Exclusive Interview: “The Lost Fleet: Outlands: Implacable” Author Jack Campbell


With The Lost Fleet: Outlands: Implacable (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook), science fiction writer Jack Campbell is not only concluding the Outlands trilogy, but possibly the entire Lost Fleet series as well. In the following email interview, he discusses both this military sci-fi space opera novel, as well as this epic saga.

Jack Campbell The Lost Fleet Outlands Implacable

I’d like to start with some background. First, in a very basic sense, what is The Lost Fleet series about, and when and where do these stories take place?

The Lost Fleet stories take place centuries in the future, far from Earth. They began as a combination of a March of the 10,000 type long retreat in space and the legends of the sleeping hero that are common in Earth cultures worldwide. Those legends are based on real people. What would happen if one of them really did awaken in the future only to discover that everyone believed them to be an amazing hero, and by the way we’re facing an awful disaster and you need to save us? John Geary, presumed dead in a last stand fight during a surprise attack by the Syndicate Worlds on the Alliance, is found still barely alive, frozen in survival sleep, nearly a hundred years after the battle. The war is still going on, both sides sustained by the resources of scores of star systems, but now reeling from the costs of a century of war. A desperate attack by the Alliance has failed, leaving the fleet looking to their legendary hero to save them. Geary, knowing he isn’t a hero out of myths, has to do his best, because otherwise those who believe in him are doomed. He also has to deal with the awful, corrosive impact of a hundred years of war on the fleet he once knew and on the Alliance as a whole.

And then, what is the Outlands sub-series about, and when and where does it take place in relation to both The Lost Fleet series as a whole, and the previous Lost Fleet sub-series Beyond The Frontier?

Outlands is mainly about the challenges humanity is facing as a result of finally making contact with alien species. The Alliance government, staggered by revelations of secret programs once justified by the long war, is eager to get Geary as far away as possible from the Alliance capital. He receives orders to command a fleet to escort a diplomatic mission to meet with the species humans have nicknamed the Dancers, to try to establish peaceful relations. Complicating the mission are humans who fear any contact with aliens will lead to humanity’s extinction or enslavement, new alien species who make contact through the Dancers, and other aliens who want nothing to do with humanity.

Which brings us to Implacable. What is this novel about, and how does it connect to the previous Outlands book, Resolute?

Implacable directly follows on from Resolute, starting within a few weeks of the end of the last book. The human delegation is running out of time to convince the alien Dancers to allow a diplomatic presence. None of the humans can figure out what the aliens want or expect. Meanwhile, more species make contact, increasing the need for this mission to succeed. But the people within humanity who fear any contact with aliens have their own plans, and those plans force Geary to finally make a move he has resisted ever since gaining command of the fleet, knowing his decision might deal a death blow to the Alliance.

Jack Campbell The Lost Fleet Outlands Implacable

When in relation to writing Resolute and the first Outlands novel Boundless did you come up with the idea for Implacable, and what inspired this third installment’s plot?

The story arc from Boundless through Resolute and to Implacable was worked out before I started Boundless. When I write, I make sure I know where a story starts, and where it will end. Since the characters help me work out the path between those, knowing where the story is going helps ensure the characters and the story don’t wander off track. (Characters often try to veer off in strange directions. Sometimes that can fit the story. Sometimes they have to be guided back onto the right path.)

The plot of Implacable in particular deals with three of the major themes of the Lost Fleet. One is the responsibility of commanders toward those they command as well as to whatever cause they fight for. The second is how humanity deals with species that think differently than we do, which grew from Geary’s need to understand and work with other humans who think differently in order to end the long war and deal with the aftermath. The third major theme deals with Geary himself, who from the beginning has been battling the legacy of the Black Jack legend and the power it gives him. He finally confronts a situation in which he must fully embrace the legend and the power, knowing that doing so might destroy everything he cares about, and will very likely result in his death.

In the interview we did about Ascendant, the second book in The Genesis Fleet series — which is a prequel series to The Lost Fleet series — you said you think of these books as being sci-fi space opera stories. Is it safe to assume Implacable and the rest of the Outlands series are as well?

Categories are artificial things, aren’t they? We make them up, meaning the categories themselves as well as the lines dividing the different categories are (with apologies to the Dude) “well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.” Many people consider The Lost Fleet to be military science fiction. It is. Others see it as space opera. It is. Or hard sci-fi. It is. What they also are (I hope) is stories about people trying to cope with extreme challenges, and trying to do the right thing no matter how hard that is.

Are there any writers, or maybe specific stories, that had a big influence on Implacable but not on anything else you’ve written, or at least not on the other Outlands novels?

The only one I can think of specific to Implacable is a certain famous writer’s dismissive comment that sci-fi is about “talking squids in outer space.” Challenge accepted!

How about non-literary influences; was Implacable influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?

If I could point to any one I would probably name Star Trek. Explaining why would provide many spoilers!

Now, as we’ve been discussing, Implacable is the third book of the Outlands sub-series. You’ve written trilogies in the past, The Genesis Fleet series, as well as series with more books than three. What is Implacable? Is it the third in a trilogy, the third in a four or five book series…

Implacable is the third book of the Outlands trilogy. It is also (so far) the end of The Lost Fleet saga, which includes the original six book series, the five book Beyond The Frontier series, the three book Genesis Fleet prequel series, and the four book Lost Stars series. I deliberately break the stories into shorter series because I don’t want to trap readers into an endless string of books. Each sub-series ends with a book that would leave a reader satisfied that they have reached a worthy ending. If someone wants to read more, it’s there, but there are distinct breaks allowing any reader to decide they’re good with whatever book they decided to end on.

Originally, there were only going to be the six books of The Lost Fleet series. But then readers wanted more, and they also wanted to know more about the bad guys. That led to the Beyond The Frontier and the Lost Stars series. Then lots of questions about the back story led to the Genesis Fleet prequels. And, then, more demand from readers to know what happened next led to the Outlands series.

I’m guessing that Implacable makes a lot more sense if you’ve read Boundless and Resolute. But does someone also have to read all of the other Lost Fleet novels to understand and / or appreciate it?

Someone can read Implacable on its own and understand it (and hopefully like it). I do my best to write every book with enough back story and explanation so that if someone picks up that book first they can figure out what’s happening and why and who everyone is. It’s the same for the series that make up The Lost Fleet saga. Beyond The Frontier and Lost Stars have interweaving stories, but someone could read only one of the series and still understand and enjoy it.

That said, what will someone get out of Implacable and the rest of the Outlands series if they’ve read all of the other Lost Fleet books?

I make a great effort to avoid telling the same story twice. In Outlands, Geary and the others in the Alliance fleet have to solve new puzzles, face different challenges, and make decisions that will impact the fate of not just the Alliance, but also of humanity as a whole. Geary in particular finally faces the need to invoke the vast moral authority he carries. In Implacable, he has to finally fully become the Black Jack the Alliance needs.

So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Implacable, the Outlands sub-series, or The Lost Fleet series?

They’re about people. They’re about a future containing vast challenges, were terrible mistakes have been made, and yet also a future that contains tremendous hope and opportunity. Some people are doing their best to do the right thing when it is often hard to know what that is. But (to paraphrase a certain hobbit of some renown) they know there’s good in the universe that’s worth fighting for. So, trusting in their faith and their fellows, despite the prices they have all already paid, they will fight.

Jack Campbell The Lost Fleet Outlands Implacable

Finally, I know from interviews I’ve done with other sci-fi writers that you’ve influenced other people. So, if someone enjoys Implacable, and they’ve already read the rest of the Outlands series, and The Lost Fleet series, what sci-fi novel by someone you’ve influenced would you recommend they check out?

I’m still gobsmacked by the idea that I’ve influenced other writers. I don’t know to what extent I’ve influenced these particularly writers, but Mike Mammay’s Planetside is very good, as is Taylor Anderson’s Artillerymen series, and Jeffrey Haskell’s Grimm’s War series.



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