Jack Campbell is the author of over 13 novels and numerous short stories! His newest book, Guardian (Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier Series #3), will be out in May. Also, you’ll want to look for him if you’re planning on attending Dragoncon in Atlanta in August!
Please welcome Jack to the blog, and be sure to check out the giveaway at the end of the post!
You have an extensive military background! Have you always been interested in writing? What inspired you to write your first novel?
As long as I can remember I have wanted to write. I made a few attempts in my high school years, efforts which even then I knew weren’t all that good and have by now hopefully long since crumbled to dust so they are lost beyond hope of recovery. After that, during my years in the Navy, I thought about writing, but rarely had much time to work on it. The writing I did do was non-fiction, work-related, things like intelligence analysis and reports. One very valuable thing I gained during that time was learning how to edit my own work and the work of others.
When I was ready to leave the Navy my wife told me I should try writing then, or I would never know if I could have done it. My first novel (Stark’s War) was extensively inspired by my last active duty tour, which was in the Pentagon. Stark’s War is a classic “if this goes on” sort of story, warning of what will happen if politics and micro-management became too prevalent in the military. I guess you could say the book was my own form of protest for some of the less-than-inspiring things I had seen in the Pentagon, and my attempt to get people thinking about where some of those trends could take us.
Your brand new novel, Guardian (Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier Series #3), will be out in May! Will you give us a bit of a teaser, and tell us a bit about Captain John “Black Jack” Geary?
Guardian’s primary character is Black Jack, a man who was thought to have died a century before in the first, surprise attack by the Syndicate Worlds on the Alliance. The Alliance, in desperate need of heroes, bolstered morale by elevating “Black Jack” Geary as its greatest hero. Over time, as the war went on and on, the Alliance unable to win but refusing to lose, the legend grew that Black Jack would someday return to save the Alliance. In fact, he wasn’t dead, but drifting, frozen in survival sleep in a damaged escape pod. Found and revived, Geary was thrust into the role of the hero everyone needed. He didn’t believe that he was a hero, but was forced to try to live up to the legend in order to save those who depended upon him and believed in him. He also grappled with the changes a century of war had caused in his own people, trying to remind them of what they had lost while trying anything to win. In the six books of the Lost Fleet series, Geary saved the trapped Alliance fleet and ended the century-long war with the Syndicate Worlds. But tremendous challenges still face him. In the first two books of the Beyond the Frontier series (Dreadnaught and Invincible) Geary led the Alliance fleet far beyond human-occupied space to learn more about a newly discovered alien race, and found two new alien species as well, one hostile and one a possible ally. He has with him representatives of one of those species, and a captured warship from the other species that could be the most valuable object in human history. To get his fleet home he has to prevent the Syndicate government from reconquering the Midway Star System, then make a perilous journey back to the Alliance through Syndicate territory. But the Syndicate Worlds has been busy spreading trouble through the Alliance, which won but is staggering from the cost of victory. Geary doesn’t know what the aliens are thinking, what the Syndics will do, or whether the Alliance will survive. But everyone is counting on him to once again save the day, except for those who see him as an obstacle to their own ambitions.
What do you enjoy most about writing The Lost Fleet series?
I enjoy coming up with new ideas, new situations, and new solutions. I don’t make use of miraculous technology that solves every problem, so when something goes wrong I have to figure out how the tech I’ve described (in terms of what it can do, and can’t do) can help them deal with it. Sometimes the tech can’t solve the problem, and then sacrifice is asked for, and that’s not something I enjoy, but I put it in there because that’s what real life is like.
It has been fun in the Beyond the Frontier series coming with aliens who are truly alien. It’s not just their bodies that are different, it’s how the think and how they see things. It is a real challenge creating those aliens, and showing how my human characters try to understand them and their actions.
I’ve also been happy to have true 3D encounters in space. It can be done, and it makes everything feel right and real when spaceships are actually maneuvering in three dimensions. It hasn’t been easy visualizing those engagements and describing them, but the end result has been something I am proud of.
And, of course, I like writing about Black Jack. I like him as a character and as a person.
After so many SF titles under your belt, do you have a theme or themes that you enjoy exploring and writing about more than others?
The reluctant hero is certainly one of them. By “hero” I don’t necessarily mean the person who saves the world. Sometimes that reluctant hero just has to decide to do the right thing in a day-to-day matter knowing that it will not make his or her superiors happy. Such decisions are often difficult ones. What makes someone decide to make a stand now instead of later? How will they deal with the consequences? How will others see them? Real heroes are pretty complex, because real heroes usually know that alternatives exist and decide to do the right thing anyway.
I like showing the reality of the military. That life, that culture, is often presented in cartoonish form. People who haven’t served should be able to see what it is really like, how the work is, how the people are, the stresses and the comradeship. And those who have served should be able to enjoy something that accurately reflects their experiences.
I also enjoy looking beneath the surface of assumptions. Everyone thinks something will work or happen a certain way. What if it doesn’t? What if the assumptions are wrong?
Undoubtedly you’ve influenced many other writers with your work, but who are some of your biggest influences?
Leigh Brackett is a big one. She was brilliant (The Empire Strikes Back is by far the best of the Star Wars films because she wrote that screenplay). She focused not on the technology, but on the characters in her stories. I like CJ Cherryh’s storytelling (and her aliens), the straightforward narratives of writers like Heinlein and H. Beam Piper, and the amazing background that went into Tolkien’s stories. Andre Norton had a big influence because she wrote so many stories about so many adventures in so many places.
If someone were just dipping their toe into SF, what would be a few of your suggestions (especially those that might be somewhat intimidated by titles described as “hard” SF)?
SF covers so many different kinds of stories it is hard to single out one type. For someone new to SF, CJ Cherryh’s Morgaine series (starting with Gate of Ivrel) is SF with a strong fantasy feel to it, so that would be a good gateway. Andre Norton’s Witchworld books are the same, SF and Fantasy melded. I think Sharon Lee and Steve Miller do a good job with their Liaden universe books. Poul Anderson was a brilliant writer whose SF (and fantasy) is always good. Elizabeth Moon’s SF (such as Vatta’s War) are very good (and, surprise, she also does fantasy in her Paladin’s legacy series). There’s also a series from the 1960s that holds up very well, the stories by James Schmitz about Telzey Amberdon, a teenage girl with some very special powers. While a lot of work from the 50s, 60s and 70s is badly dated by the social roles in them (“girls” don’t get a lot of respect), the Telzey stories feel like they could have been written recently, and they’re a lot of fun.
When you’re not busy at work on your next novel, how do you like to spend your free time?
Free time? I have three kids, all on the autistic spectrum. I don’t have much free time. What I do have, I’m likely to spend with them. We all love Walt Disney World, so that’s a good break for us. I like good movies, whether a classic or one of the latest from Pixar or Studio Ghibli. By myself, I may listen to music, work out a bit (I need to do more of that), and do some reading. One of the ironies of being a writer is that you become a writer because you love reading, but once you become a writer there is a lot less time to read.
What’s next for you?
After Guardian, my next book out will be Perilous Shield, the second book in the Lost Stars series, in October. The Lost Stars books are set in what was an enemy star system during the war in Lost Fleet. Now those former enemies have rebelled against the Syndicate Worlds and are trying to build something new and better on the ruins of the Syndicate empire. The storylines of Guardian and Perilous Shield intertwine at times. I created Lost Stars to help keep the Lost Fleet books fresh, and I think it has worked well. After that, beyond the follow-on books to Guardian and Perilous Shield, I’m also trying to get a totally different series published. The Dragons of Dorcastle books are sort of steampunk with dragons. I’m hoping to find a publisher interested in them.
About Guardian (Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier Series #3):
Admiral Geary’s First Fleet of the Alliance has survived the journey deep into unexplored interstellar space, a voyage that led to the discovery of new alien species, including a new enemy and a possible ally. Now Geary’s mission is to ensure the safety of the Midway Star System, which has revolted against the Syndicate Worlds empire—an empire that is on the brink of collapse. To complicate matters further, Geary also needs to return safely to Alliance space not only with representatives of the Dancers, an alien species, but also with Invincible, a captured warship that could possibly be the most valuable object in human history. Despite the peace treaty that Geary must adhere to at all costs, the Syndicate Worlds regime threatens to make the fleet’s journey back grueling and perilous. And even if Geary escorts Invincible and the Dancers’ representatives safely unharmed, the Syndics’ attempts to spread dissent and political unrest may have already sown the seeds of the Alliance’s destruction…
2. Giveaway is for 5 copies of Guardian (Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier Series #3) by Jack Campbell to 5 winners
3. Giveaway is open to US addresses only
4. You must enter on or before 5/6/13
5. Giveaway books courtesy of Ace
6. Please see my Giveaway Policy.