Vanguard (The Genesis Fleet book 1) by Jack Campbell (book review).

January 15, 2021 | By | Reply More

In the early days of Science Fiction, the ‘Pulp’ era, the main concern was action and adventure. There was a conceit that eventually ways would be found for ships to travel faster than light and the communications would be similarly instantaneous. No thought was given to what conditions would be like on board ship and the dangers of existing in the void. Even characterisation was given short shrift. Times have changed. The majority of novels are character-lead and there is more emphasis on the reality of people’s reactions to a situation. There is also more consideration about the realities of working in space. Jack Campbell has taken some of these issues on board.

Vanguard’ is the first in a new series, ‘The Genesis Fleet’, from an experienced writer of military SF, Jack Campbell. It is set before most of his other novels and is intended to fill in some of the background before ‘The Lost Fleet’ series. Mankind has begun to colonise the stars, a task made easier by the development of jump technology. While this makes for relatively quick passage between star systems, conventional methods of travel at sub-light speed are utilised within a star system and takes weeks to arrive at destination.

The human occupation of the universe can here be roughly divided into three zones, the solar system where Earth has spent a lot of time trying to subdue rebellious Martian colonists and tired of war is mothballing much of its space fleet. The longest established colonies have very disciplined military forces and the third group are the unruly new colonies who are coping without much back-up from anyone. Here it is very much like the Wild West with pirates and land grabs and some colonies just behaving badly.

As ‘Vanguard’ opens, Bob Geary is newly arrived on the colony planet of Glenlyon. When a warship arrives from the nearby system of Scatha demanding protection money, he feels that with his space fleet background, he is obliged to help. With the assistance of computer expert Ninja, Rob organises a boarding party and captures the ship.

Meanwhile, in another part of the galaxy, pirates have attacked a freighter and left the survivors to fend for themselves on a space station in the Vestri system. Among them is Lochlan Nakamura and ex-marine Mele Darcy. They find that the survivors are being charged obscene amounts for food air, water and accommodation but when a ship arrives that they believe that can contribute their journey on, they are tipped off that they will be shipped to another planet as slave labour. They organise a hijack of the shuttle and are eventually picked up by another freighter. One of the passengers on this one is Carmen Ochoa, who is heading from Old Earth to the colonies. She was actually born on Mars but, by hiding her origin, has made a career for herself only to find that she has hit a ceiling. Mele ends up on Glenlyon while the other two continue on to Kosatka.

Thus all the players are in the area as the action intensifies. The Council of Glenlyon expect further visitations from Scatha. This time, the aggressors send freighters laden with troops and civilians and set up their own colony on another continent. Realising the captured warship will not be enough to protect the colony and send Rob for help from Kosatka. That colony is having its own problems. They are running scared as a neighbouring colony, Lares, was bombarded from space and their city demolished. They think they are next. Meanwhile, on Glenlyon, Mele is improvising guerrilla attacks on the invaders, aiming to kill only soldiers and none of the civilian shield.

The principal characters show a high degree of innovation, adaptation and resilience but I didn’t feel I was really engaging with any of them. The other big problem I have is that although Campbell has considered some of the problems of space warfare when the action was shipboard, I didn’t get a sense that this was in space. There is no suggestion of artificial gravity and the warships don’t seem large enough to have a spin so the impression is of a ground based vessel. Authors such as Alastair Reynolds are far more convincing about space battles.

For those who just want an adventure set in space and are not bothered by nuance, they may well find this enjoyable. The more picky reader who wants the science to be as accurate as possible could find this frustrating.

Pauline Morgan

January 2021

(pub: Ace, New York, 2017. 336 page hardback. Price: $27.00 (US) $36.00 (CAN), £11.29 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-101-98834-3)

check out website: www.penguin.com

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Category: Books, Scifi

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