Courageous by Jack Campbell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Courageous, Jack Campbell’s third book in his Lost Fleet series, is decent, but not great. It’s more of the same with a few new wrinkles thrown in to make it interesting enough for you to buy the next one in the series and keep reading. It’s an effective strategy.
In Courageous, the Alliance fleet is still wandering from star system to system, trying to get home by some path the Syndics won’t know or predict. It might seem like a hopeless situation, but the legendary Captain “Black Jack Geary,” who’s been revived out of cyrosleep after his last mission of 100 years ago, is just the hero they need. He has proven himself so unbelievably capable so far that some of his commanders want to help him become Alliance dictator when they get home, while others just want to get rid of him. Geary simply feels like a lonely old man and wants to retire and be left in peace once he returns to the Alliance.
One of the new wrinkles is this: aliens. Or the possibility of aliens. Geary is coming to realize that an unknown alien race may be manipulating both the Alliance and the Syndics through the hypernet gates. And the Syndics may know of this race and may even be in on it! Geary and his intelligence officers are puzzled by some data intercepts they receive. The big Syndicate fleet did not intend to arrive in the system where the Alliance fleet was. They had expected to come out of the hypernet gate in a different system. But somehow, the gate had malfunctioned. But everyone knows the hypernet gates never malfunction. Did some aliens change their course? And why would this alien intelligence move the Syndicate fleet? If they wanted to eliminate Geary’s fleet, how could they possibly monitor things in one system and then shift the Syndicates? Were they capable of instant communications across who knows how many light years? What to do? What’s up?
Campbell is known for his military sci fi and space opera. Not for character development. I’d say that Geary is pretty well developed in this series. As much as Campbell can do. Another character Campbell tries to work with is Captain Desjani, Geary’s beautiful, young fleet commander, who obviously has feelings for him (and he for her), but neither of them will let such emotions get in the way of their duties and professionalism. That said, Geary’s lover, Victoria Rione, a politician, is a mystery. I assume he’s written her to be intentionally mysterious and confusing, but by now, she’s turned into such a game-playing bitch, that any sympathetic feelings I had for her character I once had are long gone. It’s impossible to get to know her, her motivations, her integrity, her honesty, anything at all. Nothing is as it seems with her. I hate her so much. After listening to her bitch and moan page after page, I’m ready for a change and I think the one I want might be coming in a future book in the series, which is good enough to keep me reading in this series.
That said, I have no idea why this is a six book series. The first book is obviously essential, as the last one will be, I assume. The middle four books seem to be filler, just chases and fleet battles in different Syndic systems that all run together, book after book. It gets boring after awhile. Sure, you learn some new things along the way, some of them critical, but you have to search to find them. Otherwise, you’re just skimming. Campbell is obviously well liked by many fans. I’ve come to enjoy some of his books. But as far as military sci fi goes, he’s no David Weber. Not even close. Of course, no one is, so I’ll say Campbell is no Chris Bunch either. Better comparison. Bunch’s Last Legion and Star Risk series’ are similar space operas, in some ways, but have substantially better character development, snappier dialogue, more believable military action, etc. There are other military sci fi writers out there who are also better than Campbell. Nonetheless, this is entertaining. A decent book from a decent series. Not great, perhaps not even good, but not bad. Above average. Three stars. Cautiously recommended as a series.