BOOK REVIEW & EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Lost Fleet Beyond the Frontier: Dreadnaught

Carrying on the adventures of John “Black Jack” Geary in this sequel to the original Lost Fleet six book series we find our hero with a new mission that could be his last.

The Lost Fleet Beyond the Frontier: Dreadnaught

Author: Jack Campbell

Publisher: Titan Books

The Alliance woke Captain John “Black Jack” Geary from cryogenic sleep to take command of the fleet in the century-long conflict against the Syndicate Worlds. Now Fleet Admiral Geary’s victory has earned him the adoration of the people—and the enmity of politicians convinced that a living hero can be a very inconvenient thing.

The war may be over, but Geary and his newly christened First Fleet have been ordered back into action to investigate the aliens occupying the far side of Syndic space and to determine how much of a threat they represent to the Alliance. And while the Syndic Worlds are no longer united, individually they may be more dangerous than ever before.

Geary knows that members of the military high command and the government question his loyalty to the Alliance and fear his staging a coup—so he can’t help but wonder if the fleet is being deliberately sent on a suicide mission…

The book picks up not long after the end of the last series but do no fear if you have not read them like me as the author does an amazing job of bringing in new and old readers in a short time. I felt like I already knew the characters by the time the 3rd chapter had arrived and that made this book so much more enjoyable.

I love military sci fi, which this book delivers in the ship load but also this book has some great character moments. The on board ship life feels real and the space battles are amazingly detailed and well laid out.

We start to find out about the aliens culture and worlds which leads us into the next few books in the this Beyond The Frontier series.

Reading this book has made me want to go and read the original series as soon as I can.

The author “Jack Campbell” AKA John G. Hemry pours his heart in this book using his firsthand experience of being a Naval Officer to full effect.

Overall a really easy read with a fast pace and excellent plot.

GS Rating 4/5

Now read on for an exclusive interview with the author.

John G. Hemry is a retired U.S. Navy officer. His father (LCDR Jack M. Hemry, USN ret.) is a mustang (an officer who was promoted through the enlisted ranks), so John grew up living everywhere from Pensacola, Florida to San Diego, California, including an especially memorable few year on Midway Island.

John graduated from Lyons High School in Lyons, Kansas in 1974, then attended the U.S. Naval Academy (Class of ’78), where he was labeled “the un-Midshipman” by his roommates.

Geek Syndicate: Hi John. Firstly, congratulations on the new book. I thoroughly enjoyed this and have to say it was a real pleasure to read.

Having not read the previous novels I was amazed how easy it was jumping into this story. Was that intentional or were you counting on previous readers to just follow?

John Hemry: One of my strongest memories from before I became a writer was when a friend borrowed a book from a series I liked, only to be unhappy with it because the book was the third in a series and he couldn’t figure out who was who or what was going on.  That disappointed me because I thought it was a good series, but my friend was now soured on it.  I don’t know why that stuck with me so clearly since it happened quite a while ago, but the memory has made me want to write in such a way that someone can pick up a book part way through a series and still be able to grasp what is happening and why.

As a result, in each book I try to work in enough back-story and background to let a new reader catch on. That can be very challenging, especially as the back-story keeps getting bigger.  The last thing I want is to provide some big info dump that will interrupt the story and bore both the new reader and the people who have reading along with the series.  I have to weave the back-story into the story in such a way that it doesn’t disrupt the flow.  The same is true of background items that explain things. In every book I have to say that the fleet conference room aboard Dauntless is actually a fairly small compartment that has software allowing it to virtually expand to hold every commanding officer in the fleet.  But I have to do that without repeating the same description or the same situations, or spending too much time on it.  So I do put a lot of effort into making each book accessible to new readers, and that seems to pay off.  New readers appreciate it and readers who have been along with the ride for a while don’t seem to be too annoyed by information they already know, so I think I’m getting the balance right most of the time.

GS: How much world building did you do for the aliens in this series compared to the Syndics society?

JH: Quite a bit.  With the Syndics I had to build a complex society to be true to human nature and the history of how humans handle dictatorial regimes. That was interesting work, but also a bit easier since people can fill in any gaps pretty well.  We all know how things like that work.

But the enigmas were another story.  I believe that among the things that are found too often in SF are aliens who are pretty much just humans with funny ears or green skin or whatever.  They think like humans, live like humans, and act like humans.  But if they were really alien, different in how they thought about things and how they did things, it wouldn’t be like dealing with humans.  I had to show that the enigmas act in the ways they do because it is consistent with how they think and see the universe.  The actions of the enigmas grow from their own inner natures.  To humans, those actions might not seem to make sense, but they still have to make sense to the enigmas.  The ship designs of the enigmas reflect different priorities and different ways of using those ships than humans employ.  How the enigmas interact with humans (or refuse to interact) reflects their view of the universe and their own sense of what is important.  Everything is tied together.  I think it has to be.  What will the enigmas do next?  In order to answer that, I need to have a good picture of why they have done things in the past.


GS: What were the inspirations for Black Jack?

JH: There were a number of inspirations.  The primary one involved a fairly common myth or legend in human cultures, that of the hero from the past who has not died but is sleeping and will return someday when most needed. Probably the best known example of this in the West is King Arthur, but the same idea can be found in many other places and times.  I had long been thinking about those legends, and about the fact that the individuals at the core of them were likely real people.  What would it be like for someone to actually wake up long after their supposed death, to discover not only that the world had changed but that everyone thought they were some amazing person who could save the day?

There would be, I think, three basic routes such a person could take. They could assume they really were an absolutely amazing hero, which would very likely lead to quick and overwhelming disaster.  They could flee from the role they had been given, refusing to try to live up to the legend of themselves, but that could also rapidly lead to disaster.  Or they could recognize that even though they were not this hero of legend, they had to try their best to live up to that legend in order to save those who believed in them and who needed them.  Black Jack takes that third course, because he doesn’t think he’s all that special but he also has a strong sense of duty.

Even then, he needs to find some human anchors in this new world, some people who give him the reasons he needs not to crumble under the pressure.

I think it’s also important that Black Jack is a professional in the highest sense of the word.  He understands discipline and sacrifice, he’s not interested in personal glory or power, and he’s going to do his best. To a people who have been fighting an ugly, bitter war for so long that they have forgotten many of the principles they once believed in, he is a living reminder of right and wrong.


GS: The space battles seem to very well choreographed, how do you create these scenes and manage to follow all that is happening in a battle?

JH: I can do that by virtue of my service in the Navy.  I drove ships, which means understanding relative motion as your large, very massive object maneuvers around a bunch of other large, very massive objects.  As you are doing that, there are aircraft above, and submarines below, moving in their own ways, with very different reaction times and information timeliness.

I had some experience with both ship movements and three-dimensional activity, then.  The trick was putting those together, and thinking in terms of fighting on an incredibly immense and unconstrained battlefield with no limits, no real up or down except as humans designated those directions, and the ability to see your opponent all of the time and yet not know what he is doing right now.

I work all that out in my head.  Sometimes I use the old aviator gimmick of using your hands to mimic relative positions and aspects of two forces, because that does work nicely.  I think it’s important that I’m not trying to recreate any particular battles on Earth, that I am looking at each engagement as something new and fitted to that space environment.  If I tried to model space battles on combat on Earth it just wouldn’t work.  It would be like Napoleon never understanding why naval engagements couldn’t be just like ground battles.  Because it’s a different environment, which demands different kinds of forces, and demands that they be employed in different ways.

I’m not at all sure I could ever have worked out those battles if I hadn’t been a ship driver.  The experiences, the lessons, of that helped immensely.

GS: How do you invent the technology in this universe?

JH: As a writer, I think you need to create a consistent universe.  The things in that universe have to make sense in relation to each other.  That drives a good part of my decisions on technology.  If ships can go so fast in space and see effectively forever, what sort of weapons make sense?  What ranges make sense?  What defences?  Grapeshot makes perfect sense as a space weapon, even though it’s already an old technology.  But only at very close orange so the other side can’t see it coming and dodge.

Another main factor is the story.  I needed a means to get my fleet trapped deep in enemy territory.  I needed a means to get them home.  I needed both of those things to make sense, and neither to be magical in all but name.  My ships needed to be able to go fast enough within star systems to bring about engagements in days rather than months, which dictated a certain velocity.  But real physics say if you go too fast it really messes up your ability to see the outside world, and you can’t fight if you can’t see where the enemy really is.  That put an upper and lower speed limit on what I wanted to do.  Even then, those velocities required my ships to be able to do some truly awesome acceleration and braking, which meant I had to add the inertial nullifiers to keep my crews alive.

Basic physics plays a big role.  Mass, propulsion, what do you need to do the job?  The different sizes and capabilities of the ships reflect the same sort of trade-offs that are always required.  That’s why there are no “space fighters” and “carriers” in the Lost Fleet.  They don’t really make sense in space, because space isn’t Earth with water-born craft and aircraft operating in different mediums.  I try to ground the future technology in reality, because that gives it a feeling of reality and because that forces me to avoid short-cuts in which Magic Technology suddenly becomes available to do just what I need just when I need it.  (As anybody who works with equipment knows, technology is more likely to be a case of “it breaks just when you need it.”).

GS: Having served in the military this has helped you with these books but where do you draw the political inspirations from?

JH: All over, I guess.  History and current events.  Politically, as I was starting the Lost Fleet I was seeing certain perspectives being stated, arguments about what a long war “required” and I wanted to address where that road could lead.  I’d seen the same thing in the Cold War, in which respected commentators would suggest that the only path to victory lay in acting like the people we were opposed to.  It wasn’t true then, and I don’t think it’s true now.  But as someone once said “history doesn’t repeat itself, people do.”  Look at the past and while the names and the technology change, the same issues and the same mistakes and the same arguments have been made again and again.  History is a rich field to find different examples of how people handled crises in their own times, what worked in the short run, what worked in the long run, and what didn’t really work at all.

One thing I definitely attempt to avoid is beating people over the head with my own politics.  I believe that when you blatantly bring in contemporary politics in detail and personalities you do three things.  The first is that the reader stops seeing your story and instead starts seeing their own political take on current things.  The second is that you end up preaching to the choir, as people who disagree go to other authors and those who agree latch onto you.  In both cases you, the writer, are no longer encouraging readers to think about issues, but instead to stay wherever they are comfortable.  And the third thing that happens is that you give up one of the things that SF has always excelled at, the ability to take an issue out of current emotions and give it a new setting.  That allows a different perspective, a new way of seeing a familiar situation, and encourages thinking about it in a different way.  Maybe people come out of that with the same stand as before, but at least they’ve given it a fresh look.

And make no mistake that the military has its own politics.  I saw enough of that first hand to know what I did and didn’t like.  I have no hesitation about conveying what I think is destructive politicking within the military. It does happen, and it can inflict great costs on people, the institution, and the country depending upon that military.  The US, after all, did have its Benedict Arnold.

GS: How would describe the Lost Fleet series to new readers?

JH: The Lost Fleet is classic SF space opera, centered on the characters.  The Alliance and the Syndicate Worlds have been at war for a century, neither side able to win, both being worn to exhaustion by the struggle.  The Alliance makes a desperate bid for victory by sending its fleet deep into Syndic territory, but the attack ends in disaster when the fleet is ambushed and seemingly trapped.  However, aboard the fleet’s flagship is Captain John “Black Jack” Geary.  He was supposed to have died at the star of the war, fighting to enable a convoy to escape, but in fact had survived in frozen sleep in a damaged escape pod.  Finally found and revived, Geary is horrified to discover that everyone he once knew is dead, and that after his supposed death he was cast by the Alliance government as the greatest hero imaginable.  Now, trapped and with its leaders dead the fleet needs Black Jack to save it, but Geary knows he is not really Black Jack.  However, he does have knowledge of tactics that had been lost in the long decades of bloody war, and with that, the belief of others in him, his own sense of honor and a stubborn refusal to fail he leads the fleet toward home as the Syndics try to catch and destroy it.

GS: How far is Beyond the Frontier set to run for?

JH: I wanted to do two things with Beyond the Frontier.  The first was to continue Geary’s story without tying readers down to an endless series with no resolutions.  The original Lost Fleet series had a story arc that ran through six books.  Beyond the Frontier will have shorter story arcs running through one, two or three books, while carrying on a longer story.  So Beyond the Frontier will contain as many “mini-series” as readers demand.

The second thing was to open the door to more challenges and more adventures.  There is plenty going on within the Alliance as it deals with the aftermath of the war, but that’s still a fairly constricted field. Writing novel after novel set there would make it hard to find anything new to say.  But Beyond the Frontier gives me the mess in Syndic space, regions beyond Syndic or human-controlled space, and even those old worlds outside the Alliance like Earth itself.  Again, as long as I can keep writing engaging stories I’ll keep the series underway.

GS: What can you tell us about The Phoenix Stars series?

JH: Well, first of all, it looks like it’s now The Lost Stars series. (Writers have to get used to having titles changed by publishers.)  Aside from that, one of the frequent comments I’ve received about the Lost Fleet series was requests to know more about the Syndics, to hear and see more about their perspectives.  I wanted to explore that aspect of things.  But in addition, at the end of Victorious the Syndicate Worlds empire is coming apart.  Star systems are breaking away, civil wars are erupting and the remnants of central authority are trying to hold on to as much as they can. That offers a lot of opportunities for stories.

The Lost Stars is set in the Midway star system, and the main characters are two Syndic CEOs who have lost whatever faith they had in the Syndicate government.  You meet one of them (CEO Gwen Iceni) in Dreadnaught after also seeing her in Victorious.  At the end of the sequel to Dreadnaught (which is Invincible) it is discovered that there have been a lot of changes at Midway and in the star systems near it.  The first Lost Stars book (Tarnished Knight) tells what was happening at Midway and nearby at the same time as the events in Dreadnaught and Invincible were taking place.  (The end of Invincible actually links in to the end of Tarnished Knight, and at least one character jumps from Beyond the Frontier to The Lost Stars, while Geary and his fleet make some important appearances).

Geary has faced some difficult politics in the Lost Fleet, but in The Lost Stars the characters are dealing with an even more Byzantine (and much more vicious) political culture.  They’ve been told all their lives that the Syndicate way was the only way, but aside from their own growing disillusionment they have also seen the Syndicate way fail spectacularly. Something needs to replace that way, but what?  Needless to say, getting to that new place will involve a lot of problems and a lot of action.


GS: Among your other series you have the JAG in Space novels. Did you get inspiration from the JAG TV show, which I loved, or was it all from your own experiences and ideas?

JH: The actual inspiration for that series came as a result of a panel I participated in at a World SF/Fantasy Convention.  The panel was entitled “the people versus James T. Kirk” and was supposed to consider the many and varied ways in which the famous Captain Kirk in the original Star Trek series and movies had broken laws, rules and regulations and therefore should be brought to trial.  Since I had served as a legal officer in the US Navy, I was able to apply that experience in pointing out all of the legal ways in which Kirk could justify his actions (or at least avoid being court-martialed for them).  A senior editor at my publisher suggested afterwards that I do a SF legal military series, so I went for it.

The specific ideas and events in each book in that series came from either my own personal experiences or else from events I knew very well as a result of my duties in the Navy.  The characters in that series are based on actual people more so than in any of my other series.  For example, Master-at-arms “Sheriff” Ivan Sharpe is closely modeled on the master-at-arms who worked for me for years, and Captain Hayes was named after and resembles one of my old commanding officers.  The Captain’s Mast cases all are derived from cases I witnessed.  And of course the rather demanding life of a ship’s officer is portrayed in terms of my experiences.  The series is as true to real life as any SF can be.

The Lost Fleet Beyond the Frontier: Dreadnaught is out with a RRP of £7.99 from Titan Books

SOURCE: John Hemry, Titan Books

GS Reporter: Montoya

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