Stark’s War by Jack Campbell

Mass Market Paperback          
Reissue, July 2011      
Stark’s War #1
Review copy provided courtesy of the publisher ACE


The United States is the last global power on Earth, forcing the remaining fractured powers to establish power pockets on the moon. The US not being content with holding sway over one world seeks to make a greater presence power on the moon. Leading the troops is Lieutenant Ethan Stark, a hero with his nose to the grind, doing what’s right even if it is not in line with the rules. 

In an interesting twist, the actual battles are shown on television and ratings are very important to the TV corporations and the government, which are basically one and the same.  The theme is similar to the concept in Matthew Stover’s Caine novels (Heroes Die, Blade of Tyshalle) wherein ‘viewers’ can see what an actor sees as the actor lives and fights through the fantastical parallel land Overworld.  In both Hemry’s and Stover’s narratives, corporations are dictating (to varying degrees) the lives of soldiers in battle. However, Hemry focuses in greater detail on the military aspects such as the life of the soldier and the bureaucracy of military life and politics as well as the conflict between doing what’s right and following orders.

John G. Hemry, as the revised edition boldly claims, is the ‘real name’ of Jack Campbell, author of the hugely popular Lost Fleet saga.  With the massive success of the Lost Fleet, Ace is smartly reissuing Hemry’s backlist with flashy new covers with the “Jack Campbell” name almost as large as the title itself. The Stark’s War trilogy represents Hemry’s early foray into full-fledged military science fiction, predating his more popular Lost Fleet saga and shows some of the themes he later chooses to explore. One of these, perhaps the most prominent, is the idea of the hero.  Ethan Stark doesn’t consider himself a hero, just a soldier doing his job and leading his men. Stark’s dedication to doing what is right and his men comes into conflict with his leaders and the corporation televising his army’s campaigns.

Where Stark’s War differs greatly from his later work in the Lost Fleet is the intimacy of the combat.  Much of the fighting is more personal, ground level and not across the distances of space where the combatants more or less direct the combat rather than participate in it.  In some scenes, Hemry really put me in the trenches and the most recent novel to do so was T.C. McCarthy’s Germline.  With Hemry, those scenes were spaced out more in the breadth of the narrative giving Stark’s War a much less bleak feel than McCarthy’s excellent debut novel.

Stark’s War was an enjoyable novel, though a not quite as polished or fully formed as The Lost Fleet novels I’ve read. I did have a couple problems with the novel, unfortunately.  Though short, the book is broken into thirds, or three large chapters.  While this works to give the novel a three-act structure, it doesn’t give the reader much of a chance to effectively take a break from the book.  A contradictory statement, I realize, but this structure gave me the feel of “pretty long short novel.

Stark’s War shows a writer pushing through some interesting ideas, refining his burgeoning voice. Being the first novel in a trilogy, Stark’s War sets up later books though it does bring closure to the initial narrative.

Recommended for fans of light military science fiction and specifically, fans of Jack Campbell / The Lost Fleet.

©2012 Rob H. Bedford

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