‘Guardian’, J. Campbell

Jack Campbell is back with Admiral Geary and they’re ready. Ready to get back to the Alliance, and ready to make things happen there. Only problem is, there’s difficulties about. Because, after all, if one is a near-superhuman mythical hero of the country, what else do politicians of every space-faring civilization do than think of ways to make one’s life more troublesome?

‘Guardian’ was the first Lost Fleet series book I read on paperback (‘Tarnished Knight’ does not count coming from a different series), so I am afraid we’ll have to do without the quotes I’ve previously provided as background for this series. This book was out mid-May, and I picked it up nearly as soon as it hit the local Waterstones. The first read was fast, and I quite enjoyed it. The setting was kept the same familiar military science fiction in space that I had come to expect, and that was for the better, for the author had a story to weave forward.

In a way, I get the feeling that Mr Campbell does not know what to do with Admiral Geary. He’s here, he’s there. No one wants him around, and the Admiral himself doesn’t know where he fits into this situation for he has been trained in the time honoured fashion of following orders and not making every situation worse (I’m afraid he’s not a Marine). But this specific problem was not the cornerstone on ‘Guardian’, and I think that the questions the author posed make for a far more interesting case to look into.

Namely, the latest installment does make for a very interesting point with regards to appearances. And, yes, I do realize that very many of my recent reviews have touched upon appearances and how maybe all is not how it seems. It would appear that I am seeing similar themes in many writers’ works, but that might just be me making it up as I go along.

But, then again, it could not. I think that the one way for any reader to decide upon that is to read the Lost Fleet and see how far Beyond the Frontier ‘Guardian’ takes us. It takes us closer home than we’ve ever been before, but is it a visit home that we actually dare contemplate? What is the desecration of Earth? And, can it be that the aliens that look so inhuman are in effect… more human than humans?

I think that’s the question that was meant to be asked by this volume: the borders of humanity and when do humans turn alien onto themselves. And as a last bombshell, what would be the action that someone would have to take towards us so that we would recognize them as superior to ourselves on a moral level (not-withstanding whether they actually want us to recognize them as moral superiors)?

‘Tarnished Knight’, Jack Campbell

I have found something appealing about Mr Campbell’s military fictions, so I was looking forward to reading ‘Tarnished Knight’. This was even more promising since we would be leaving the familiar media of ‘The Lost Fleet’ (that is space) and taking our actions planetside now. I was uncertain if this would prove a good change, but I have my opinions ready now.

Namely, I think the change over to portraying the former Syndics over the Alliance was a good one. There is so much more going on with two former CEO’s trying to understand what power actually means, how to use it, and how to make people follow that power. I guess one of the underlying questions is also into the category of how to preserve power if the basis for your power has been eroded away by your own actions?

Drakon is the character more to my liking, maybe for the reason that he tries to be (seems to be) a more or less honest straight-on guy who just wants to get the job done. And to survive. Survival is pretty high on Drakon’s list, and it seems to be one of the more motivating factors for him to do something; and I don’t think I can really fault the General there. But aside from that he is also loyal towards his men, and he is calculating. And I think he can dream of a better future.

Iceni is a different type of a character, clever and scheming (far more than Drakon). I quite like her due to the mental processes we see her through (the one on naming ships is a personal favourite of mine). I don’t, however, for a second imagine her as shackled by any sort of personal attachment that might keep Drakon from doing something. This, in a way, is a good thing and yet — what does it mean for the people around her?

It is this interplay between Drakon and Iceni — are they enemies or friends? and no matter what they are, what do others think they are? and what do others want to make them look? — that makes ‘Tarnished Knight’ so spectacular. It is a truly interesting view into how people who are on an opposing side to us in so much of what ‘matters’ operate. Or, at least, how they try to operate. We are yet to see them succeed, although for some reason I have my certain confidence that they can.

Overall, I would say that ‘Tarnished Knight’ makes for a very good read. There is that bit of psychological insight into what people are, and there is that necessary measure of action and reaction, not to mention the musings of people on the small details of daily life.

“55 Bookish Questions…”

With regards to not posting for a while, a few more general ones will do fine is my reasoning and since I did promise that I’d answer these book-questions to a friend of mine I thought to begin with them.

As a short introduction, it seems to be a list of 55 questions that can then provide some sort of insight (for others, that is) to one’s reading habits. The one my friend filled in (a disastrous 12 days ago which is also how long it has taken me to get this far) is located over here – ‘Logic Tree: 55 Bookish Questions’.

Here I go.

1. Favorite childhood book?
‘Talks with a Tiger’ by Donald Bisset.

2. What are you reading right now?
Unfortunately, this is a mess as always for me. The names I need to mention are A.C. Clarke’s ‘Cradle’, J.Campbell’s ‘Guardian’, J. Barr’s ‘A Line in the Sand’, and last but not least an indomitable book on Bismarck that is there in case I just want to hit myself on the head with something. Oh, and I’ve just started rereading ‘Lord of the Rings’ as well.

3. What books do you have on request at the library?
None. I don’t really have a good enough schedule for libraries.

4. Bad book habit?
Buying a few too many and then stacking them up so that they wait to be read.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?
Nothing. As above on the libraries.

6. Do you have an e-reader?
Yes, a Kindle Touch.

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
One on my Kindle and one on paper, but it just doesn’t work out.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
Not really. I may make the occasional effort of posting authors who are not as well know as they should, but aside from that, not really.

9. Least favorite book you read this year (so far?)
I haven’t come across anything that horrible this year, but I did score something rather low on Goodreads. That would have been… ‘Black Wind’ by Clive Cussler. I generally really like his books but this one wasn’t quite up to the standards I’ve come to expect.

10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?
I finally had the chance to take a look at Haruki Murakami’s ‘1Q84’ and that was certainly worth it. Ryotaro Shiba’s ‘Drunk as a Lord’ came by me early this year as well, so those two are probably at the top of the list.

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?
Probably a fair bit of the time.

12. What is your reading comfort zone?
The sci-fi I know and have read before, including the Star Wars books I have.

13. Can you read on the bus?
Yep, and a very good way to spend the time.

14. Favorite place to read?
Couch.

15. What is your policy on book lending?
“I only lend to close friends and those that I know will take care of books.”

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?
Very rarely…

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?
No, but I want to. There’s just so very little to add.

18. Not even with text books?
No, not really.

19. What is your favorite language to read in?
 Depends on what language the author wrote in. Reading English and Estonian means I have a small leeway in choosing a hopefully better translation for a German, Russian, or French author.

20. What makes you love a book?
A story that I cannot guess, characters that feel real, and people for whose fates I want to care. And, a world that brings me in and keeps me there is also a good addition.

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?
Knowing the person and what they might read. Or rather then, what I would have liked to read if I were where they are, assuming I can put myself into a situation like this. But I am also afraid of recommending books because what if the people won’t like them…

22. Favorite genre?
Fantasy/science-fiction and naval histories.

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?)
Non-fiction, aside from history. I should probably read more scientific things as well.

24. Favorite biography?
I think that at the present moment I would have to venture the thought of Alan Sked’s look on the Austrian Field Marshal Johan Radetzky von Radetz. That book had a tone to itself.

25. Have you ever read a self-help book?
Hmmh, I think I have. I would be hard pressed to name them though. I think it might also depend on what exactly is classified as a “self-help” book (I’ve certainly read philosophical insights into oneself and how to do things ‘properly’ which might not quite be the regular type of this genre assuming it is this genre at all).

26. Favorite cookbook?
None. I don’t have cookbooks.

27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?
‘The Glorious First of June’ by Sam Willis, and ‘Captain Vancouver’ by E.C. Coleman.

28. Favorite reading snack?
Tea. Occasionally bread or chocolate.

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.
Harry Potter books, I would think.

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?
Sometimes, yes. More often than not, I don’t.

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?
If I didn’t like what I read, there was a reason, and I would hope to bring that reason out in a review of mine. I am not just saying that something was bad, but there was something which made it bad for me. And I would rather have people know of what that was so they can think of whether the same device will ruin their read.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you chose?
Japanese.

33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?
I think that taking into account the times, this would have been Hesse’s ‘Siddharta’. It changed so much.

34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?
I generally don’t like starting many new series, just because I think I might like them if they turn out good at all. But I can’t think of any specific books right now.

35. Favorite Poet?
JRR Tolkien or Saigyo. It depends on the mood I’m in, and what kind of poems I’m looking for.

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?
None.

37. How often have you returned book to the library unread?
A few times, I guess.

38. Favorite fictional character?
Maybe Gandalf. There’s so much speaking for him. But maybe there’s someone else I like better. I can’t really say.

39. Favorite fictional villain?
Darth Bane is a badass. There are not very many proper villains in the books I read though.

40. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation?
Whatever I want at that moment.

41. The longest I’ve gone without reading.
“I have absolutely no idea!”

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.
‘Exile’ by Jakob Ejersbo. I did give it a scathing review on this very same blog though. 🙂 And I did get around 20% through before I gave up and decided not to kill my head with it.

43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?
When I’m into a book, it is difficult to distract me.

44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel?
I have to admit ‘Lord of the Rings’ was done pretty well, although I might not call it a favourite. I can’t think of others right now though so….

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?
‘Eragon’. Horribly done.

46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?
Probably around £30.

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?
I sometimes take a look inside but I don’t really skim it. Just look at a few interesting locations.

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?
If reading it is bringing mental aggravation (also why I stopped reading ‘Exile’, mentioned above).

49. Do you like to keep your books organized?
Yes. But it isn’t happening.

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?
Keep, keep, keep. Build me a library…

51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?
No.

52. Name a book that made you angry.
I don’t think I can name a book like that.

53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?
Before having read anything else of Mr Tolkien, I was given ‘The Hobbit’. And never would I have thought that I would like it. But I did. So very much. 🙂

54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?
I thought I would like ‘The Ionian Mission’ by Patrick O’Brian better than I did. I am not quite sure why that wasn’t the case though.

55. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading?
Tolkien, Clarke and Ryotaro Shiba.

‘The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier’, J. Campbell

Why is there never enough time to do it right but always enough time to do it over?
— Campbell, Jack (2012-05-20). The Lost Fleet Beyond the Frontier – Invincible (Kindle Locations 3188-3189). Titan Books. Kindle Edition.

I took a look at ‘The Lost Fleet’ series as one long entry instead of a number of separate books since I read them in one go and that seemed the more natural thing to do. Seeing these books in a Waterstones outlet on Saturday made me think of them again, and I realized that I didn’t yet comment on the follow-up series to the original ‘The Lost Fleet’.

Admittedly, the third and last book will be out in a few months time, so what this effectively is is a look into how much I enjoyed the first two books in comparison to the original series.

“Somebody asked me why I still believed in ‘fair,’” Geary commented. “When I think of things like you just pointed out, I have to admit that’s a good question. As a matter of fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever actually seen ‘fair.’” “Just because you’ve never seen something doesn’t mean it’s not real.”
— Campbell, Jack (2011-09-08). The Lost Fleet Beyond the Frontier – Dreadnaught (Kindle Locations 2108-2111). Titan Books. Kindle Edition.

In a few words: I liked them. It would seem that Mr Campbell has put his mind to work at devising new races that humans can make contact with, and I would say that they look original. Maybe not as clever as some that Arthur C. Clarke thought of (when speaking of Mr Clarke’s extraterrestial species, that creature who lived in outer space and couldn’t approach stars always comes to my mind — just such a brilliant thought!), but certainly more developed in the why and the how than a few we see in our TV series.

What has become more of a point in these two books is the political intrigue where everyone seems to think that Admiral Geary might have his own ambitions for something. Whatever that something would be… That is at least how the story starts out and soon our hero is sent out into the wide (and hostile) galaxy commanding a powerful fleet that is ostensibly scouting the galaxy for the Alliance.

But if something seems to be true then is it really so? For some reason it takes the Admiral far too much time to understand that not everyone really likes him, but at least the next (third) book of the series might be more interesting due to that.

And by the above comment I did not mean to imply that this book wasn’t interesting — it was, but more for how things have changed from a political intrigue within a fleet-to-be-destroyed to an exploratory who-lives-in-the-next-star-system kind of thing. Since the next book promises to be a bit of both it is one that I am looking forward to.

As in the previous series, we get a reasonable amount of military conflict that is as detailed as before and as cleverly devised — by which I mean that Mr Campbell has the captains and admirals counting the seconds that any order or object takes to travel in space. This level of complexity made me desire that in other works as well — although I might still prefer the works of Evan Currie where there is at least some method of faster-than-light even though it isn’t prevalent all the time.

And finally, I’ll just add that I saw in that same Waterstones a copy of Mr Jack Campbell’s ‘The Lost Fleet’ spin-off ‘The Lost Stars’ which takes place on a former Syndic world. I opened it at a random page, and I liked what I saw there. I will be reading that book as well — although maybe not immediately.

As the old saying goes, never attribute to malice that which could be explained by stupidity.
— Campbell, Jack (2012-05-20). The Lost Fleet Beyond the Frontier – Invincible (Kindle Location 4182). Titan Books. Kindle Edition.

 

‘The Lost Fleet’, J. Campbell

Let us live to the highest standards, lest we win this war only to find ourselves staring in the mirror at the face of our late enemy.

I hope that people forgive me for writing of six books as they were one but I do firmly believe that it should have been one (long) book instead of six rather short ones. That is the main fault I find with this series, and I am of a mind to write more on this way of publication since I read it on the Kindle and I am not happy at all with how the books there turned out (with respect to how there are six short books that have passed a dubious level of quality control and not one long book that has passed an excellent level of quality control).

Only in the vast distances of space did light seem slow.

But to ‘The Lost Fleet’: a most splendid piece of military fiction. Jack Campbell knows what he is writing about and he does it in a style that I enjoy, all of which is enhanced by having quite a good basis for the story.

In the end, that was what it was all about. Do what was needed for those counting on you, or let them down.

Anyone who needs an introduction: we find ourselves following the footsteps of Jack Geary, Captain, who is awakened a hundred years after his ship got shot to bits in the opening moments of a war between two interstellar superpowers, the Alliance and the Syndics (and yes, I did always first read it as “Syndicate” and then corrected myself). Jack Geary gains control of the remnant of Alliance fleet after the higher officership is executed by the Syndics while negotiating after which it is the Captain’s task to take the ships back home despite the captains questioning his leadership, the enemies forming new and more intricate traps, and the fleet itself having changed quite a bit throughout a century of relentless war.

It isn’t good and it isn’t bad, the old saying went, it just is.

That paragraph managed to nicely bring myself to something I liked in these books: a century of war. How would a century of war change the people of a great sprawling realm, and how would it change the military officership?

It’s not easy for dreams to die, even when they’ve remained only dreams.

As it happens, for rather plausible reasons, the best of the officership have been constantly killed off so the knowledge of tactics and strategy that were once the skill and pride of the navy have been lost. The Captain Geary, with his century-old training, however, has all the necessary skills that he can use again against the enemies who in a similar manner have lost the necessary skill to use complex maneuvering and tactics.

The words of the prayers change but they always mean the same thing.

What is the cause of this loss of knowledge? Firstly I have to say that I enjoyed this cause very much: battlecruisers. The fast battleships without the armor that was supposed to be theirs, battlecruisers were apparently their embodiment of honour and therefore the vessels that led the charge against the enemy. The best officers wished to be amongst this great group of men, leading the attack, and by their assignments to battlecruisers they were always the first to die. In other words, the more promising an officer, the sooner he or she could be expected to have finished his/her service with their honour intact and lives ended.

But that cycle of vengeance never ends. I realized something. I don’t want to have to kill that boy someday, when he’s old enough to fight.

I liked this explanation. It sounds plausible, and by that I mean that it sounds like something I might do if I were in a position to do that. Getting back to the plot, it is the reawakened Captain Geary’s challenge to fight this war and he is in a unique position to do so.

Needless to say, this is done in a fast and action-packed way and I found little fault with the author in how he conducted this series. I would truly recommend it to anyone interested in military science fiction.

I’ll just add that I was actually wrong about some plot elements here, and that was another good surprise. The characters I mostly found enjoyable, although I found that other people got more “screen-time” as we headed into the later books which is probably understandable by virtue of the people being expanded in the author’s mind, would actually include the Captain as well as the majority of the people presented in the books. They were human. In both the good ways and the bad. But when we get humans who can represent humanity in a bad way, what shall we do with the demons?

“Feathers or lead.” … The one asking the riddle is a demon, you see. The demon chooses which answer is right. In order to guess the right answer, you need to know what the demon thinks it should be at that particular time. … How do we answer the question posed by something that isn’t human, when we have no idea what the question means or what the ones asking it want the answer to be?

On the Quality of E-Books

Whilst I generally prefer to live a peaceful life of which reading is an important everyday piece, I discover every now and then that there are a number of difficulties with this approach. Generally, everything works well or good enough and I do not have to regret the amount of monies spent or effort put into purchasing and reading books but there are also moments when I wish to say something of what is being done under the near-proper term of “digital publishing”.

Let me start first by insisting though that while the following will be true in a large number of cases, it has notable exemptions and I will bring out at least one that I have seen myself. Likewise, the problem does not exist only in digital books but at least with digital books the solution is simple.

Now, I have mentioned a problem but have not defined it yet. If I may: Customers are paying considerable sums of money for books in digital form for download to e-readers or other devices with similar functionality, and yet the final product that the customer receives is not always presented to them in a final form.

Namely, while in regular publishing there is a certain quality and level of spelling that is expected of anything sent to the press, in the digital word this same quality seems to have disappeared with the publishing houses seemingly content to upload anything without ascertaining its quality.

As the next step, I will clarify my own position: I own a Kindle (and have owned previous Kindles in the past) and I spend a reasonable amount on digital books. Digital reading, or e-reading, certainly forms the majority of books I read these days. I do not mind paying for reading anything that another person has written or published, but I do expect any product I receive to respond to certain standards of quality.

Let me bring a concrete example. Over the last few weeks I have read a number of books by Jack Campbell on my Kindle, all of which were priced between £5.50 and £6.00. This price was accompanied by an explanation that the books were approximately 300 pages in other versions, and that the file which included the book was between 300 KB and 700 KB in size. In other words, a very small file with an average-length book had been priced at the aforementioned sum. I’ll be very clear that had there been nothing else, I would not mind this price for it is clear that the good Mr Campbell needs to make his income from something.

However, there was “something else”. Namely, the books were readable but my enthusiasm decreased as I encountered more and more spelling mistakes and punctuation errors. One would think that a simple spell check can find solutions to problems like that, or that one read of the book can note that a word has been split into several pieces (say, “in def ens ible” comes to mind).

Can anyone say how this is a fair use of the money that the publishing house and Mr Campbell make off the people who are purchasing their products?

I remember that when I first read George RR Martin’s “A Dance with Dragons”, the same issue was present. I also know that is the only time a book on my device has been updated, but since I have not read it again thus far, I am not confident in how much has improved.

To get back at the main issue though: We, the customers, are receiving products that are seemingly at a stage where no self-respecting publishing house would release it as a paperback, and yet we pay a very similar amount as if we were buying a paperback. So, where’s the quality I was expecting?

Do I need to pay extra for the publishing houses to trouble themselves by reading through the works at least once?

What needs to change so that I would be able to buy a final product that I could read in peace?

Are the publishing houses deserving of the money I have paid for the titles if you cannot put in a small measure of effort to make their own creations presentable?

Now, I’ll note that digital publishing is not the only culprit. The one title I have from Forgotten Books’ “Easy Reading Series” is similarly full of spelling mistakes and riddled with bad punctuation, but at least I have a personal copy of the title which acts as a small measure of comfort for the similar price I paid towards it.

I am hopeful that this trend in digital publishing can change — I say this not only with the one example I brought in mind but also remembering a number of other items I have read which have been sub-par. However, I also think that we customers need to be more vocal about establishing some set of standards.

I guess the other option would be to set a price per kilobyte, and then the publishing houses can sell me whatever they want to with me going in there knowing that there is no massive profit lurking for these same entities behind the screen — very much unlike the present situation.

So, how do we go about establishing that what is sold to us is a book that we can read when we purchase it?

And until we have managed achieving some standards of quality, let’s make the issue more public!