Invincible by Jack Campbell

Ace, Hardcover                      
May 2012       
Review copy courtesy of the publisher, Ace    

Jack Campbell has been writing novels following the exploits of John “Black Jack” Geary and the Lost Fleet for well over a decade. Invincible is the second installment of the sequel series, Beyond the Frontier and the eighth novel in the sequence as a whole.  With all that said, is it possible for such a well-established series to surprise readers and shuffle its well-established status quo?  Campbell answers that question with a resounding yes in Invincible.

Campbell picks up the action not long after the events in Dreadnaught, which saw the conflict with the mysterious alien “enigmas” come to an end. Campbell wastes no time with mixing the human conflict and the space-based conflict. The human conflict centers on the inconsistent orders Geary has been receiving from his Alliance supervisors, as well as suspicion and paranoia about those in his fleet and crew. These orders take a backseat to the newer aliens the Lost Fleet encounters, a race of aliens who posses weapons that defy human technology and a single minded focus on exterminating its enemies. As if one new alien race weren’t enough to complicate matters, a second new alien race is sure to make matters more chaotic. So, with the enigma’s in something of the background and the Syndics dealing with their own problems, The Lost Fleet of the Alliance encounters two never-before known alien species.

The human conflict, in addition to the Alliance’s somewhat contradictory orders, is more personal in nature but with far ranging effects.  Geary is dealing with the fact that a traitor may be in his crew, a traitor with ties to a secret organization that could be aiding both the Alliance and its enemies. This element is only hinted at in Invincible, but seems to be more of an element of groundwork for future volumes.

As he did in the previous volume, I felt Campbell balanced the political/human conflict very well against the external/war conflict, with the tension high enough in both scenarios to keep the novel paced very well.  On the other hand, there’s not much doubt the dangers posed to Geary and his crew will overwhelm them too drastically, so that element of dramatic tension is lacking.  In other words, there is no doubt that Geary and crew will survive whatever conflict comes their way.  After all, there are more books in this series on the docket.

What drove the story the most for me; however, was the introduction of the two new alien races.  In a universe – prior to this installment – Campbell only hinted at possible aliens in the form of the mysterious ‘enigmas,’ but with the introduction of two additional alien races, the status quo has changed drastically. Perhaps readers who have been following the series through the previous seven books feel introducing these aliens may have taken too long, but the impact was still not lost on this reader. The aliens themselves, at least the manner in which they are described on one hand, seems a bit trite but on the other, the characters can only identify these alien species in comparison to creatures/animals they know and with which they are familiar.  Like much of Campbell’s novel, this element danced a fine line between being hokey and believable, but in the long run, worked for me.

In the end, I found Invincible to be a very gripping read despite a couple of the minor flaws.  It should satisfy long-time readers of the Campbell’s series and might even work as an entry point for new readers, though much of the character interaction is informed by their past as recounted in the previous seven novels.  If you have been reading the series to this point, there’s absolutely no reason to stop now. Anybody feeling there may have been a lull in the series will be VERY pleased with the turn of events in Invincible.

Another solid Military SF/Space Opera from Campbell.

© 2012 Rob H. Bedford

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