stellar entry into what has become of my favorite series and universes. The action is tight and focused yet still manages to hint at grander and maybe even sinister things to come. If you love military science fiction you need to be reading Jack Campbell.