I’m not going to lie: I was worried about reading The Genesis Fleet: Vanguard by Jack Campbell (a.k.a. John G. Hemry). Thankfully, my worries were unwarranted.
If you have followed my book reviews in the past, you should know I am big fan of Jack Campbell’s The Lost Fleet series. For those who don’t know, The Lost Fleet follows the adventures of John “Black Jack” Geary. After his ship was destroyed in the opening shots of a war between Geary’s Alliance and the Syndicate Worlds (a multiplantery corptocracy), Geary survives in suspended animation in his escape pod, but isn’t rediscovered until 100 years later. He awakes to learn the war is still going on and his government turned him into a legendary figure to rally a war-weary populace. Suddenly finding himself the de facto leader of an Alliance fleet trapped behind enemy lines, he has to figure out a way to get everyone home and perhaps even live up to his unearned reputation.
Now I love The Lost Fleet series, and since The Genesis Fleet is set in the same universe, I shouldn’t have a problem with it, right? Well the reason I was hesitant about reading Vanguard is because I have been burned by Lost Fleet spin-offs before. A couple years ago I read The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight, the start of a spin-off series set after the events of The Lost Fleet. It was from the perspective of the leader of a Syndicate World’s planet that was (spoilers) trying to gain independence after Geary defeated the Syndicate Worlds. I was excited to read this story because this was the first time we were getting a first hand look about what life was like in a corporate-run planetary federation…and it was just like any other two-bit dictatorship. Maybe I missed the point Campbell was trying to make, but I had built it up in my head about how weird life must be in the Syndicate Worlds and I was disappointed when reality didn’t meet my expectations.
Luckily, The Genesis Fleet: Vanguard didn’t have that problem. Set generations before the events of The Lost Fleet, humanity is undergoing a massive expansion across space due to the recent discovery of the faster-than-light “jump drive”. A war-weary and divided Earth isn’t interested in maintaining law and order throughout the rapidly expanding human-controlled space and the new colonies haven’t invested anything in their defense, making them easy targets for those who seek power and plunder. Thus we see the first foundations of what will become the Alliance through the eyes of our four main characters: a failed politician looking for a new start, an Earth bureaucrat who grew up on the anarchic Mars wanting to make a difference for a change, a former Marine looking for something worth fighting for and a former Naval officer (with a soon to be famous surname) who finds himself becoming a warrior once again.
First up, I loved the world-building showcased in Vanguard. From the crater pocked Albuquerque, to the hell-hole that is Mars and all the different colonies showcased with their various idiosyncrasies. This is what I was looking for when I originally picked up Lost Stars and I was happy to finally get it. Otherwise, if you are a big Lost Fleet fan like myself, you will probably enjoy Vanguard, but what if you haven’t read any of The Lost Fleet books?
Well, since Genesis Fleet is a prequel series, you don’t have to worry about playing catch up and thus could probably enjoy the start of a good military science fiction series that uses actual physics in its space battles. Granted you might not get all of the references to the people and places that will be important in The Lost Fleet, but it doesn’t detract from the story. Furthermore, if you are critical about libertarianism, you might also like Vanguard. I’m not sure if it was intentional on Campbell’s part, but a lot of the book makes subtle (and not so subtle) jabs at people who are against the idea of a strong central government. Plus, the book cover actually shows something that happened in the story…and if you know anything about The Lost Fleet series, you will know how big a deal that is.
Granted this book isn’t perfect. There were several times where the dialogue came off rather stilted and did not leave me with the impression that the characters were real people having actual human conversations. On top of that, there was one major storyline that didn’t have an actual ending. Perhaps Campbell plans to return to them in the next chapter, but otherwise we are left with an ending where two point of view characters just disappear without any resolution.
The Genesis Fleet: Vanguard is not a perfect story, but as another entry into the Gearyverse, it’s still an enjoyable read. It showcased what I like best about the universe Campbell created: men and women doing what is right even if it is difficult or unpopular. Considering that Memorial Day was yesterday here in the States, that is not a bad message to read about at all.