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Books : reviews

Jack Campbell.
The Sister Paradox.
eSpec Books. 2016

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 10 March 2019

Liam doesn’t have a sister … and she’s weird.

Liam is his parents’ only child, and that’s just fine with him.

Until the day the sister-he-never-had shows up at school.

Just to make it worse, the sword-wielding Kari tells him they have an important quest to complete.

And that’s how Liam finds himself dragged into another world, facing basilisks and unicorns, cursed objects, elves, and even a dragon, all magical and dangerous, but none more so than the sister he didn’t have until that morning. A sister who turns out to be quite good with her sword, and ready to use it when faced with things like a dragon as long as her brother is at her side.

Liam begins to realize two things: it’s going to be a very long day, and having a sister can be weird.

But most unsettling of all, he’s not sure he minds…

Liam is a spoilt, obnoxious only child. Then he gets called into the Principal’s office to take his sister home. She has come to find him for a quest to save her world. His world changes forever.

I’ve only read Jack Campbell’s military SF up to now. This shows he can do fantasy, too. The quest-plot is a little linear, as this is a YA novella. But the fantasy world is imaginative, and Liam’s character change during his first-person narrator reactions to the quest and his sister seem realistic, if somewhat rapid.

Good mind candy.

Jack Campbell.
Ace. 2006

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 29 May 2010

Captain "Black Jack" Geary died in the opening battle between the Syndics and the Alliance. For a hundred years, his legend has grown. And now, in the Alliance's hour of greatest need, he returns, when his survival pod is discovered drifting in space. Recovering from over-long hibernation, stunned by the passage of time, John Geary is thrust into command of the Alliance's last hope fleet. He's not sure what is harder, living up to his legend, or persuading some that there are parts of the legend that should not be emulated when he discovers that his "last stand" battle tactics have become the only response to any conflict.

This is good solid space opera fun, as a legendary leader has to whip a demoralised fleet into shape. Because a hundred years has passed, technology has improved, and Geary has to learn how to use it. But also, given the depredations of the war on personnel, there are some things that have been lost, including battle tactics, which means he plausibly is a better fleet commander than either side of the war currently have.

I'm not sure how well the premise will hold up over a whole series of books, but that won't stop me reading them to find out!

Jack Campbell.
Ace. 2007

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 6 June 2010

Still a long way from home, Captain John Geary has convinced most of his fleet that he is their best hope. But on the one hand, Co-President Victoria Rione thinks he is a dangerous glory hound, whereas some of his more entrenched commanders think he is too timid. Things come to a head when the fleet rescues a group of Alliance PoWs, including the notorious and charismatic Captain "Fighting" Falco. Geary has a plan for getting home, but it involves going deeper into enemy territory. Mutiny ensues, just when he can least afford it.

Campbell has kept up the pace and drama here, as Geary continues to train the fleet in his way of fighting, with the enemy beginning to learn how to fight back. And we learn more about the mysterious hypergates and their potential.

Jack Campbell.
Ace. 2007

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 13 June 2010

Captain John Geary is still trying to get his fleet back home. But the Syndics are beginning to catch on to his unorthodox tactics, which compels him to be even more unorthodox, maybe disastrously so. And the more uncooperative of his ship commanders appear to have learned nothing from the mutiny. Meanwhile, Co-President Rione appears to be completely ignoring Geary.

Good fast paced stuff. I particularly like the changes of pace: nothing happening for a week in hyperspace; nothing happening for a week in normal space, except politicking, as they jockey for position around each solar system; frenetic activity as battle ensues. This one ends on a massive cliff-hanger.

Jack Campbell.
Ace. 2008

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 20 June 2010

Captain John Geary, struggling to get his fleet home safely to Alliance space, jumps back into the middle of a battle, and discovers just what lengths the enemy Syndics are willing to go to. Coupled with that, he has to cope with a group of loyal captains who want him to take over the Alliance, and a covert different group who want a military take over, but not led by him.

A further good segment in the series, as the slam-bam military action continues to take its toll on Black Jack, and as the alien menace becomes more credible.

Jack Campbell.
Ace. 2009

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 26 June 2010

The fleet is as close to home as they've ever been, and Captain John Geary worries they might lose it all in the last push. And even if they do get home, how to convince his allies not to lead a coup in his name, and how to convince the authorities of the seriousness of the alien threat?

More good action and interesting plot developments. It's clear that despite the relative safety, Black Jack's biggest fight is yet to come.

Jack Campbell.
Ace. 2010

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 3 July 2010

Captain "Black Jack" Geary has finally brought the Lost Fleet home to Alliance space. But now he has even bigger challenges: how to persuade a terrified Alliance leadership not to arrest him, but let him take the fleet back into Syndic space to end the war, then confront the shadowy alien menace?

This is a satisfying conclusion to the tale. A bit rushed, maybe: five books on getting the fleet home, then only one to tie everything up! But it's fun getting there. I want to see more of how Geary copes with being an "ordinary" person again, and I want to find out more about those aliens. According to the Wikipedia entry on the The Lost Fleet, there will be a follow-on series: I'll be looking out for it.

Jack Campbell.
Titan. 2011

Jack Campbell.
Titan. 2012

Jack Campbell.
Titan. 2013

Jack Campbell.
Titan. 2014

When two of his key lieutenants go missing, the search leads Admiral Geary and the crew of Dauntless on a far-flung chase, ending at the one spot in space from which all humans have been banned: the moon Europa. Any ship that lands there must stay or be destroyed—leaving Geary to face the most profound moral dilemma of his life.

As strains on the Alliance grow, Geary is ordered to take a small force to the border of Syndic space. But what he finds there is a danger much greater than anyone expected: a shrewd and powerful enemy that could finally force the Alliance to its knees.

Jack Campbell.
Titan. 2015

Mutiny and obedience

Two Syndicate World star systems have fallen prey to a mysterious fleet of warships controlled entirely by artificial intelligence. The warships are no mystery to Geary. He knows they were developed by his government to ensure security, but malfunctioned. If the Syndics learn the truth, the war with the Alliance will resume with a vengeance.

As the government attempts to conceal the existence of the A.I. warships—and its role in their creation—Geary must track the ships to their secret base in the supposedly mythical Unity Alternate star system and end the conflict—at any cost.

Jack Campbell.
Tarnished Knight.
Titan. 2012

Jack Campbell.
Perilous Shield.
Titan. 2013


Following a successful coup, the leaders of the rebel Midway Star System are struggling to forge a government free enough to please its citizens yet strong enough to secure power. But in a world where former rulers have become new foes, an alien threat to humanity may turn old adversaries into allies.

Despite their mutual mistrust, General Artur Drakon partnered with President Gwen Iceni to overthrow the authority of the Syndicate Worlds, before the Syndicate could order their deaths. Now, with the enigma fleet endangering their hard-won independence, they have no choice but to join forces once more. But before confronting the alien advance, Drakon and Icceni must face hidden dangers closer to home: all-too-human threats that could jeopardize Midway’s freedom… and their own lives.

Jack Campbell.
Imperfect Sword.
Titan. 2014

President Gwen Iceni and General Artur Drakon successfully liberated the Midway Star System from Syndicate rule, but the regime won’t surrender without a fight. Their former leaders have ordered the rebels terminated with extreme prejudice and the system’s citizens punished for their defiance.

Outnumbered, Midway’s warships are no match for the fleet preparing to strike. But the Syndicate isn’t the only threat facing Iceni and Drakon. A former ally has taken control of the Ulindl Star System, the first calculated move toward establishing his own empire. As Midway erupts in violence, Iceni and Drakon face a renewed revolt, leaving them vulnerable to trusted officers just waiting for an opportunity to betray them…

Jack Campbell.
Shattered Spear.
Titan. 2016

Jack Campbell.
The Dragons of Dorcastle.
Jabberwocky. 2014

For centuries, the two Great Guilds have controlled the world of Dematr. The Mechanics and the Mages have been bitter rivals, agreeing only on the need to keep the world they rule from changing. But now a Storm approaches, one that could sweep away everything that humans have built. Only one person has any chance of uniting enough of the world behind her to stop the Storm, but the Great Guilds and many others will stop at nothing to defeat her.

Mari is a brilliant young Mechanic, just out of the Guild Halls, where she has spent most of her life learning how to run the steam locomotives and other devices of her Guild. Alain is the youngest Mage ever to learn how to change the world he sees with the power of his mind. Each has been taught that the works of the other’s Guild are frauds. But when their caravan is destroyed, they begin to discover how much has been kept from them.

As they survive danger after danger, Alain discovers what Mari doesn’t know – that she was long ago prophesized as the only one who can save their world. When Mari reawakens emotions he had been taught to deny, Alain realizes he must sacrifice everything to save her. Mari, fighting her own feelings, discovers that only together can she and Alain hope to stay alive and overcome the Dragons of Dorcastle.

Jack Campbell.
Stark's War.
Titan. 2000

rating : 4.5 : passes the time
review : 4 October 2011

Sergeant Ethan Stark has one goal in life: to keep his squad alive. Even while taking back the moon from Third World corporations. This is hard, as equipment is scarce, ratings are low, and worse still, incompetent officers micromanage battles through the troops' head-up displays. (In fact, the officers here make Star Trek High Command look like geniuses.) But he manages. Right up until an extraordinarily incompetent General has a grand plan for a massive victory.

This is somewhat clunky and wooden. In fact, by about half way through, I had decided to finish it, but not to get the rest of the trilogy. However, it hots up towards the end, right after the Somme-like battle. So I did after all get the others, just to see how Ethan manages in the situation he ends up in here.

This series was originally published under the author's real name, John G. Hemry. Campbell's prose and characterisation has definitely improved by the "Lost Fleet" series.

Jack Campbell.
Stark's Command.
Titan. 2001

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 30 January 2012

!!! SPOILERS for Stark's War !!!

Sergeant Ethan Stark and his fellow non-coms are now in charge of the American moonbase, fighting off attacks from the other bases, worried about attacks from home, and having to work out from scratch how to train effective commanders. Their most difficult job, however, is to learn how to get along with the moonbase civilians they are protecting.

This is a bit better than the previous volume: less clunk, more action; less tell, more show. Some plot points are still telegraphed rather heavy-handedly, but there are some interesting developments. I like the idea that some of Stark's colleagues are waiting for him to tell them what his plan is; after all, no-one would start and lead a rebellion without a plan for what to do after, would they?

Jack Campbell.
Stark's Crusade.
Titan. 2002

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 5 February 2012

Sargeant Ethan Stark is still firmly in command of the American moonbase troops, but what happens next? How does he make sure he doesn't turn into a despot, how does he handle dissent in the ranks, and what happens if the Colonists vote for independence?

This is a good conclusion to the trilogy, as mutinies, killer robots, and surprising decisions make Stark's life hard. The writing is smoother, although there is a heavily-telegraphed subplot, and some clunky history-dumping to justify other bits of the plot. However, it didn't go in the direction I was expecting (wrong historical analogy!), and if the end is a little too convenient to be believed, well, it is after all a fairy tale.