Dauntless by Jack Campbell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Interesting first book to a new series. Dauntless is about one John “Black Jack” Geary, a commander of a small fleet escorting an Alliance convoy attacked by Syndicate ships, and holding them off, allowing the convoy to escape as his ship is destroyed and he is killed. He is memorialized in the history books, everyone in the Alliance knows who he was, and many people think it’s possible Black Jack will return to save the Alliance in time of great need one day.
It’s been one hundred years. An Alliance fleet traveling in Syndicate space happens upon an old Alliance escape pod and find Geary very much alive after all this time, frozen in cryosleep. He is awakened, rejoins the fleet as it attacks the home of the Syndicate worlds and finds itself drawn into a trap. The admiral and his officers are brought to the Syndicate ship to discuss potential surrender, are betrayed and slaughtered in full view of everyone. However, before the admiral left his ship, he gave command of the fleet to Geary, so it’s up to Geary to help the Alliance fleet escape from the Syndicate worlds and make its way home through enemy territory with an enemy fleet hot on its tail.
Meanwhile, Geary feels bewildered to learn that not only is he alive, but that his one famous deed was actually exaggerated and now he’s a hero of legend. All he really feels like doing is grieving over the loved ones he lost a century ago. But he has no choice. Duty calls.
What makes this a particularly hard task is the Alliance has changed unbelievably since Geary was “alive.” He doesn’t even recognize it anymore. Yes, the technology has advanced, as one would expect it to, but the military no longer has skills or experience, due to constant fighting, and they no longer observe hierarchy. Instead of following commanding officers’ orders, they discuss and vote on whether to do so or not. This infuriates Geary and he works to eliminate this practice immediately. This doesn’t go over well with everyone and he gains enemies immediately, legend or not.
Several observations. Some of the characters were interesting. I liked Dauntless’s captain, Captain Desjani. She turned out to be incredibly loyal to Geary and showed some flexibility and spunk. I also thought the character, Co-President Rione, showed potential as Geary’s possible equal in future books in the series. She is an interesting mystery, in any event.
However, the world building in this book is absolutely horrible! All of the Alliance and Syndicate worlds are dull and unremarkable. Nothing stands out. They have no distinct cultures or peoples. They have nothing really to offer the reader. They’re just pieces of rock floating in space. Why name them anything at all? Why pretend they’re even there? Why not name them “R-22-387-WW?” Campbell could and should have done a much better job with the various worlds.
Also, I have a serious issue with the ships’ weapons. Most warships in sci fi novels have variations of lasers, grazers, missiles, plasma weapons, etc. Most space battles are fought kilometers apart, usually hundreds, thousands, or in David Weber’s case, even millions of kilometers apart. Not here. The warships here use some type of grapeshot. I’m not joking. Grapeshot, as in something out of Earth’s 1700s pirate cannons used as anti-personnel shredders, used by ships up close to each other, usually just yards apart. Why in the hell would spaceships be yards apart??? That’s insane! If they collided, and they undoubtedly would, they’d all blow themselves to hell. It’s literally unthinkable they would use such a close quarters weapon in space, and ball bearings at that. Seriously? Are you freaking kidding me? What am I, 12? Do you seriously expect me to believe that a 30th century (for example) warship’s hull could possibly be penetrated by ball bearings? Another weapon these warships use are some form of electronic “lances.” Again, a close quarters weapon that ships use to touch each other up close and personal to cause damage to other ships. Okay, sorry for the language, but this is called for – are you fucking kidding me??? That’s fucking stupid as hell! I’ve never heard of more stupid sci fi weapons in my entire life. If spaceships got that close in a space battle, they’d most certainly collide at the speed they’d be traveling and both ships, and probably others around them, would all be blown to hell. I think I read somewhere that Campbell’s a military vet. I don’t know if that’s true, but if so, he surely didn’t rise very high in the ranks, because he’s definitely not smart enough to do so. He can write a decent, not great, battle scene. Can’t compete at all with Weber, Chris Bunch, many of the others, but he’s okay, but he really is clueless when it comes to inventing realistic sci fi space weaponry.
Final point. The religion of the Alliance is the worship of one’s ancestors. Interesting.
This wasn’t a bad book. It had some interesting ideas, an interesting premise, a good protagonist in Geary, possibilities for an interesting series, a few decent characters, and some good tension. But there was some extended moralizing that became annoying. The world building was lacking. The fact that the Alliance military had essentially disintegrated in 100 years seemed a little stretched. The weapons were completely laughable to the point of insulting the reader and drops the book’s rating at least one star, minimum. This is probably a good four star book that I’m giving three stars to because of the ridiculous weapons issue. However, it’s good enough for me to pick up the second book in the series and read it, which I’ve done. Thus, cautiously recommended, even at three stars.