The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight by Jack Campbell
Rather more years ago than I care to remember (although the fact I can remember is reassuring — it keeps my fear of Alzheimer’s at bay), I paid to see If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium. It was one of those faintly titillating films, rather popular at the time, in which the sexist behaviour of young men was gently satirised. More relevantly for our purposes, it showed a whistle-stop tour around nine countries in eighteen days. Let’s pause for a moment to consider how meaningful the stay in each country would be. Or, put another way, the title has it right when it hints that the country is irrelevant to the point of the journey. So here’s Jack Campbell, a pseudonym for John G Hemry. He’s a military SF guy and has been doing a tour of our neck of the galactic woods in The Lost Fleet series which has now gone Beyond the Frontier.
The simple version has the human area of this space divided between the capitalists and the communists (the Alliance and the Syndicate Worlds). As is required in all military scenarios, the actual politics of the two sides is largely irrelevant because all the author and his readers really want to do is deal with the fighting. In fact, the governments on both sides are corrupt and incompetent, and only a few good people at key times and places can keep the individual planetary systems going. The primary hero is “Captain” John Geary (better known as Black Jack) and he does his best to keep the hypernet system in play and so preserves the metatransport system for future generations. Things hot up when he’s sent to investigate the aliens who lurk on the border. So we’re now spread over the two declining “Empires” while Black Jack is battling aliens and/or allying himself with aliens. Although the questions of gender are reasonably well handled with women in government and the military rising through glass ceilings and performing as well as the men, the more general political systems are very superficial and reflect the prejudices built into the current American playbook, i.e. by world standards, it’s very right wing.
Of course, that does not of itself mean the books are essentially fascist and that, if they were fascist, this would be a “bad thing”. The humans on both sides have been caught up in essentially authoritarian systems with a high degree of mutual antagonism. As individual communities go through fairly convulsive changes, there’s a general need for a range of players to discuss the faults in the current arrangements and how matters might be rearranged to achieve better outcomes. In this, the relationship between civil authority and military command is a constant theme. The focus on the military also means notions of honour and duty are paramount. The civil authorities are more often interested in power for its own sake. There’s little sense of honour although, sometimes, fanatical levels of duty. Most government officials are intent on preserving their own positions even though this may not benefit the “people”. In this, it’s fairly obvious the author is pro-democracy but there signs of nuance in some of the scenarios and the associated discussions. There are also questions raised about the role of religion and the extent to which it should influence the behaviour of governments and the way in which the military operates.
In The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight by Jack Campbell (Ace, 2012), we’re dealing with a rebellion led by a political and a military leader who manages to overcome mutual suspicion long enough to seize control of the star system. For the record, this is the first novel told from the perspective of a Syndic world and it takes place at the same time as Black Jack is off meeting the aliens. We then get descriptions of both land-based and space battles as General Drakon and President Iceni collect military materiel wherever it can conveniently be found, and pick sides in a civil war in an adjacent star system. Since they have thrown off their Syndic yolk, they would prefer not to have a Syndic system in their backyard. Given the background, this is continuing the broader narrative thrust of the series and the descriptions of the military matters is done very well. Unfortunately, I find the broader political discussions rather tedious. I understand why the author wants to include this material. It obviously gives some depth to the shifting patterns of government power and allegiances. But I find the general tenor of the debates rather superficial and somewhat prejudiced. I could have followed the story and enjoyed the broad narrative flow if the text have been reduced by about 25%.
So for those of you following the series, The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight is more of the same and, if you enjoyed what has already been published, you will enjoy this.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.