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The Lost Fleet: Invincible
Jack Campbell
Ace, 390 pages

The Lost Fleet: Victorious
Jack Campbell
"Jack Campbell" is the pseudonym for John G. Hemry, a retired Naval officer (and graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis). As Jack Campbell, he writes The Lost Fleet series of military science fiction novels. He lives with his family in Maryland.

John G. Hemry Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review:The Lost Fleet: Victorious
SF Site Review:The Lost Fleet: Valiant
SF Site Review: The Lost Fleet: Courageous

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Michael M Jones

After a century of cryogenic sleep following a space battle in which he was one of the only survivors, John "Black Jack" Geary was discovered. He awoke into a world in which he was a living legend, into a society made weary by a century of constant war and strife. Through a series of bizarre circumstances, he was forced to assume control of the Alliance's fleet, stranded deep in enemy space, and bring it home. Against all odds, he did so. His reward? Rather than being allowed a quiet retirement, he was promoted to Admiral, given command of a new fleet, and dispatched into the furthest regions of known space. His assignment: to investigate the status of the defeated Syndics following the cessation of the decades-long hostilities, and to seek out the mystery of the so-called enigma race of aliens.

It didn't take Geary long to realize that this mission wasn't a reward at all, but a convenient way to get the conquering hero out of sight before his popularity and growing legend made him any more of a threat to the establishment. Saddled with uncooperative subordinates, conflicting directives, and a dangerous mission, he's not exactly expected to come back any time soon....

Now he's once again far from home, deep in enemy territory. On one side: the enigmas, a race of aliens so xenophobic they'd rather destroy the human race than make any overtures of peace. On the other side: what's left of the Syndics, whose system of government has collapsed, giving rise to warlords and would-be conquerors. And now a third danger has arisen. The "bear-cows," named for their physical resemblance to Earthly creatures, have a no tolerance policy for outsiders. They shoot first, suicide charge next, and never ask questions.

So once again, it's up to Geary to outwit, outthink, and outfight his enemies, but how can any man, even one as tactically gifted as "Black Jack" Geary outthink aliens whose thought processes are so inscrutable? Especially when they're heavily armed, trigger-happy, and covering all the exits. As if that wasn't complicated enough, enter the "Spider-wolves," a third alien race who might be enemies, might be allies, if only Geary could communicate with them. One thing's for certain: John Geary will get his people home, no matter how many alien fleets he has to fight.

Second in the Beyond the Frontier sequence, eighth in the overall Lost Fleet series, Invincible has everything fans have come to expect from Jack Campbell (an open pseudonym for John G. Hemry). Stoic heroes, large-scale space battles, and constantly-increasing stakes. In Invincible, Geary has to deal with three different alien races, several Syndic factions, a possible conspiracy back home, and all the myriad issues which pop up when you're commanding hundreds of ships. His fleet is short on resources, battle-weary and breaking down on every level, and keeping things together is like herding cats. It's always fun waiting to see how he'll overcome the latest set of problems.

One of the best things about this particular entry in the series is how Campbell portrays his aliens. While they may bear some resemblance to Earth species, and even possess some of the same attributes, these are aliens who act... well... alien. One of the major plotlines involves Geary trying to figure out just how the bear-cows and spider-wolves think, at least enough to fight them or communicate with them. These aren't your steroetypical bumpy-headed aliens, with motivations that can be puzzled out by the second commercial break, these creatures require more thought and effort. Sadly, we're stuck with an entire book of Geary fighting the bear-cows, who don't even get a cool nickname to immortalize them in science fiction history. (The Klingons, the Kzin, the... bear-cows? The name they do get, the Kicks, is hardly evocative or exciting.)

As always, Campbell plays to his strengths: internal politics, military tactics, bureaucratic nightmares, and space battles. There's plenty of ship-on-ship and fleet-on-fleet action, in various cross-species iterations, and no shortage of interpersonal conflict to be found as well.

One aspect I've always found curious about this series is how Campbell's characters are almost faceless, lacking any real physical description. By their deeds, temperaments and words, shall you know them. We have Geary on the cover, of course, but I honestly couldn't tell you what anyone else looks like, not even Geary's wife/flagship captain, Tanya Desjani. I guess it's easier to let these characters represent everyone this way, but whatever visual cues might exist are pretty subtle.

This leads into one of the few quibbles I have with this series and Campbell's style. For all that he rocks at the military aspects, his emotional beats tend to be somewhat on the shallow or sparse side. Take Geary and Desjani, for example. Supposedly in love (they got married during the fifteen minutes or so between postings, when they weren't commanding and subordinate officer), their relationship feels more like best friends than it does a couple sworn 'til death do them part. Some of that is the setup: Desjani is the captain of the Dauntless, Geary's flagship. He wouldn't trust any other to serve that role, and to switch flagships would dishonor the Dauntless, and so forth. So as long as he's the Admiral and she's the Captain, they can't be husband and wife in more than name. So what's the point? There's no real drama, no real tension, and no real spark between them -- except when Desjani gets to bristle at the presence of Victoria Rione, a civilian observer and Geary's former lover. It's hard to invest in a couple that barely shows signs of life. Romance hasn't just taken a backseat to the needs of the military, it was shoved out the airlock. The same goes for the vast majority of the sprawling cast: they get a few lines, some quirks related to their style of leadership or military service, and that's about it. I'd love to have some in-depth focus on some of the secondary characters, because just the hints we get suggest that they'd be fascinating.

However, these are minor faults in an otherwise entertaining entry in an always enjoyable series. I picked up this book as a treat for myself after a series of deadlines, and didn't regret it in the least. Campbell's one of my favorite military SF writers, and every new release is something to be savored. I'm looking forward to his next one, which promises to focus on an entirely different set of characters, as it looks at how the collapse of the Syndics has changed the local status quo. It'll be interesting to see how other people, who aren't John Geary, are getting along. In the end, Invincible is a worthy installment of the Lost Fleet series, and sure to satisfy fans.

Copyright © 2012 Michael M Jones

Michael M Jones enjoys an addiction to books, for which he's glad there is no cure. He lives with his very patient wife (who doesn't complain about books taking over the house... much), eight cats, and a large plaster penguin that once tasted blood and enjoyed it. A prophecy states that when Michael finishes reading everything on his list, he'll finally die. He aims to be immortal.

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