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The Lost Fleet is a hard science fiction series by Jack Campbell (actual name John G. Hemry). John "Black Jack" Geary of the Alliance Navy is escorting some merchant ships when the convoy is attacked in the first strike by the Syndicate Worlds, or Syndics. He fights a rear guard action, ejecting from his ship at the last moment, but the transmitter of the escape pod is broken, so he isn't found for nearly a century. When he's awakened, the fleet is preparing to use the enemy hypernet gate network, with a traitor-provided key, to strike at the Syndic home system. It goes wrong. He takes command of the fleet and must use his knowledge of forgotten tactics to save the fleet from certain destruction deep behind enemy lines. The attrition rate of ships and experienced personnel has forced the Alliance to cut down costs and production times, trying to replace traditional officer training with simple élan (no, not him, but just as stupid). The only good news, until Geary shows up, is that the Syndics have had to do the same. He also has to defend himself against the treachery and stupidity of dissenting captains, and keep his love interests from killing each other. Also, there seems to be a mysterious race of Aliens behind the ongoing war and the barely-understood technology of the hypernet gates.

The completed series is composed of six books:

  • Dauntless
  • Fearless
  • Courageous
  • Valiant
  • Relentless
  • Victorious

The direct sequel series, Beyond the Frontier, has so far published:

  • Dreadnaught
  • Invincible
  • Guardian
  • Steadfast

In addition, another follow on series (The Lost Stars) is being published alongside Beyond the Frontier and deals with the break-up of the Syndicate Worlds from the perspective of Syndic CEOs Iceni and Drakon, the leaders of Midway. Two books, Tarnished Knight and Perilous Shield, have been released so far.


Tropes

  • Acceptable Targets: In-Universe concerning lawyers several times. At one point, someone mentions to Geary that they had pirates in their ancestry and Geary confides that he had lawyers in his. One officer later comments that there are fates too horrible even for lawyers, and explains that his brother is a lawyer. Captain Duellos offers condolences.
  • Accidental Hero: Captain Geary. The Alliance government made him this after his last stand to inspire the Alliance in the war. When asked about his heroics, Geary is the first to point out that he was in exactly one battle before being stuck in stasis, and that was the one where he lost his ship and was only saved from death by dumb luck.
    • Note, though, that even by his description of events he'd likely have gotten a fairly high medal for his conduct during the battle.
  • AI Is a Crapshoot: Invoked as the reason why neither side will use artificial intelligence to pilot their ships.
  • The Alliance: A huge conglomeration of systems actually called the Alliance, and two other nations, the Rift Federation and the Callas Republic.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: One of Geary's captains and an enemy commander fell in love while the captain was in a prison camp, and were mutually used by their nations' intelligence agencies. Once the war is over, they're finally free of their use as spies, but duty and suspicion leave little chance they'll ever be together, never mind the continued monitoring both are subject to. They express as much in communications between each other ... that Geary is required to read or watch (with their knowledge).
  • Anxiety Dreams: Mixed with Bad Dreams.
  • Anyone Can Die: But to keep more from dying, their death may be pushed aside with little fanfare.
  • Apocalypse How: It is implied that before the books begin, both sides regularly inflicted varying degrees of widespread planetary destruction. The worst incident is referenced in regards to Tulev's home planet, which suffered a Planetary Species Extinction.
    • The Syndic Navy opts to collapse the hypernet gate at Lakota to prevent Geary from using it. The resulting shock wave causes a Continental Total Extinction on the side facing the blast, with a Planetary Societal Collapse affecting the survivors.
    • Kalixa suffers a Stellar Total Extinction when the aliens blow its hypernet gate.
  • Artifact Title: The Lost Fleet ceases to be lost by Relentless. When the title of the series was changed to add "Beyond the Frontier," it happened again when by Invincible the fleet has gone beyond the frontier and come back home.
  • Badass Boast: Geary in Valiant when dealing with a Syndic base that won't take back ITS OWN CIVILIANS.

 Geary: Listen, you are going to do what I say, or I will hit your station so hard that the quarks that make up your component atomic particles won't be able to find their way back together. Am I Clear?!

    • Chased out of the Lakota system to Ixion, Geary realizes that they don't have time to go anywhere else before Syndic pursuers arrive in a force the Fleet won't be able to defeat. So he orders his ships to immediately turn and jump back to Lakota, where at least they'll be unexpected. When Rione asks him what if there are overwhelming enemy forces still in Lakota, he replies, "I guess that'll be too bad for them." His crew goes wild, cheering.
  • Further quotes just from the first book:

  "I am Captain John Geary. I am now in command of the Alliance fleet. You're dealing with me now. These are my ships. Back off."

  "My name is John Geary. I used to be known as Black Jack Geary a long time ago. I'm in command of this fleet now, and I'm taking it home. Anyone who wishes to try to stop this fleet will have to deal with me."

  • Bad Dreams: Some of the rescued prisoners. Geary.
  • Bad Future: At least for Captain Geary. He went into Survival Sleep after he pulled off a You Shall Not Pass on a attacking Syndic fleet at the first battle of the Forever War, and wakes up a hundred years later to find out that the war is still going on, he's been made into a larger than life demigod, and he's the only one who still knows tactics.
  • Back From the Brink: The premise of the series.
  • The Bait: the entire fleet in Invincible
  • Berserk Button: Under no circumstances do you ever kill POWs while under Geary's command. He doesn't care what's happened in the past hundred years. You do not.

  Geary's control snapped. "I don't care what's been done before! I don't care what our enemies do! I will not allow any prisoners to be massacred by any ship under my command! I will not allow this fleet and the Alliance and the ancestors of all aboard these ships to be dishonored by war crimes committed under the all-seeing eyes of the living stars! We are sailors of the Alliance, and we will hold ourselves to the standards of honor our ancestors believed in! Are there any further questions?"

  • Big Damn Heroes: the ending of Relentless
  • Blackmail
  • Blessed with Suck: In the beginning of the third book, Geary finds that the Fleet is seriously short of critical supplies despite recently taking on large quantities of raw materials ... because the selection of raw stocks was based on what would be needed under a commander who got a lot more ships and people killed. The fact that Geary's tactics have kept so many alive means they didn't take on enough of the materials they need; he's got problems because he's doing too good a job.
    • By book 7 Geary has been so good at not getting his ships destroyed that his ships are falling apart; while in his time ships were built to last 50-100 years (150 with an overhaul), by this stage of the war they're designed to last three years at most.
  • Blood Knight: Desjani. Until Geary helps her see the errors of her ways. Not that she shakes off her lust for battle too much.

 She turned a pleading look on Geary. "Now can we blow up something? Just to show him we mean business?"

"Sorry," he told her. "Not yet."

"Peace sucks," Desjani grumbled.

  • Blue and Orange Morality: Two of the three aliens species so far.
    • The enigma aliens, as their name implies, don't even have a real frame of reference to even properly guess what they're thinking. Most of what is gathered later points to a near-fanatical adherence to privacy and paranoia, doing whatever they can to try and keep themselves from being studied, fought, or even seen. They go as far as to blow up their ships to prevent them and their crews from being studied.
    • The second species encountered is more easy to figure out, if not to comprehend. The teddy-bear-cows or 'Kicks' are herbivores with a herd mentality; they view anything else as a mortal threat that can't be negotiated with due to likely deception and desire to eat them -- or as competition for grazing area -- so they don't respond to communications and commit suicide with their brains as soon as they realize they've been captured.
    • The third species is known as the spider-wolves or 'Dancers.' Though still very odd, they at least don't kill on sight, seek to communicate with humans, and have thought patterns we can relate to if not fully grasp. They appear to tend towards viewing things in terms of patterns, as opposed to our binary tendencies.
  • Boarding Party: When Geary tries to capture an alien superbattleship.
  • Brain Bleach: Captain Duellos invokes the general concept when Desjani says two captains, one quite unsavory, could be in bed together -- in the metaphorical sense, but the image gets stuck in his head and he leaves the conversation to take a shower.
  • Burial in Space: Launched toward the sun.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Geary's first big speech about not committing war crimes. It first serves a purpose in establishing Geary's attitudes about warfare and honor in relation to how far his society has come, so you may be forgiven for forgetting it. It's later used as spontaneous evidence by Rione to convince the Grand Council of Geary's honor again.
  • Colon Cancer: After the first series finishes, two sub-series start. Starting with The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier: Dreadnaught.
  • Covers Always Lie: For some reason the publishers felt it necessary to put Geary in armor holding a BFG while posing in some exotic location even if such a scene has never appeared in any of the books to date. Heck, until Victorious he doesn't even leave the Dauntless, and then for a space station. It took until the Beyond the Frontier series for him to finally set foot on a planet -- a friendly one, where the biggest danger was hordes of adoring fans. Lampshaded in Invincible, when Geary and Desjani are talking about her writing a tell-all book about him if he dies; she jokes that it will have a misleading cover of him doing something he never did, like making a heroic pose with a gun.
  • Crazy Enough to Work:
    • Geary's plan to 'charge' the missile swarm of a species just encountered (the missiles being so massive they're piloted), and tell ships to maneuver independently.
    • Realizing their formation is about to be destroyed by the enemy armada, Captain (Jane) Geary takes command of all the battleships in the group and has them charge the enemy. She desperately orders them to fire all the kinetic penetrators they can, projectiles which are never used against ships because they're so easy to avoid ... and the enemy doesn't avoid them, blowing a hole big enough in the enemy to get through.
  • Cut And Paste Planet: The bear-cows have razed their entire planet's ecology and set up housing that's identical everywhere.
  • Cute as a Bouncing Betty: While extracting POWs from a prison camp (and covering the guards and their families in a cease fire agreement) in the fifth book, stealthed commandos are spotted approaching, carrying 'hupnums'. When Geary asks for elaboration while musing to himself that they sound like a cute fairy tale creature, Colonel Caribali clarifies it as 'Human Portable Nuclear Munitions' - and though they allegedly have timers, the Alliance had them too and no one who trained with them, including the instructors, thought the timers were real. So basically, stealthed nuclear suicide bomber commandos.
  • Dirty Business: Reading a private letter.
  • Divided We Fall: All the time.
  • Doctor's Orders: Inverted. Doctors ignore officers' orders.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!
  • Doomed Hometown
  • Duct Tape for Everything: The Universal Fixing Substance, key to finally making friends with an alien race.
  • Due to the Dead: A respectful Burial in Space. Even when they've got so many enemy corpses that they practically have to shovel them out an open lock, the Alliance forces under Geary take the time to recite the standard burial service over each group of bodies before launching them. The ugly spider-wolves start looking very good to humans when it's revealed they've been keeping the body of a long-dead astronaut in a crystal coffin until they could return him, not just to humanity, but to what appears to be his hometown.
  • Dying Planet: When the hypernet was set up, it left a number of systems out because the only reason to go there had been as a waypoint to somewhere else via the jump points, and hypernet bypasses this. Some of these systems, where there weren't enough resources for survival without trade, have become Ghost Planets; the Fleet rescues the last 500-some humans from a Syndic world where their employers had left them (and their families) to die forty years before.
  • Enemy Within: In a way. Around book three, Geary's thoughts are starting to tell him to do things he wouldn't otherwise, since he could get away with it. He and Madame Co-President Rione call those thoughts 'Black Jack' Geary.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: In the Lost Stars follow-on, Iceni and Drakon aren't precisely evil -- they're trying to be a bit more enlightened -- but their Syndic CEO training cripples their ability to understand why John Geary put an end to murdering prisoners and indiscriminately bombarding planets. There must be a pragmatic, cold-blooded reason for his actions, they're sure of it.
    • When it's pointed out that Geary was a fleet admiral in Victorious but a regular admiral later in Dreadnaught, Drakon is astonished. "Who could have busted Black Jack down a rank? He owns the Alliance." Drakon then theorizes that Geary is trying to look weakened so others will underestimate him and do something he can use as an excuse to crush them, "to be scooped up into his personal empire." Compared to what we know Geary's actually thinking, it's hilarious.
  • Evil Knockoff: The Syndicates attempt to duplicate Geary's improvised ship minefield, unsuccessfully.
  • Fake Defector: Mentioned posthumously. The guy that gave the Alliance the Syndic hypernet key so they could fall right into a trap; he was killed as soon as the Alliance commander realized it was a trap. Although it's suggested that the defector might have been tricked, not treacherous.
  • Fearless Fool: Geary discusses with his niece.
  • Field Promotion: Frequently, with all the deaths or arrests happening.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: The captain of the Diamond after they stood against the hyperspace gate.
  • Fish Out of Temporal Water: Geary. By most of a century.
  • Fixed Forward-Facing Weapon: Some capital ships have a weapon called a "null field" that is projected from the front of the ship. Unlike most of this type of weapon, it's short range (for a space weapon), but tends to be an One-Hit Kill as it just disintegrates a large chunk out of whatever ship it hits and breaks down most shields.
  • Flaunting Your Fleets: When Geary encounters the spider-wolves' beautiful fleet formation, he orders his fleet to assume a ceremonial formation to better present themselves.
  • Forever War: The war in The Lost Fleet has been going on for over a hundred years between the evenly matched Alliance and Syndicate Worlds. For the Alliance it's a simple matter of "They attacked us first!" For the Syndics, well... it seems likely they were hoping to wipe out the Alliance with the help of the alien Enigma Race - but for one reason or another, they ended up attacking alone without striking a decisive blow against the Alliance, resulting in the ongoing war. Not that they'll ever admit that.
  • General Ripper: Pretty much every Alliance officer.
  • Genre Shift: In a manner of speaking, and much smaller than usual. The series starts out as fleet battle focused series on a long spanning human war, then slowly shifts to the consequences of first contact with aliens and how to deal with their technology and ideologies.
  • Give Me a Sign: Iceni is wondering if she's going to have to bombard some ISS installations -- killing lots of nearby civilians in the process. Recalling the rumors that the living stars guided Black Jack, she thinks, If really you're out there somewhere, tell me. A few seconds later, the indicators change color, showing that her ally Drakon has managed to take over those installations ... and Iceni wonders, Was I answered? She tells herself it was probably just coincidence, but the timing still shakes her a bit.
  • Glory Hound: Captain Falco makes himself out to be the hero of the Alliance even though his victories are all but indistinguishable from his defeats.
  • Go Mad From the Isolation: Several of the rescued prisoners show a touch of this.
  • Good Is Old-Fashioned: Geary's old-fashioned principles and phrasings get more respect than usual in this trope.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: In-universe example: While eating ration bars, Geary notes that one brand was used as far back as his original tour of duty. He relates a joke from back then about its tastelessness, stating that they made the bars to trade with the Syndics, but didn't for fear that they would start a war. Geary at least manages to cut it off before getting to the punchline once he realizes that present circumstances make it a little less funny. But it's still probably funny to the reader.
  • Her Heart Will Go On: Discussed
  • Heroic BSOD: Not who you think. Captain Falco has one resulting from the first time he's in battle after spending twenty years in a Syndic labor camp. He got forty ships to mutiny with him, and then his incompetence got most of them destroyed. Afterward, he's completely separated from reality and giving meaningless orders like Hitler did in the final days of World War II.
    • Captain Geary initially has this when he's pulled out of his escape pod 100 years after he was thought to have died, and realizes everyone he's ever known and loved is long dead.
  • Honor Before Reason: A literal code of Death Before Dishonour is promoted by the Alliance to encourage its progressively greener conscripts to fight on through the stalemate. At the rate both sides are chewing through new recruits, this is probably the best conditioning they can give the fresh meat in preparation for combat. Geary has a very low opinion of this. Geary has to deal not only with the Syndics, aliens, and traitors, but also the very ingrained belief his subordinates have in this. It very painfully costs some people their lives.

  Falco: "The morale is to the material as three is to one."

  • Hold Your Hippogriffs: There are a number of phrases used invoking Geary's name, usually in a similar context to phrases like "God himself could not..." or "Only God could...." Needless to say, Geary hates everyone of them. They'll probably amuse the reader though.

 Captain Michael Geary: "I will obey your orders as if they came from Black Jack Geary."

Captain John Geary: "Please tell me they don't say that!" They do.

  • Hollywood Tactics: The Alliance subscribe to this battle style right up to the beginning of the series. Averted by Captain Geary, which is the only reason everyone isn't dead. When Geary reports to the Senate, an admiral has the gall to claim that Geary must be lying about his victories, because:

 "Our ancestors knew the secret of winning, all-out attack, with every captain competing to see who could display the most valor and strike the enemy first and hardest. These victories we're being told about violate those principles! They cannot be true, not if we honor our ancestors."

Geary stared at Otropa in disbelief....

  • Home, Sweet Home: Admiral Lagemann
  • Human Popsicle: What Captain Geary is before he is found by the alliance fleet.
  • Humans Are White: Averted, or rather dodged, in that skin color, and for that matter hair and eye color, are never even mentioned, for anyone.
    • Used on the book covers, which always portray Geary as white and usually blond. Granted his name does suggest British descent making him guess what color.
    • Dreadnaught finally specified someone's hair color: green (due to genetic engineering). She's from the colony world Éire, which is why they engineered for green hair, so she's probably white.
  • Hyperspace Lanes: In effect, although more effective Portal Network is set up in important systems and the FTL pathways are almost forgotten about until the events of the series.
  • I Gave My Word: Geary. To the point where even near the end, the Syndics would only trust his word, and his alone.
  • I'm Not a Hero, I'm X: Geary outright says he's not a hero, and he's tired of everyone treating him like one. But he's not just the Humble Hero, he genuinely dislikes the unwavering trust everyone puts into him, especially Desjani, because he can't live up to the impossible standard of his legend. Although, as Rione points out, he comes about as close as mortal flesh possibly could.
  • In Its Hour of Need: CEO Iceni, the Syndic leader of Midway, stays behind and coordinates an evacuation in the face of alien invasion and possible extermination of human life on the planet rather than taking the first ship off as is usually expected. Geary is still suspicious of her since she IS a CEO, but is willing to give her the benefit of the doubt due to this. She's one of the two main characters of a spinoff series.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: The Syndics make use of this, but both sides are notorious for fighting until the very end, even if doing so is totally futile. It doesn't help that both sides have been executing prisoners.
    • This gets to the point where Geary and the fleet won't believe them any more. Only once they've picked up your life pod after blowing your ship from underneath you and you're in an interrogation chamber will they believe you.
      • And then only because they have machines and technicians who can tell if the Syndic is lying or not.
  • Indestructible Edible: The ration bars the fleet's crews have to force down. Someone who's taste-tested some captured enemy rations says the only good quality they have is that they make the worst Alliance ration bars, the ghastly Danaka Yoruks, seem tasty by comparison.

 "If I have to face death today, why does my possibly last meal have to be a Danaka Yoruk bar?" Geary complained. He ripped the seal, then bit off a chunk and tried to swallow without actually tasting the bar.

  • Insignificant Little Blue Planet: Earth is briefly mentioned as a hallowed ground of sorts (worthy of inclusion in the Portal Network, at least), but matters little to the workings of the universe at large. Well, except that if someone were implicated as destroying it, it'd rouse the Alliance populace to genocidal anger against the killers. Very hallowed ground.
    • The "hallowed" part makes perfect sense in the books, since humans follow a form of ancestor worship. It's hard to get more ancestral than Earth.
    • Geary (and Dauntless) actually visit Earth at the end of Guardian. It's a very battered old world; large parts are desert, and there's mention in the next book of an "ice century" a while back after something went wrong with the Gulf Stream.
  • Interservice Rivalry: Some navy vs. marines.
  • Iron Lady: Rione. Full stop.
  • It Got Worse: The fight at Lakota, as mentioned under Oh Crap.
    • The course of the series too, though it is also punctuated be some things getting better. Geary is stuck deep in enemy territory, but he is slowly fighting his way back. Then, they discover an alien race on the other edge of Syndic space that seems all too willing to wipe humanity out. Geary eventually manages to bring the fleet home and they find a way to counter every advantage the Enigma race has. Then, Dreadnaught ends with Geary once again trapped deep behind enemy lines, and facing a new race of aliens that seem even less willing to communicate and their advantages much less easily subverted.
    • It's little wonder Geary doesn't believe the living stars have sent him to save everyone.
  • It Has Been an Honor: Just about everyone gets to say this at some point. Mostly said to or by Geary. Since nobody knows how many of them, if any, will live to the end.
  • I Was Just Passing Through: Inverted. Geary, the Hero, saves Syndic civilians who were abandoned by their leaders.
  • Kicked Upstairs: Captain Gundel, commander of the auxiliaries, gets this after being too busy to even know the needs of his own ship, not to mention the rest of the ships in the division he's commanding.
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: Played straight with the use of Grapeshot, tiny metal ball bearings fired from railguns which do huge damage in relativistic-speed combat and 'Rocks', huge multi-ton metal slugs fired at high speed to cheaply demolish ground emplacements. Averted with the heavy use of Hell-Lance batteries, essentially charged-particle cannons, alongside grapeshot in fleet combat.
  • King in the Mountain: Geary's reputation
  • Knight Templar: Captain 'Fighting' Falco. Geary and Captain Duellos both agree this is why he is such a charismatic and dangerous man. Because he honestly believes what he says.
  • Last Stand: The bear-cows aboard a crippled Super Battleship and abandoned by their leadership fight to the last being against the marines that board it.
  • The Leader: Geary. To an extent that surprises his subordinates.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: Several of the Alliance officers are this to Geary's plans. Especially Captain Falco. Their fates are rather predictable.
  • Like a God to Me: Geary himself never gets close to A God Am I, but plenty of others are willing to pick up the slack ... though, it should be said, not without a bit of a point:

  Admiral Timbale: "At that point? The fleet believed lost, the Syndics running amuck in this star system, our few defenders barely hanging on, then the fleet appears and swoops down like angels of vengeance on the Syndics, and transmissions tell us that Black Jack is back, that he's saved the fleet, and now he's saving us." Timbale laughed softly. "At that moment, Black Jack was a god."

    • Captain Desjani, after marrying him, grew a bit more critical and skeptical, but then in Invincible she backslides ... somewhat understandably: he'd appointed the rather plodding Captain Armus to command a subgroup of the fleet. Desjani expressed puzzlement at this, and then a situation arose to which Armus' approach was exactly what was needed. Her expression is "astonishment mixed with awe" and she makes "a religious gesture of thanks" when she thinks Geary knew in advance Armus was the right captain for that occasion.
  • Living Legend: Geary. So much in fact that certain people in the Alliance want to remove him because of the power he holds with the military and public. They are scared of what he could do.
  • Love Triangle: Geary, Rione, and Desjani. At least until they find out Rione's husband might not be dead.
    • A very atypical one too. It appears similar to a 1, 3, or 7, except that Geary and Rione end up in a Friends with Benefits situation, except with a more general respect and a slight touch of something stronger. In the end, it almost neatly solves itself, as Rione decides to end it once Geary/Desjani's mutual attraction becomes more apparent. It's not that she cares that much for Geary, she's just no one's second choice (also, that thing with her husband). The triangle essentially ends, but, almost to the point of comedy, Desjani and Rione still snipe at each other as if it were still going strong.
    • Almost comes back to bite them in Dreadnaught, with Rione's husband being found with the VIP POW's
  • Malicious Slander: That Geary exploded the hyperspace gate himself.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • In retrospect, is it any surprise that Captain Kila turned out to be a murderer?
    • A scientist specializing in until-now-theoretical intelligent nonhumans is Dr. Setin.
    • The Lost Stars spinoff features General Artur Drakon working with CEO-turned-"President" Gwen Iceni; their subordinates include a "wizard" named Malin and a "witch" named Morgan.
    • It might be a cool coincidence rather than a deliberate cross-language play on words, but "Geary" is a remarkably appropriate name for someone with such a strong sense of duty and honor.
  • Mega Corp: The Syndicate Worlds are seemingly comprised of several Mega Corps. Officers in the fleet are even referred to as CEOs.
  • The Men First
  • Metaphorgotten: A cultural example in-universe, as in the intervening time between Geary's hibernation and the present timeline of the story the phrases "The witch is dead" and "the fat lady sings" have been conflated into "the witch sings." Slightly less Egregious than most, as both are used to mean something is over.
  • Mildly Military: Until Geary came back, the Fleet had stopped the tradition of saluting (except the Marines). Also until Geary, admirals didn't give out battle orders, they made suggestions on what to do next and all the captains of the fleet voted on it. And gaining high rank in the fleets was often more due to one's skill as a politician than as a leader.
  • Military Maverick: Inverted. Captain Geary is thought of as crazy because he uses reasonable and not particularly noteworthy tactics. This baffles his officers, who fervently believe charging in guns blazing straight at the enemy is the only honourable and sensible way to fight in fleet combat.
    • Ironically, this Honor Before Reason mindset was inspired by the cult of personality built up around Geary's very own Last Stand at the start of the war.
  • Napoleon Delusion: Mention is made of a medical condition called a Geary Complex where an officer believes that they are the only one who can save the Alliance, sometimes believing themselves to be the reincarnation of Captain Geary. At least one medical officer seems to believe the real Captain Geary is suffering from a Geary Complex.
  • Never Speak Ill of the Dead: Played straight and Averted. Geary never speaks ill of the dead, even when frustrated with commanders who got their crews killed due in part to the mindset of the fleet commanders and his training to praise in public and admonish in private. Rione has no such compunction.
    • Geary also tries to give Captain Falco credit for the possibility he may have acted bravely and usefully in the last minutes before the ship he was on blew up.
  • Noodle Incident: "Black Jack" Geary refuses to explain how he got his nickname.
    • A particularly dark version is referenced, an incident a long time ago prompted the Alliance to devise the most dishonorable death that they could humanly imagine. And some felt that it still wasn't bad enough punishment.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: Subverted right in the beginning. Captain Geary tries to make good on this only to realize that several of his ships are clearly not going to make the escape from the enemy until another ship (commanded by his grandnephew!) performs a Heroic Sacrifice.
    • In Invincible they are scrupulous about it.
  • Obligatory War Crime Scene: It's about to happen, and then Geary interrupts it when he flies into an angry lecture admonishing his sailors for such extremely deplorable methods. It's almost a figurative slap to the face toward everyone who'd been turning a blind eye to it all.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Geary and Desjani fit this to a T. Painfully so, after they clearly communicate in unspoken language their mutual romantic attraction. But do not act on it, or even acknowledge it in words, because it would be inappropriate.
  • Oh Crap: At the end of the third book, the Alliance fleet is about to leave Lakota for the first time. While they were there, the aliens diverted to Lakota about half of a Syndic main force who'd been going somewhere else. As they're leaving, who else should show up but the other half of the Syndic fleet, following them from Ixion.
    • Basically, anything involving exploding hypernet gates or alien ships is a very, very big Oh Crap moment.
    • Right at the end of Dreadnaught, the fleet jumps into what they suspect might be the border of yet another alien race. They are not disappointed as the system has a planetoid sized fortress at each jump point, capable of firing 900 ship sized missiles at once, and the largest ships yet seen. Quite the change from the much more reserved Enigma race, whose one claim to awe-inspiring technology was the Hypernet Gates.
  • Old Flame Fizzle: A problem when reuniting with prisoners of war.
  • Overclocking Attack: Attempting to destroy the hypernet gates results in an explosion somewhere between a nuclear bomb and a supernova (depending on how they are destroyed). From all appearances, the gates were designed to work this way, but humanity never noticed.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Averted, with a twist. There's no mention made of any of our present religions, but both Alliance and Syndics believe in a divine power referred to as "the living stars." The Alliance, at least, also devotes one of the most protected areas of each ship to a chapel, of sorts, where people come to commune with the spirits of their ancestors. The relation between the living stars and the ancestors is never really spelled out, but people speak of either group, more or less interchangeably, having sent Geary to save the Fleet and get it back on the right moral track.
    • Then later subverted when Geary hears of a new myth that appeared in the last 100 years: if you pass through a black hole system, it makes you want to fly the ship into the black hole. Geary is left wondering where the hell that came from, because it used to be standard procedure to use those systems for travel.
      • Probably has something to do with how since the hypernet went up, there'd be no reason at all to go to such a system, unless you were suicidal.
    • A few lines in the first Lost Stars book indicate the Syndic government tried to discourage belief in the living stars and the ancestral spirits. The narrative suggests half-seriously that one character survived an assassination attempt because he'd never given up revering his ancestors ... and they looked after him in return.
  • Point Defenseless: Averted completely. The weapons all capital ships carry are just as effective against small targets as large ones, and one-man craft have neither the weapons nor the shielding to be able to win against larger vessels. They aren't any faster or maneuverable either, thanks to the vacuum of space.
  • Portal Network: The hypernet gates.
    • Also, the jump points in each system which allow for FTL travel between nearby systems.
  • Prophecies Are Always Right: It is believed that the ancestors of the Alliance would send Black Jack Geary to save the Alliance when he was needed most. Though, technically it was more like, the Alliance found Black Jack Geary when they would need him most.
  • Rank Up: In Relentless, after the fleet gets back to the Alliance, the senate council promotes Geary past every rank directly to Fleet Admiral, which hasn't been issued in centuries, to his extreme discomfort.
  • Redemption Equals Death: After the anti-Geary conspiracy comes to suspect she's no longer loyal to it, the conspirators kill Captain Gaes -- and her entire crew. But not before she manages to out the killer to Geary.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Captain Geary's subplot primarily involves him being this and resisting becoming a dictator.
    • It's also one of the few blessings he gets over the course of the series. Not all the ship captains are as gung-ho as others. Even some members of the Senate's Grand Council, for all the accusations of corruption the fleet directs at the civilian government, are reasonable, and cement this fact by refusing to use the Hypergates as doomsday weapons.
  • Red Baron: 'Black Jack' Geary. Many of the Syndics and some of the Alliance officers are practically terrified of him. More than one refuses to believe he is who he says he is. Interestingly flip flopped, since Geary is not the heroic 'Black Jack' persona the Alliance crafted of him; however, he spends much of the book fighting his own temptations to use that image to become a despot.
  • Resigned to the Call: Eventually Geary realizes that, even if he gets the fleet home, he can't resign his commission. The Alliance needs him.
  • Revenge: Geary contemplates this on aliens.
  • Running Gag:
    • The Fast fleet auxiliary ships. Which move with all the speed of a beached whale and even slower when they're loaded with cargo. The implication seems to be that they're fast compared to their predecessors. Which is like saying a snail is fast compared to a two-toed sloth.
    • Anytime there's a reference to something from our time, usually a phrase (such as "persian donkeys"), the characters have absolutely no idea where it originated from.
  • Schrodingers Cat: One admiral is embarrassed to say he did not know which side he would take if Admiral Bloch attempted to seize power if he succeeded in ending the war when he first left to attack the Synic Homeworld.
    • Called back later: "You know, Admiral, we talked once about the cat in the box, about not knowing whether you'd do the right thing, no matter what, when the time came. I'm happy to inform you that the cat is alive."
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Dear living stars, averted. The fleet jumps into a system, and its sensors show where all enemy ships in the system are -- or rather, where they were when the light the fleet is seeing left them. The enemy won't see the fleet for another however many hours -- days, in some cases. And if the enemy force is large, they know there'll be a fierce battle ... in another day or three. At one point, Geary thinks about how bizarre it seems that he's leaving the bridge for about six hours to get some food and sleep while they're technically in the middle of a battle -- but right then, there's literally nothing useful he can do except make sure he's well-rested when it's time for quick decisions.
    • Played straight considering the length of time both sides have been fighting. The idea that two enemies could sustain a war to a stalemate for almost 100 years is very far fetched, considering how much a war time economy drains a nation's resources, in terms of financial capital, equipment, metallurgy, and especially manpower.
    • At least by the end of the sixth book, the Syndic Systems are falling apart, with similar circumstances being all too possible for the Alliance (had Geary's victories not bolstered morale). The newest ships in Geary's fleet, the Adroit class, are also appallingly under-designed, having cut back on basically everything and with corners cut everywhere they could, including sensors so bad they need to mooch off of other ships' to function. It is all too clear that the war was very nearly over, one way or another, before Geary got into the picture.
  • Secret Test of Character: Double Subverted when the Alliance fleet comes across a small colony of abandoned Syndics (Dying Planet, above) who will soon die if they don't intervene. Geary decides to save them because he thinks it's a test provided by their ancestors. There's no real test to speak of, but he still believes they need to pass it. Later it turns out the governor of a Syndic world had family in that abandoned colony. As thanks for Geary saving them, she provides him with the location of supplies the fleet greatly needs.
  • Shrouded in Myth: Captain John 'Black Jack' Geary after he is used as the shining example of a sailor by the alliance. 'Black Jack' because his 'official' biographies claim, among other things, that his performance reports were always in the black - that is to say, meeting or exceeding expectations. Geary denies that this was true, and evidently always disliked the nickname.
  • Sink the Life Boats: A habit on both sides. Geary is not pleased when he finds out.
    • The enigma race sink their entire ships, crew and all, if they can't escape, to prevent anything from being learned about them.
  • Shout-Out: A one-line mention in Victorious that Captain Parr commands the ship Incredible. He later speaks up more often as the series goes on.
    • Dreadnaught has a wave to Orlando Furioso with Alliance Captain Bradamont who's fallen in love with a Syndic officer named Rogero.
    • If a spaceship had plants on board, one was usually called Audrey. The reason for that, if there was a reason, was "lost in the mists of the past."
    • Okay, so the Kicks are a species that look like adorable teddy bears, build HUGE warships, and want to wipe out all other intelligent life. That seems oddly familiar. It gets better in Guardian, when the Alliance personnel aboard a captured Kick super-battleship report that there's a very spooky feeling about it, as if it were haunted. And there was mention, earlier, of the problem of getting rid of thousands of Kick corpses in a hurry, though the humans resolved that rather more respectfully....
  • Space Is an Ocean: Averted. Space battles and maneuvers always take full advantage of three-dimensional space. The fact that direction is based entirely on point of view in space is addressed more than once. One minor exception to this aversion would be when Geary notes that evading ships will always travel "up" relative to the plane of the system, when "down" makes just as much sense.
  • So Proud of You: Geary's reaction to the fleet in Dreadnaught.
  • Squick: An in-universe example. It's never stated what, and not even a clue is given to the exact genre of squick (ie. sexual or not), but there are underground networks in the fleet used to share videos of ... something ... that makes battle-hardened veterans become very queasy. The officer who reveals that this network was used to transmit a viral worm is very nervous about coming forward.
    • Extends somewhat into There Should Be a Law, except that it's mentioned it's technically not illegal, as it's all computer-generated. If actual humans were used, "the producers would find themselves facing eternity in prison."
  • Standard Sci-Fi Fleet: Of course, but nothing smaller than a destroyer is fit for relativistic combat due to mass-thrust ratios. Fast Attack Craft do exist in small numbers but they're short-range, weak and easily destroyed.
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: In a conversation with Geary, Duellos talks about his visit home after the war ended and how completely everyone's mindset had changed, leaving him feeling obsolete.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Captain Bradament and CEO Rogero.
  • Starfish Aliens:
    • Those who know about the enigma aliens spend most of their time trying to figure out how they might look or think, and come to very few real conclusions, fitting their name. The aliens are later proven to be amphibian physically, though their exact mentality is still subject to debate, aside from extreme paranoia.
    • Geary encounters two new alien species: one that looks like teddy bears, the other like an unholy cross between spiders and wolves. Ironically, the spider-wolves are the only ones humans can relate to, and who actually communicate instead of trying to kill the fleet.
  • Stealth in Space: Considered and averted in the case of the enigmas. The fleet tries to figure out how the aliens hide their ships, then eventually realizes that the enigmas are just hacking the computers that control human sensors, so the systems report only what the aliens want them to.
  • Taking You with Me: Two sets of aliens go in for suicide attacks.
  • The Empire: Although they fill this role, the Syndicate Worlds are themselves a huge union of various interstellar mega-corps.
  • The Neidermeyer: Captain Numos in Spades.
  • Theme Naming: In-universe, the bureaucratic workers of the Alliance appear to have a sense of humor, though perhaps a particularly bland one, when it is revealed it is common practice for them to assign Admirals with similar last names, at least with the same first letter, to a system. Perhaps for ease of filing.
    • The star systems of the Enigma that the fleet passes through are all named after some unpleasant version of the afterlife.
  • There Are No Coincidences
  • Thicker Than Water
  • Title Drop: The series name is only mentioned once in the main set of six books, right after Geary manages his closest victory yet, almost totally out of power, and brings the fleet back to Alliance space:

The war wasn't over, but the Lost Fleet was home.

    • Each book is named for a ship that's mentioned at least once during its respective book and usually has a key part in the story.
  • Torture Always Works: Sharply averted; the Intelligence officer says they never use torture because it's unreliable. In fact, he distinguishes between "beating them up" and "outright torture," saying that the former isn't quite as unreliable as the latter, but they still never use either. Considering that until Geary came back, the Fleet had gotten into the habit of murdering prisoners, this wasn't a decision based on moral concerns.
  • Trapped Behind Enemy Lines: The entire premise of the beginning of the series. Almost the whole Alliance fleet gets ambushed in their attack on the enemy homeworld. In fact, the Syndics believe they have the Alliance fleet SO badly trapped they neglected to defend the system jump point, because everyone has almost stopped using them altogether after they became obsolete.
  • 2-D Space: Heavily averted. The formations and tactics used by Geary are not simply 3 dimensional, but 4 dimensional. Time plays an incredibly decisive factor in winning a battle, especially since everything the commander sees is happening hours after it happened. At one point, Geary is simply unable to micromanage every part of his fleet in the middle of battle trying to account for it all.
    • Invoked in Dreadnaught, where it is used to interpret new regions in a simpler fashion and figure out that the Enigma Race has political borders within its own territory, indicating that the species is subdivided into factions.
  • Uncanny Valley: When the Enigma Race communicates, they use a computer-generated human avatar. They seem realistic enough until they start talking, and then the combination of tone, expressions, gestures, and syntax becomes extremely off-putting and obviously unnatural.
  • Unequal Pairing: Geary and Desjani. They're pretty much the only people in the entire fleet who realize why they can't be in a relationship. Everyone else, even those who know they're not in a relationship, are either all for it, or joke about it approvingly, much to their equal dismay.
  • Unfriendly Fire: Captain Kila attempts to kill Geary three times before she is discovered.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Kila who, despite having been saved by Geary's leadership, kills fellow Alliance sailors just to oust Geary ... because he doesn't fight the all-out, Guilt-Free Extermination War way she wants him to.
  • Unwanted False Faith: In the years after his supposed death, Geary's legend developed into a sort of cult-like following, where military commanders admonish each other for what they think Geary would supposedly say about their ideas. It's quite clear that Geary feels extremely uncomfortable with the ardent faith his subordinates have in his flawlessness. It doesn't help that even people like Desjani think he's been sent by the living stars themselves to deliver them unto victory.
    • This also complicates the nature of his command, since his captains have all adhered to the cult surrounding his legend, and have mostly exaggerated or distorted views on what they thought Geary believed and practiced. It becomes hilarious when he catches one belligerent captain about to invoke his name ... against him. Because he isn't the legend they've all been led to believe, Geary constantly battles their doubts, including suggestions that extended hypersleep made him feeble.
  • The Uriah Gambit: Minus the Murder the Hypotenuse undertones though. It becomes increasingly clear throughout Dreadnaught that the First Fleet has been sent out to die by the Alliance government to remove the troublesome situation Geary's mere existence causes (as well as that of the VIP POWs they were ordered to pick up on the way out).
  • UST: Which is less romantic than those people not involved seem to find it.
    • In The Lost Stars, Iceni and Drakon are developing a bit of this by the end of the first book; appropriate, as their given names are Gwen and Artur (see Meaningful Name, above). But neither is quite ready to trust the other. Iceni's moment of realizing she feels an attraction to him is fairly funny:

Keep telling yourself that, Gwen. You can't drop your defenses with him. If he ever got you in bed ... oh.

Wow.

I wish I hadn't thought about that.

  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The premise of the first book series is modeled on the march of the Ten Thousand.
  • Readers Are Geniuses: The descriptions of the battles. Very complex 3D tactics are involved.
  • Warts and All: Geary. The way each character reacts to the "real" Geary speaks volumes as to their own character, with some even preferring his real self to the myth.
  • We Can Rule Together: A rather bizarre, sort-of version done by Geary. He's trying to convince a young CEO (or at least an officer) that both the Alliance and Syndics need to achieve some sort-of peace, and that it's for the greater good that he reveal any information on the aliens. Rione snaps at Geary that this guy is a CEO, and to appeal to his greed for power. Geary suggests that, of course, when the time comes for talks, Geary will need someone he's familiar with to facilitate an agreement. The man instantly perks up.
  • We Have Reserves: Both sides. There are far too few combat veterans in the officer corps because the attrition rate is so high. By the time of Dauntless, the turnover rate of the officer corps is so high both sides are reduced to Death Before Dishonour tactics to keep fighting.
  • What Did You Expect When You Named It?: Geary discusses the naming of the battlecruiser 'Invincible' with one of his subordinates, who observes that ships named 'Invincible' (high turnover rates mean the Alliance military gets by using the same set of a few hundred ship names for all the new ships produced) tend to have an even shorter combat life than most. Sure enough, the new 'Invincible' turns out to be a bullet magnet, but subverts the trope in that it narrowly escapes destruction as the most damaged (surviving) ship in the entire fleet.
    • The previous Invincible barely survived the Mutiny with Captain Falco, and they wound up scuttling it anyway since it was too battle-damaged to save. Geary and the rest of the cast were amazed that it could even move let alone have enough of the hull intact to keep the survivors alive.
    • It should be noted that it is in the fleet where 3-years-old ship is considered exceptionally old.
    • The ship Arrogant becomes the first to disobey a direct order.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Averted with the fate of Captain Grundel, a lazy and obstructive officer Geary had 'transferred' to conduct a worthless study in the first book. He isn't mentioned again until the last book, where the fleet leaves him behind in Alliance space (and he's still working on a study of the supplies the fleet will need to get back to Alliance space).
  • What Measure Is a Non-Cute?: The spider wolves.
  • With Due Respect: Used, discussed, and lampshaded at various points.
  • Would Not Shoot a Civilian: Geary is shocked the Alliance kills POWs and Syndic civilians en masse.
  • Writers Suck: Captain Desjani mentions in casual conversation she considered becoming a literary agent rather than joining the fleet, but "taking that job would have meant I had to work with writers, and you know what they're like."
  • You Are in Command Now: Geary, obviously, but also Colonel Carabali when the marine general is murdered with the rest of the high command and numerous junior officers after Geary fires their superiors for treason, incompetence, or cowardice.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Geary
  • You Shall Not Pass: Geary pulls one a hundred years before the story begins at the first battle of the Forever War. This leads to the Alliance making him into a demigod-like war hero to rally around. The problem was that he was in survival sleep in an escape pod with a damaged beacon.
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