The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier: Leviathan
by Jack Campbell
Ace Books, 2015
A Review by
Colleen R. Cahill
Military science fiction has battles and depending on the story, it can have many or few. What makes good military science fiction is not the number of battles, but how they are fought and why. Jack Campbell’s The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier books are examples of well done military fiction, as is his latest release, Leviathan from Ace books. This is a complex work of strategy and intrigue, as Admiral John Geary faces ships with artificial intelligence that have been programmed to fight like him.
In the past, Geary has faced off against a despotic human government and genocidal aliens, but now he is facing a fleet of dark ships, automated machines created by his own government, the Alliance. Because they have no human crew, the ships can maneuver faster and carry more weapons than Geary’s fleet, plus due to malware, most Alliance systems cannot detect the dark ships. Not only have the dark ships threatened a peace agreement by attacking a former enemy’s star system, they also destroyed an Alliance world, committing atrocities that Geary abhors. While he is sending out warnings and software patches to other Alliance military, there is some covert force in the government that are blocking Geary, as well as actively targeting him. Not only has the artificial intelligence on the dark ships been programmed to think like Geary, their key mission to destroy him specifically.
As you would expect, there are a lot of space battles in this book. One thing I really like about Campbell’s work is his realistic warfare: battles can take days to engage, the fighting might last minutes and the next attack often happens in hours. All this makes sense when you are fighting in such huge expanses. Also, the author is a former U.S. Naval officer and his descriptions of ships and crew interactions is true to life: for example, Geary is on board the Dauntless which is captained by his wife and both of them are fairly formal about their interactions and do not even spent time alone, as this could impact on ship discipline. Campbell’s aliens are another good point of the book, as they are truly very different from humans. The Dancers, so called for their beautiful ship maneuvers, are described as “offspring of giant spiders and wolves”; hardly a cuddly ET. One interesting plot point is how communication barriers between the Alliance and the Dancers is over come; Campbell does show a sense of whimsy in this book.
For me, what really makes a book good is having complex and thought-provoking characters and Leviathan has that for sure. Geary, with his strength of character and unwillingness to buy into the myth of the heroic “Black Jack” Geary is the kind of person you would want in charge of a space fleet. There are plenty of other strong characters, all with quirks and flaws and all very compelling.
This is book 5 in the Beyond the Frontier series, but you don’t have to read the earlier works to enjoy this one and can start with any of the books you come across first. If you are after some really good military science fiction, you will want to read Leviathan.