In Valiant, Jack Campbell’s fourth book in his The Lost Fleet series, Captain “Black Jack” Geary is back, leading the remaining Alliance fleet through Syndic territory in an effort to get home to Alliance territory. They’re worried about their fuel cells, food stores, and the materials they need to create weapons. They’re obviously also worried about the Syndic fleet(s) following them, trying to trap them and eliminate them wherever they go. So far, they’ve beaten the odds and whipped the Syndics and they’ve discovered that the Syndics are afraid of Geary. The Syndic CEOs and crews are inexperienced and this weakness allows Geary to exploit this weakness in battle and concentrate on, yes, more pressing needs. In this book, they’ll also witness a Syndic hypernet gate collapse, see the horrifying damage it can do, and try to get the truth out to the Syndic worlds, letting everyone know the Alliance is not responsible for this atrocity. Finally, they’re getting closer to finding out the truth behind their suspicions that some form of aliens on the other side of Syndicate space might be influencing the war and trying to exterminate humanity.
One of the previously mentioned more pressing needs is fleet treasonous behavior on the part of fleet captains. Geary’s always had adversaries and has actually had to arrest a few, but things are getting nasty. Worms are found in several ship’s operating systems that would have resulted in Geary’s ship and a couple of others jumping into jump space and never emerging again, lost forever, while the rest of the fleet remains helpless. Who are these evil rivals who are willing to kill him and their colleagues in the fleet? Why are they willing to go to such traitorous lengths? Geary needs to find out and find out fast!
Another pressing need, although less so, is the two women in his life, Co-President Victoria Rione and Captain Tanya Desjani, his fleet commander. Rione has been his on again, off again lover, now permanently off. I’ve never liked her. She’s a politician who does nothing but play mind fuck games. She’s a total bitch and treats him like crap. I hate her guts and so does everyone in the fleet. And she hates and treats Desjani, Geary’s biggest supporter, like crap and with great disdain. Desjani used to follow Geary around like a devoted puppy dog, willing to do anything he commanded. She still follows his orders, but in this book, Campbell finally develops her character to a much larger degree and we get to know a lot more about her and find out there’s a lot more to her than just blind devotion to the Alliance and to Geary. It’s refreshing. Tanya Desjani is given more development in this book. We’re finally shown some other, nicer components of her personality. When we first met her, her two main personality traits seemed to be utter blind devotion to Geary and an unusual battle lust. Now she is actually a potential love interest for Geary and no one could be better for him. It’s also refreshing to see a “nice” woman who cares for and respects Geary treat him with dignity and respect and honor, as well as offering an objective opinion on tactics and other things, unlike Rione and it’s just sad that the two women simply end up getting catty with each other. It gets damned annoying. I just want Desjani to punch her out! It creates a real headache for Geary.
My series complaints about the fleet weaponry remains and stands. They have virtually no missiles, so they rely on “grapeshot” and “hell lances,” both of which are for close quarters combat, which of course is not remotely possible at the speeds Campbell (or anyone) writes about taking place in space. There would simply be collisions and warships would blow up. It’s that simple. Besides, it’s simply stupid to think that 17th century Earth-based pirate’s grapeshot using actual ball bearings would be used thousands of years in the future in outer space. It’s truly the most ridiculous space “weapon” I’ve ever heard of in my life. Grapeshot tears ships apart. Sure it does. Since you’re 100 yards away from each other traveling at the speed of light and not colliding, I guess that can happen, right? Shit. Hell lances are little better. Close quarters combat. There’s another close quarters weapon, but I forget the name now, but essentially it’s 17th century naval battles in space, when ships got alongside each other and fired at point blank range and men boarded each other’s ships. It’s utterly the most stupid thing I could possibly imagine. Most sci fi writers use weapons such as, yes, missiles, but also lasers, grazers, plasma weapons, anti-missile defenses, and much more. Not here. Oh, and when 120 warships attack 120 other warships and fire at each other, maybe, maybe five get hit. Two get destroyed and three get seriously damaged. And that’s considered successful. Compare that to the greatest military sci fi writer of our time, David Weber. He has hundreds, at times, thousands of ships, each with impeller wedges powering the ships which are hundreds of kilometers wide, so that the battle lines are thousands, maybe millions of kilometers wide and millions of kilometers apart and the two fleets fire at each other at maybe 1.5 million kilometers apart. For close quarters laser action, perhaps they close to some 700,000 or 500,000 kilometers. I could be off, but you get the picture. And hundreds of ships blow up at one time, not five. It’s ridiculous to think that 120 ships firing at one time can only blow up a couple of ships. That’s the definition of ineptitude. Is it any wonder why this war has been going on for over 100 years? Their weapons are hideously bad. Can’t R&D do something decent? So, that’s my major complaint with this book and this series. And it’s a major complaint and it always knocks at least one star off the overall rating because I think it’s such a serious drawback.
All that said, I think this is a pretty good book in a decent series. This isn’t the best military sci fi series I’ve ever read, not by a long shot. But it’s holding my interest. I want to know what happens to Geary when he gets the fleet home to the Alliance. Will the politicians welcome him or view him as a threat? What will be done about the aliens? Can the war be stopped? Will he and Desjani finally end up together? I want to know, shortcomings be damned! So, four stars and if you’re reading the series, recommended.