Review: Courageous (the Lost Fleet book 3)

Courageous by Jack Campbell
Courageous by Jack Campbell

Courageous (Lost Fleet 3)
Jack Campbell, read by Christian Rummel
Audible Frontiers, 2008

I’m keeping this short.  Mostly because listening to the audio versions of these books in such quick session has made it increasingly difficult to keep separate what happened when but also because the novels follow a similar structure with the relative strengths and weaknesses of Campbell’s writing remain consistent.  With a successful raid of the Sanseer star system John “Black Jack” Geary turns the Alliance Fleet towards the Lakota star system.  It’s seems however that Geary has used up all of his luck in previous engagements as an overwhelming Syndic forces soon begin appearing in system.  Courageous marks the first time that the Alliance faced such an overwhelming force despite its desperate trek back home.

Campbell really kicks the action up a notch in Courageous.  With its back to the wall the Alliance fleet displays some extraordinarily impressive skills.  Despite the difficulties of relative time Campbell manages to convey an active and exciting engagement and his descriptions of Geary’s fancy flying and near supernatural ability to time maneuvers perfectly lend an air of grace to the changing formations.  There is last stand moment that while a tried and true element of militaristic fiction still manages to be moving here, particularly Geary’s parting prayer to the elements volunteering for that moment (it reminded me of Rand’s parting words to Ingtar during the flight from Fal Dara in The Great Hunt).

Personal relationships are still a trouble to Geary.  Discoveries from the Alliance POW lists in the previous volumes send Vice President Rione into a dangerous emotional spiral.  I do have a certain fondness for the hard-as-nails politician but more and more she scares me (and I think Geary).  This remains one of the few times we get to see the emotional side of Victoria Rione and gives just a bare hint to the person buried beneath the icy exterior.  Not only does this help provide information on her own state of mind and character but it also offers a clue to how the mindset of the Alliance populace has shifted away from Geary’s own time.

Of course bad luck isn’t really the whole story regarding the disastrous events in the Lakota star system and once our hero has had a minute to evaluate the intelligence garnered from Syndic transmission I dare say that the revelations reveal a situation much worse than bad luck.  The final pages of the novel are, unfortunately, a cliffhanger.  Not so terrible when the next volume is readily available but I can see how it might have frustrated readers when the novel was first released.  I found that Courageous focused more strongly on the action elements of the Lost Fleet series and this left the novel feeling a bit shorter than the rest; particularly when combined with the cliffhanger.  Regardless, The Lost Fleet is some of the best military science fiction I’ve had the pleasure to read (or listen to) in a log time and I am hungrily making my way through the 5th volume in the series.