The Lost Fleet is one of those rare pieces of science fiction actually concerned with real world physics, and the limitations and realities such natural laws put on travel and combat in outer space. It seems the consensus among authors that things such as silence in outer-space and realistic travel times between two points in space is boring and therefore ignored, sacrificed on the altar of entertainment.
Time for a detailed (if nerdy) example: Consider, in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, the Millennium Falcon is able to travel from the asteroid field in the Hoth system to Bespin without taking on any supplies. (Supported by the logic that anywhere they could get supplies they could likely get help or parts to fix the hyperdrive) If we assume that Bespin was very close indeed astrologically speaking it would still have to be at least a parsec or two away, meaning no less than 6 light years, conservatively. Even if the trip took a whole year (which it couldn’t have as there is less than a year between the battle of Hoth and the battle of Endor, according to official timelines) the ship is still traveling 6 times the speed of light Think about that. That’s from here to the sun in less than 90 seconds. And that’s at their ‘sub-light’ speed.
The ships of the Lost Fleet do posses FTL technology, however, it’s travel within the system that defines Jack Campbell’s take on the genre, as the FTL only works between star systems and not within them. His is a world where ships spend weeks and months traversing star systems at less than three tenths of light speed, relativistic speeds attained only by massive expenditures of fuel accelerating and decelerating. Not only that but the principle that objects in motion stay in motion actually applies, so once they reach that speed the only thrust needed is for maneuvering and course changes. Of course this renders all ‘dog-fighting’ out, as two objects approaching each other at even .10 light speed pass by each other in a minute fraction of a second, meaning the firing pass is over even as the crew is registering the ship firing. Interestingly enough this isn’t too far from how real naval/aerial combat happens now. Dog-fighting largely ended with WWII. With missiles and other weapons accurate some times more than 100 miles away many if not most fights are over even before one vessel can see the other. (Helicopters being one notable exception) There are advantages to fighting as such high velocities as well. Computers capable of targeting objects moving at .2 light speed have no problem at all with targeting fixed objects (space stations and such) or objects on a planet whose velocity it known from half a system away. At such speeds even a solid slug (Rocks to the Marines, the official acronym of the projectile if BFR) can do devastating damage to anything it hits.
Why all this attention to the physics of space flight? Star Wars’ appeal certainly isn’t harmed any by its inaccuracies and impossibilities, (and if the problem I pointed out above really bothers you, you might just love the series a tad too much) so why does it matter here? It matters because this isn’t a space opera, its military sci-fi. Campbell himself is a former naval officer, intimately familiar with real-world methods and traditions of our modern military. This is a series as much concerned with the maneuvers and feints, the tactics and strategies of combat as the outcome. Sure Star Wars has moving battles, but no one would argue they measure up against the campaigns of Alexander the Great or Napoleon, the Battle of Agincourt or Thermopylae. Make no mistake, the Lost Fleet delivers riveting battles with brilliant tactics as well as a genuine feeling of realism in the military decorum and tradition. There is even a fair smattering of humor, for example the ongoing ‘joke’ of the slow and unwieldy nature of the ‘fast fleet auxiliaries’ tasked with repair and manufacturing ammunition and fuel cells, and again the odd relationship between Naval officers, Marines, and Engineers, each group bewildered by the others seemingly insane mindset.
As satisfying as the technical side of the series is, it would be nothing without an engaging story. As the tale opens the two immense human governments (sentient aliens never having been encountered) have been at war for an entire century. One hundred years of total war, devastating both sides to the point that ships rarely survive five years (and remember, just getting from point A to B takes weeks, even months) and officers are young and poorly trained. The bulk of the Alliance fleet has been drawn into a trap in the Syndic capital system, given a ‘key’ to use the Syndic hypernet gate system by a supposed traitor. Worse than the fleets decimation is the loss of the entire flag staff. (All the senior captains and all the admirals) Their only hope, trapped so far behind enemy lines, is Captain ‘Black Jack’ Geary, a legendary hero thought killed in the very first battle of the war, found by the fleet in a damaged life pod as it headed towards ambush.
Interwoven with the desperate flight to simply get the fleet home Captain Geary also must deal with the deterioration of military discipline and knowledge after so long fighting, as well as war crimes committed by both sides in the increasingly hate driven conflict. Even being a hero becomes a problem, as people who have spent their entire lives looking up to ‘Black Jack’ Geary must come to terms with the reality of a man far removed from legend. Some accept him for who he is, others who they think he is. Some however reject him, a hidden group of dissent from within the ranks more dangerous to Geary than the entire Syndic fleet.
Each book in the series has successfully built on the tension and conflict of the series, as problems mount for a fleet with increasingly less options and fewer ships even as they get nearer to Alliance space. Book five, Relentless, comes out tomorrow, promising more tantalizing battles and greater risks as the fleet nears its objective. (The author has been quoted as saying that while he has no plans for the series to end soon, this portion of the tale will end with book six)
I can’t recommend this series highly enough for any fan of science fiction or military narrative, fiction or not. The Lost Fleet will not disappoint.
[tags]The Lost Fleet, Jack Campbell, Military Science Fiction, Science Fiction[/tags]