Q&A with Jack Campbell, Author of The Lost Fleet Series


I’m pleased to welcome Jack Campbell, author of the The Lost Fleet series, here to Peter Hodges.com for a short chat about his fiction, his personal philosophy, and the craft of writing science fiction. If you’re interested in a short biography and a complete bibliography, please visit his Web site.

We’ll start today with questions directly related to the The Lost Fleet and move toward the other items on next Friday, March 7. As always, comments are encouraged!

If someone has never heard of you, why would they/should they read your books?

I’m a storyteller.  My books are meant to entertain and maybe make the reader think a bit.  But they’re also realistic, with real-seeming characters dealing with the sorts of situations readers can easily imagine facing themselves.

Military science fiction is a crowded field. How would you differentiate your work from others in the marketplace? What makes your approach to story/character unique?

I suppose one difference is what one fan told me, that he couldn’t tell my politics from my books.  I’m also very much writing what I know, the actual challenges and strains of military life, the people you encounter up and down the chain of command (good and bad), the way equipment never works as advertised, the bonds that keep people fighting when every instinct tells them to run, how it feels when everything you can possibly do couldn’t save someone.  I’m not the only writer who takes logistics into account, but I think building in real-world considerations keeps the story real.

How has your career in the Navy influenced your characterization of “Black Jack” Geary?

Geary is an officer dropped into the ultimate “opportunity to excel.”  One of the secrets to writing is to be mean to your characters, and I gave Geary the worse possible situation I could imagine from my own experience.  Yet he also benefits from the confidence of people whom he respects, and I’ve seen that can make a tremendous difference in anyone’s ability to do their job.

In your experience, do you find it valuable for a commanding officer to cultivate the traits Captain Geary shows? Is Geary your “ideal” commander?

In many ways Geary is my ideal commander.  He’s a pro, he knows his stuff, but he also knows what he doesn’t know and isn’t afraid to seek advice or sanity checks.  A commander needs a lot of self-confidence, but has to balance that with an understanding that he or she isn’t any more perfect than anyone else.  (Initially, when he’s still shell-shocked from what has happened to him and is trying to learn how the fleet works ‘today’, Geary is less assertive at times.  But part of that is because he’s taking the time to learn how the system works instead of flying in and immediately carpet-bombing everything and everybody.)  Geary evaluates his subordinates based on their capabilities, tries not to act on negative reactions to personalities, allows debate, but always makes it clear who’s in charge.  Like any other commander, he’s operating within a system that constrains his ability to act, so he has to figure out how to do things right despite that.  He also has to avoid the temptation to do things just because he can, since that’s a big step down the slippery slope.

The science of space naval combat at relativistic speeds is portrayed in a unique (to my knowledge, you may have other influences) way. Is this your own brainchild, or did you commit a substantial amount of time to researching this aspect of your fiction?

I’ve done a lot of studying of physics, but the amount of realism in the Lost Fleet books is due to a challenge posed by my writing group.  When I read the first drafts to them those engineers and physicists and just plain demanding readers wanted to know how it worked.  They’d seen hand-waving and magic technology in a lot of other stories and wanted to know if I could mesh in real physics and make it work.  As it turned out, I could, in great part because of my professional experience with relative motion as a ship driver. I also found that building in real science forced me to create battles which didn’t cut corners.  That is, the battles had to conform to real limitations on capabilities, which meant they came out feeling real.

For better or worse, “Black Jack” Geary is sometimes compared to David Weber’s Honor Harrington. Do you welcome the comparison? Is this comparison a stretch?

Weber’s series is very openly based on the Napoleonic wars, with Harrington a stand-in for Nelson.  I based the Lost Fleet series on Xenophon’s March of the 10,000 and on the many legends of sleeping heroes who would someday awaken to save their people (and doubtless be very unhappy with what those people expected of them).   I also tried to make the military environment universal, rather than based on the Royal Navy in particular (though I did happily plunder the list of Royal Navy warships for names in the Alliance fleet).  In the sense of having leaders who grow into their responsibilities, the
comparison between the series could be valid, but mainly I think the comparison is in the sense of characters and stories which the audience finds engaging.  How could I complain about that?

More to come from Jack Campbell next Friday, March 7!

15 Responses to Q&A with Jack Campbell, Author of The Lost Fleet Series

  1. Blitzfike says:

    First of all, I am a big fan of the series. I started reading Science Fiction in the ’50s. (I’m an old guy) I have read the three books available at this time and am looking forward to the next in the series. I am ex military, and can certainly relate to the overall philosophy behind the growth of Black Jack as he is thrust in command of the fleet. I was an NCO rather than a commisioned officer, and could certianly see the culture that exists as a result of the chaos resulting from the decapitation of fleet command. Watching as Black Jack overcomes a seemingly insurmountable series of obstacles reinforces the belief that we as humans have the capability to rise above those obstacles placed in our path by a capricious fate. I still like for the good guy to win and good to triumph over evil. This is one series that I have difficulty putting down once I pick up the latest book. Keep it coming. Stan Blitzfike.

  2. Catalyst22 says:

    MTV was invented in the ’50s.

  3. James Hunt says:

    I`d like to say i love you re books looking forward to the next one i just wished you have alittle bit more towards the airdale side of the navy but i can see it wouldbe hard youhave a great seires going I hope you keep writing

  4. Chris Akins says:

    Jack,

    As an aspiring military science fiction writer, who is also a former Naval Officer, I have to say you inspire me. I’ve just recently completed reading Dauntless and I could tell from the first couple of pages you had fleet experience. Thanks for providing such a compelling story and realistic characters.

    Chris
    USNA 95, SWO

  5. Robert Carter says:

    I have just finished the with the fourth in the “Lost Fleet” series. I say “finished” because I did not reach the end. I struggled to page 175 and realized I have read this book before….all four books are are the exact same novel.

    Each has a lopsided over-the-top victory. Each has the exact same drawn out shallow conversations. There is the fearing that Geary is going to be a dictator conversations (at least ten of these per book). There is the he’s afraid that everyone expects the legend and not the man conversations ( at least dozen of these). There’s the sexual tension conversations (falling flat as usual). There’s the we’re low on raw materials conversations. There’s the where to next conversations. And my favorites….the enemies within the fleet conversations, because of course it’s so realistic that after five or six lopsided victories in a row…of course many officers in the fleet would think of Geary as unfit to lead. Good lord! Only in Jack Campbell’s universe would people act this way.

    And by page 175 of book four I know nothing more about the alien race lurking out there somewhere than I knew in book one.

    This is by far and away the worst example of “milking” a story I’ve ever seen. It is quite obvious that Jack is milking his idea that made a good first book (good, but not great) thining it out to make five so far and counting. Well, I fold in this poker game. I already bought book five…it goes straight into the round file. I’ll never read it and certainly will never buy another from Jack.

    I certainly don’t blame Jack…you either have a talent or you don’t. Jack is not a horrible writer, but he’s not a good one either. I do however blame the publishers…shameful, surely some editor somewhere realizes how redundant this all is. You can’t possibly read this stuff and not have a voice in your head screaming, “I know, I know…get on with it already!”

  6. Kelly Butler says:

    Outstanding!!!!!!!!!!!!! The LOST FLEET series is one of the best series I have read yet. You make him seem real when I read your book. W.E.B. Griffin is the other writer that make his characters come alive. Please let me know when your next book comes out. P.S. make the words smaller and your book thicker. I get tired of reading your book in one day, I want it to last………

  7. merrihart says:

    To Robert Carter:

    It seems you are reading for plot. Sadly, you are doomed to disappointment no matter what you read. Plots are the least of the story you should be paying attention to, since all plots have been used, time and again.

    To Mr. Campbell:

    I love this series. I do skip parts, mostly because I am impatient with the battle scenes. But I can keep track easily, and Black Jack never disappoints. I only have 2 things to really ask/say.

    First, it’s ok for Captain John Geary to say “yes” as opposed to “yeah”. I don’t know about anyone else, but this one little thing has started to bug the heck out of me. In the middle of battle, in a tight spot, or in emotional scenes, it would be more natural for him to say something short and sharp, which “yes” is. “Yeah” is more laid back and relaxed, which would be over the dinner table or in informal meetings. (You can even throw in some “yup”s.)

    Second, when is book 6 coming out? I know Relentless was just published (2 months ago), but I’m very impatient for more! The story is clearly not finished.

  8. Sharon Moyer says:

    Have read science fiction all my life, and The Lost Fleet series is second only to Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Series.

    I have only one question, will there be a book following the fifth book (Relentless) I am hooked and need a fix. Please do not stop now.

  9. Giorgio says:

    I have always been a sci-fi fan since I can remember, but I always liked stories with a solid scientific base and a good hook on reality. The Lost Fleet is one of the best sagas I have ever read. I find each book riveting and with an excellent degree of realism. The example I prefer to mention is when Geary is faced with material shortages because the logistics officer on one of the auxiliaries ships neglected to reset the parameters of her production planning software on Geary’s more efficient way of fighting. In my work I experienced first hand the same situation many times. I had frustrated clients rather than a frustrated fleet commander, but the analogy is awesome and very well represented.

    Sure, there may be some repetitions every now and then: so what, Carter? Real life is like that, plus they do not hinder the general development of the plot, they actually sustain it. I am well into Relentless now and I am loving every word of it.

    The next book (Victorious) is likely to be the last, I’m afraid. However, I believe that the first requisite for a great story is that it has to come to an end. I wish to thank Mr. Campbell for giving us a great space saga which in my humble opinion will take a long time to be matched.

    PS: English is not my native language, I apologise for any mistake
    PPS: did you receive any proposal from TV of movie representatives? The Lost Fleet would make an excellent DVD box, equalled maybe only by Star Wars (the original ones, please) and the Lord of he Rings. I am booking now, just in case…

  10. HunterROse says:

    Actually plot is crucial in a story ,if it is not believable you better have one hell of a talent or unique style to keep the reader or viewer along for the ride . Plot is why books are page turners . You just have to find the answer to one more riddle or question .

    Havent read these books , look intresting though might check one out .

  11. Brad Goodwin says:

    Having read all six books in the series I have enjoyed them all from cover to cover numerous times and will continue to enjoy them I have both ebook copies and paperback copies. I hope there will be more as the aliens were left hanging but as all things must end this is a good spot to end the series the books were and still are great thanks Jack I really enjoyed them

  12. Mark Neate says:

    Just finished all six books from cover to cover and thoroughly enjoyed every word!!! now all I have to do is wait for the next installment. Of alll the books I found that dauntless and Victorious to be the best as they furthered the story and the plot to lead nicely into the next series. Just one small question? Is the fact that Invincible’s Captain goes by the name of Parr a knod to a certain Pixar Film , whose main character is a certain Robert Parr, or Mr. Invincible?

  13. benny says:

    just read beyond the frontier: dreadnaught. is that the last book? is it supposed to be open ended or is mr. campbell writing a new one now? i never saw anything about a continuation in any website i’ve visited so far

  14. Andy Farman says:

    Before my retirement I emailed the worthy Mr Campbell on the subject of missing my stop, several times whilst commuting to work due to his Lost Fleet. He was kind enough to reply.
    I recognise a number of personality types from my own days serving the colours (2nd Bn Coldstream Guards) and trust me, I met good and bad serving in Ulster and Africa. I have beyond the frontier on order and no longer care about missing my stop!
    Keep it up Jack!

  15. Bill Combs says:

    I have been reading SF for 45 years & your Lost Fleet series is one of the best I’ve read. Your ending of each book left me anticipating the next one. You have a great talent. I like it when I can put a face to a character and you do this very effectively. I’m looking forward to your next installment in 2012. Keep writing and Thank You for the wonderful intertainment.

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