Stark’s War by Jack Campbell

I am greatly enjoying the Lost Fleet series and similarly enjoyed the JAG in space books. But with Stark’s War, I could very clearly see that this was a rough introduction to someone who would be a great writer. Most of the plot is forced, unrealistic, and full of ideas without a necessarily compelling story holding them together. I only made it half way through before bailing.

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Story: Stark is a Sergeant dealing with a military whose officers are shuffled around too frequently to be competent and whose superiors issue orders from afar and with media approval as a main goal. It means Stark’s companions are being needlessly killed through incompetence and apathy. So he decides to take things into his own hands.

The main problem with Stark’s War is that Hemry wishes to take the core point that the military will eventually be an incompetent, bureaucratic, self aggrandizing mess – and then push that thought to the nth degree. Every word, action, sentence, dialogue, and character action is to make that point. It gets silly very early when grunts are constantly asking Stark, “Why would they do that, Sarge?” for every idiotic and dangerous decision by the military leaders. From cost cutting leading to faulty equipment, to war maneuvers solely for the point of televising to gain civilian approval, to officers issuing orders from far away and clearly not aware of the actual situation.  The book is in serious danger of becoming a parody of itself due to the absence of any intelligence.

The characters are very unlikeable – surprising from a writer known for his engaging everyman.  Stark spends most of the time emoting self righteously or completely disobeying orders. We’re supposed to cheer him but really, it just makes him look really stupid to have been dumb enough to enlist in the first place.  Ayn Rand did this point of view much better with Atlas Shrugged – at least you rooted for the main character.

Honestly, if there is one thing I really dislike in a book, it’s when all the characters are stupid. Especially the antagonists – a really cliche moustache-twirling set of villains (read: military officers) only serve to make the protagonist seem equally dumb.  At least give him something to really outsmart – not military personnel taken right out of the movie Idiocracy.

I listened to the Audible version of this story and only made it half way through.  The narrator did a decent job with the material, especially considering it must have been difficult not to roll eyes all the way through.

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