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Literature: The Lost Fleet
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 and replace traditional officer training with a twisted code of honor that demands attacking the enemy head on. 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.

Two follow on series continue the store of Captain Geary and the leaders of a particular planet. The first, Beyond the Frontier, follows now Admiral Geary as the fleet investigates the aliens and continues to fight internal forces that threaten it and the Alliance. The second deals with the break-up of the Syndicate Worlds from the perspective of Syndic CEOs Iceni and Drakon, the leaders of Midway as they fight to maintain order (and power) on their planet and nearby worlds.

The completed series is composed of six books:
  • Dauntless
  • Fearless
  • Courageous
  • Valiant
  • Relentless
  • Victorious

The direct sequel series, Beyond the Frontier:
  • Dreadnaught
  • Invincible
  • Guardian
  • Steadfast

For the sidequel series, see The Lost Stars:

This series provides examples of:

  • Absolute Xenophobe: The bear-cows take this to the limit, as they're so totally convinced that every other sentient life-form is a voracious predator that they'd rather commit suicide than be forced to speak to aliens, they've wiped out all life on their own homeworld that wasn't absolutely necessary to their own survival, and plotless simulations of bear-cow armies wiping out alien forces are literally their only known form of entertainment.
  • 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 comments that there are fates too horrible even for lawyers, and explains that his brother is a lawyer. Captain Duellos offers condolences.
    • The Syndics get splashback from this because of the suits they wear one, mingled with Corrupt Corporate Executive.
    • In Victorious, Tulev is reading the Enigma Aliens' ultimatum to the Syndics and notes that it's full of human legalese. Desjani suggests that they may have captured some Syndic lawyers. Duellos's answer? Maybe this is why they want to destroy humans.
  • 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.
  • The Ace: Played with but ultimately used straight with Geary. He doesn't feel like this trope is in effect and that he is only human and flawed. However as everyone keeps reminding him he's pretty much pulled off the impossible several times. Senator Navarro summing up the first five books:
    " All right Captain Geary. You saved the Alliance fleet and the Alliance itself, you practically wiped out the Syndic fleet and established conditions favorable for forcing an end to the war, you've both discovered and neutralized a threat to all humanity, and you've established the real likelihood that a nonhuman intelligent species exists. Is there anything else?"
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Invoked as the reason why neither side will use artificial intelligence to pilot their ships. Not that it's happened yet but they are so scared of it happening.
    • In Steadfast, this comes to the foreground of the series:
    • The book begins with Geary visiting Stonehenge but being more struck by a large ground combat vehicle rusting near it. A guide explains that it was a tank, one of several that were AI controlled and hacked by people who wanted to destroy Stonehenge. Only with significant bravery and loss of life were they stopped.
    • At the end of the book, they realize that a mysterious new 'dark fleet' that just indiscriminately attacked a Syndic and a neutral system and destroyed Alliance shipping has no organics in the debris of destroyed ships, strongly indicating they had no crew.
  • The Alliance: A huge conglomeration of systems actually called the Alliance, and at least two other nations, the Rift Federation and the Callas Republic.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: One of Gearys 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, nevermind the continued monitoring both are subject to. They express as much in communications between each other that Geary has to read or watch (with their knowledge). Rione manages to craft a solution eventually.
  • Anxiety Dreams: Mixed with Bad Dreams.
  • Answers to the Name of God: Black Jack Geary has become something of a demigod to the Alliance. So instead of "If God was my commander" it's "If Black Jack was my commander". Early on someone tries to argue against Geary by using "If Black Jack was here I'm sure he would agree..." He stops once he realizes he's making that argument against the actual Black Jack.
  • Apocalypse How: It is implied that before the event of the book, both sides regularly inflicted varying degrees of widespread planetary destruction. The worst incident is referenced in regard's 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.
    • The fleet nearly gets caught in a trap designed to kill or cripple any ships at a specific point above a planet, which the fleet occupies to pick up POWs. If initiated, it would have cracked the planet, eventually leading to the deaths of most of its inhabitants. Luckily, they manage to stall enough to be able to disable it.
  • Arbitrary Maximum Range: Averted. It's specifically stated that the weapons have a maximum effective range, where any further basically means its too hard to hit a target and therefor worse than useless to shoot at all.
  • 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. Now it's morphed conceptually, somewhat cut off from a shifting society some members of whom would be glad if the fleet disappeared.
  • Artistic License - Military: The Alliance seems to lack any flag ranks besides Admiral, as no one is mentioned to ever have ranks equivalent to O-7 through 0-9 (Commodore, Rear Admiral, Vice Admiral). Which is more than once a plot point, as whenever the fleet has lacked or worried about lacking an Admiral, command always falls to the most senior captain. Which is odd considering that the author is a former sailor of the United States Navy; which would therefor indicate the author is doing so on purpose, possibly because in US naval ranking, there is no rank "Commodore," but instead Rear Admiral Lower Half and Rear Admiral Upper Half, with all 4 ranks O-7 to O-10 simply referred to as "Admiral" in most contexts
    • With the heavy causalities suffered in the war and fast promotions it is possible that all Flag ranks where combined into one rank so that SOMEONE would live long enough to be a Admiral.
    • Turns Up to Eleven, when Geary is promoted from Captain all the way to Fleet Admiral. Even Geary is shocked at this sudden jump, especially since this rank has never been held by anyone in the history of The Alliance. He agrees to accept it with the provision that he will be allowed to be demoted back to Captain after the end of the mission.
    • Also, any commanding officer rescued from the Syndics immediately demands to be given command of a suitable warship based on their seniority. Geary isn't about to remove a capable officer from command just so somebody who was stuck in a labor camp for a decade can play hero.
  • Artistic License - Economics: The idea of a government being able to sustain a true 'Total War' economy with anything short of a Soviet-style economic system is dubious at best, and such a focus on military-spending would have to come at the expense of Bread and Circuses for the population. For Free-Market countries, Total Wars rely on significant borrowing from banks and/or selling bonds in order to effectively use the combined savings of their people to pay for the ongoing costs of the war; while there's initially a large lump-sum to be taxed out of one's own people (the backlog of savings from years, decades, or even centuries in the past) after a certain point you only have the money that people are saving right now to take from them. If the government spends more money than it takes it de facto creates new money, which reduces the general value of the currency since there is more of it around. But while limiting military spending to sustainable levels could limit the inflation, this could cause your forces to lose the war. If unchecked then the inflation would eventually result in the general economy of the state breaking down into regional and/or local economies as the means by which things are bought are sold (the currency) becomes worthless and people resort to unofficial ad hoc measures. While you could replace the currency with a new one, the same thing would just happen all over again. This is exactly what happened in Russia in World War One, wherein the huge levels of internal dissent resulting from the Total War Economy caused a military coup and then a Civil War. Later in the same war Germany and Austria-Hungary also imploded in the same manner, and Germany and Japan were on the cusp of doing likewise at the end of WWII as well.
    • It's even worse trying to think about logistics from the Syndicate side of things, which from the Lost Stars series highlights how incredibly inefficient their entire economy was. The Syndicate seemed to constantly be dealing with internal infighting as much as the war - everything from fellow officers killing each other to civil revolts on some worlds. Plus the amount of corruption going on from higher ups that should've detracted from their war effort. Total Wars are usually defined by which side possesses better logistics, and it seems rather clear that the Alliance should've won ages ago given how poor the Syndicate is portrayed at being able to replace their losses.
  • 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."
  • Back from the Brink: The premise of the series.
  • 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.
  • The Bait: the entire fleet in Invincible
  • Bait-and-Switch Tyrant: Some captains resent that he can't save the day without changing anything.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Inverted so hard. The Kicks look like teddy bears but will kill anything other than themselves for fear of predators. While the Dancers are incredibly ugly to humans (and vise-versa) they are rather friendly.
  • 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?"
  • BFG: Geary's fleet gets lured over a planet in a trap designs to destroy a huge amount of his ships. Buried on the planet are a series of particle cannons that are a Wave Motion Gun Beam Spam attack. When the weapon system is described to Geary, the engineer calls it 'The BFG of all BFGs.' Also, the resulting Earth-Shattering Kaboom would register a Planetary Class 5 on the Apocalypse How scale.
  • 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.
  • Bling Bling Bang / Bling of War: The Shield of Sol, a group obsessed with function over form. Their ships are extremely gaudy and covered in ornate functionless decorations, while the crew is practically plated in medals. They obviously haven't fought a real war in centuries, and are crushed by Dauntless rather easily despite their superior tonnage and numbers.
    • It's commented that they probably get medals for correctly wearing their medals.
  • 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 easily to figure out, if not to comprehend. The teddy bear-cows or 'kicks' are herbivores with a herd mentality and view anything else as a mortal threat that can't be negotiated with due to likely deception and desire to eat them, 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' and though still very odd, at least communicate with humans and don't kill them on sight and have thought patterns we can relate to. 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.
  • Brown Note: The Kick Supercarrier causes what can charitable be described as the 'heebie jeebies' in humans. Everyone goes in groups of four or more to stave off the effects. This foils a Syndic Commando team when they infiltrate it to blow it up, but due to their single and pair operation they are quickly overwhelmed by the effect.
  • Brick Joke: When they first see the Dancers and are digesting their unpleasant appearance, Charban remarks "at least they don't have tentacles." Later, it is learned that they do have tentacles, as manipulators on the ends of their claw arms.
  • The Bridge: The bridge is located deep inside the ship, although not in the most protected section. That one is reserved for ancestral worship.
  • The Brigadier: Admiral Timbale becomes this, having most of the authority on Ambaru station but not much beyond that. He tries to help Geary as much as he can despite being a pretty much Non-Action Guy authority figure.
  • Burial in Space: Launched toward the sun.
    • Also inverted as the penalty for traitors in the Navy: you get buried in jumpspace, never to come back to the stars.
      • When Geary finds this out, he is reluctant to do this, as he doesn't want to consign anyone (even a traitor) to being cut off from his or her ancestors and the living stars. However, Desjani points out that this is merely symbolic to the living, as it's absurd to think that the ancestors and the living stars wouldn't be able to find someone in jumpspace.
  • Can't Kill You, Still Need You: Subverted (but not Inverted). Senator Costa tells Geary in no uncertain terms that she has the backing of Fleet headquarters to take whatever actions are necessary to keep the Alliance together, and that they DON'T need him to do it if he opposes them.
  • The Captain: Desjani, Duellos, Tulev, Cresida, Jane Geary, and to a lesser extent, Badaya are all this. The fleet as a lot of these characters, but the main one is Desjani. Ironically, John Geary never was this, because he was 'posthumously' promoted to captain but immediately ascended to acting as Admiral.
  • 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.
    • Geary notices the Fleet Cross Ribbon on Desjani's uniform and wonders how she could've possibly earned such a highly distinguished award (which hadn't been given in decades since Geary's time). It comes up every now and again in the books, but the event is never fully explained until Guardian, in a very heartfelt scene.
  • Clueless Chick Magnet: John Geary may know all there is to know about commanding women in battle but he breaks whole new ground in cluelessness over how to read - and deal - with them romantically.
  • Colon Cancer: After the first series finishes, two sub series start. Starting with Dreadnaught: The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Most of the power structure for the Syndics are these, to the point higher officers in their fleet are various ranks of CEO.
  • 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 and she jokes that it will have a misleading cover of him doing something he never did, like making a heroic pose with a gun.
    • Averted on the British editions which actually had individual space ships hanging in space. Still a case of this, as the ships on those covers are blocky and rigid, where as the ships in the series are more smooth and sharklike.
    • The cover of Steadfast almost gets it right, since he did indeed stand in front of Stonehenge, but without the armor and gun depicted.
  • Crazy Enough to Work:
    • Geary's plan to 'charge' the missile swarm of a species just encountered (the missiles being piloted they're so massive), 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 the ecology of their entire planet and set up housing that's identical to each other.
  • 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.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Not yet, but Desjani made Geary agree that should they ever have a daughter she be named after Jaylen Cresida whom fell in the final battle getting the fleet home.
  • Deadly Dodging: Geary involves the entire fleet in this in escaping the Bear Cow home system, involving both the enemy fleet and their space station blocking the jump point out
  • Death Glare: Geary apparently possesses one capable of silencing the most fractious of his captains.
    • Tanya has developed one for Geary.
  • Despair Event Horizon: If the Europa Quarantine is broken and the plague gets lose on Old Earth, the Quarantine Fleet would need to expand their zone to the entire system, kill all life, and then hurtle themselves into the sun. Just thinking about it almost provokes this from the Commander, which prompts him to go along with Geary's plan.
  • 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: Captain Tulev's homeworld of Elyzia was bombarded until nothing was left on the surface, including his family. The only ones still on the planet are a bunch of holdouts manning the defenses in case the Syndics come back.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Desjani had a dream about Geary when he was in Survial sleep. That's why she believed that he was sent by the Living Stars long before he kept pulling off miracle after miracle.
  • Double Entendre: Desjani tells Badaya that she and Geary were quite busy doing a lot of political manuevering while on their supposed honeymoon. Badaya naturally doesn't get it.
  • Duct Tape for Everything: The Universal Fixing Substance, key to finally making friends with an alien race.
  • 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.
  • Earth That Used to Be Better: When at one point Geary visits Earth, we learn that it is an economically unimportant backwater, still divided into nation-states, and damaged by everything from climate change to overpopulation to orbital bombardment. Repairs are underway, however, and when they are initially dismayed at the cemetery-like decaying desert landscape of Kansas, it is pointed out that native plants are coming back. As far as the rest of humanity and their Ancestor worshipping religion is concerned, of course, it is the holy of holies.
  • The Empire: Although they fill this role, the Syndicate Worlds are themselves a huge union of various interstellar mega-corps.
  • 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.
  • Escape Pod: If a ship isn't immediately destroyed by enemy fire (either by core overload or complete obliteration), the crew is likely to be able to make it to escape pods fairly quickly. Interestingly, it's never brought up that it would be very difficult for another ship to get those pods, as they would still be traveling at about 10% of the speed of light when ejecting from the ship (this is the standard maneuvering speed of ships). Any ship trying to recover the pods would have to accelerate to a faster speed just to catch up, and at that point they would have trouble accurately detecting the pods due to relativistic distortions.
  • Evil Knockoff: The Syndicates attempt to duplicate Geary's improvised ship minefield, unsuccessfully
  • Face Palm: Geary does this a lot, usually when brought up against the modern fleet mindset. Most often the 'massage bridge of nose' version but rarely the full on 'bury face in hands'.
  • 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.
  • First Girl Wins: Desjani. See Love Triangle below.
  • 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 Dancers' beautiful fleet formation, he orders his fleet to assume a ceremonial formation to better present themselves.
    • The Shield of Sol ships constantly fly in ceremonial formation - even in the midst of battle.
  • 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 and were unable to strike a decisive blow against the Alliance, resulting in a stalemate. Not that they'll ever admit that.
  • Four-Star Badass: John Geary, who commands the Alliance fleet through a string of heavily lopsided victories and on a few times barely scraping by in his own ship. Also, Caraballi, who was a Colonel Badass but got promoted.
  • Fun with Acronyms: Pretty much a running gag in Invincible.
  • 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.
  • Glory Hound: Captain Falco makes himself out to be the hero of the Alliance even though this 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 it's tastelessness, stating that they should have traded the bars 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.
    • Even worse: We find out that the Syndics' version of the emergency ration bars are even worse. They'd have been glad to have rations that good.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Rione has a bad case of this towards Desjani over Geary's affections in Valiant, to the point of making jabs at Desjani while sitting in Desjani's command bridge.
  • 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.
  • Hidden Villain: What the 'Beyond the Frontier' sequel series is setting up as its arc. Geary has to figure out how to keep the Alliance together in the midst of so many people with hidden agendas working behind the scenes. It's implied that Admiral Bloch could be this, with backing from another source to provide him with a fleet. The Alliance Grand council seems to be his backer.
    • The Dark Ships fit this to a T. They're uncrewed and probably under the command of Bloch.
  • Hold the Line: This is how the bear-cows fight. Being evolved from herd animals, they value the herd above the individual. Many intercepted entertainment videos show bear-cow formations similar to Greek phalanxes steadfastly holding against the enemy onslaught. It's mentioned that they could've given the Spartans a lesson in holding the line. Bear-cow entertainment also conspicuously lacks any notion of individual heroics. Outnumbering the opponent is how the bear-cows win.
  • 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 assure you I will carry out my duties as if Black Jack Geary himself were my commander."
    Captain John Geary: "Tell me that's not a common phrase." It is.
  • 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
  • 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 [Quoting Napoleon, probably unknowingly]: "The moral is to the material as three is to one."
  • Human Popsicle: What Captain Geary is before he is found by the alliance fleet.
  • Humans Are White: Averted, or rather dodged, in that neither skin nor hair nor eye colour are ever mentioned.
    • Used on the book covers, which always portray Geary as a European, and often a blond one at that. Granted, his name does suggest British descent.
    • Dreadnaught finally specified someone's hair colour: green (due to genetic engineering). She's from the colony world ╔ire. Given the choice of name, they might well be more ethnically European than not. That officer's nickname is "Shamrock", which further indicates who colonized ╔ire.
      • It's not surprising that the audiobook narrator chose to give her a typical "Oirish" accent.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: When the aliens finally land at Kansas, Geary and the others learn it was because they were returning a perfectly preserved human corpse to his home. Senator Suva breaks down crying, because she believes humans would not have acted as honorably if the roles were reversed, to treat an alien body with sanctity.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Commander Lommand to Captain Tyrosian. The latter gives a solid performance for her job but sometimes shows her New Meat nature (such as with the situation under this page's Blessed with Suck entry, caused by her not taking into account that the fleet maneuvers more and takes fewer casualties compared to before), while the latter is creative, with a lot of initiative and has covered his captain's mistake at least once.
  • 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.
  • Ignored Epiphany: Senator Costa and Suva, both who seemed really emotional about what the Dancers did at Old Earth, vow to be better humans...and then seem to immediately slip into the plans they'd already put forth before the Epiphany. Geary reasons they might change in the future though.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Used in Black Humor way to alievate tension when the fleet suspects the Enigmatic race is going to blow their hyperspace gate to kill them all. Geary and Desjani talk about how they would get the lowest ranks first in case of shipwreck and then ask the watchstanders which on of them has lower seniority. Then they talk about how a Ensign could be reassigned as an "Emergency Food Ration."
  • I'm Cold... So Cold...: Inverted. Geary feels this trope when he is first revived from 100 years of survival sleep.
  • I'm Not a Hero, I'm...: 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 Disjani, because he can't live up to the impossible standard of his legend. Though as Rione points out he comes about as close as mortal flesh possibly could.
  • 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.
    • Adverted later on in the second series with the fleet given some actual food.
  • Inertial Dampening: Quite a useful thing to have when you are flying at 0.1c. However, they are not infallible. Accelerate above 0.25c and it's very likely that they will fail, turning you and your ship into a cloud of dust.
  • Infinite Supplies: Completely averted. Even after victorious battles, the fleet has still taken damage and has to deal with the repercussions.
  • 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 will be the main character of a spinoff series.
  • Insignificant Little Blue Planet: Earth matters little to the workings of the universe at large — except that a form of ancestor worship is followed by most of humanity, so as the home of humanity and all it's ancestors, if aliens were implicated as attacking it would rouse humanity to genocidal anger against the killers.
    • Among humans, the Sol System is considered a demilitarized zone and neutral in outside affairs, so aside from single warships on explicitly ceremonial missions, no warships are allowed.
    • Many nation-states still exist on Earth, as opposed to the otherwise observed trend of planets belonging to single governments, or even only having governors as part of a larger star nation. For the purposes of plot, this mostly matters due to the red tape potential.
      • This also applies to Mars, which has three countries run by corrupt governments. Apparently, Earthlings don't much like the "reds" and vice versa. Complicated rules exist due to the official peacetime status, such as "can't fire back unless past the Lunar orbit".
  • Insistent Terminology: The Earthling shuttle pilot in Steadfast resents his flight engineer telling the passengers that he crashed once. It was an "abrupt landing aggravated by adverse conditions".
  • Interservice Rivalry: Some navy vs. marines.
    • Steadfast also shows us rivalry between the three branches of the military: the fleet, the Aerospace Forces, and the Ground Forces. Each has a separate HQ and chains of command. Naturally, there are few protocols for establishing joint command between the three, the only effective one being TECA, Temporary Emergency Command Authority, allowing a high-ranking commander from any of the branches to use any forces for a critical mission. Despite the war with the Syndics being, technically, over, the Senate has not yet repealed the law allowing this. When dealing with the ground forces general and the aerospace forces colonel, Duellos advises Geary to present himself not as an admiral (who will be outranked by the more senior general) but as commander of the fleet in the system (which is equal to both of the above).
    • Averted with the "code monkeys" (i.e. IT support), who willingly work together across the branches. The rest of the soldiers find the so-called "Code of the Monkeys" a little odd.
  • Iron Lady: Rione.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • Also note that the 'Rocks' are really only useful for bombardment of stationary targets. They are more or less worthless against anything that can move.
  • 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 Name Basis: People seem to be refereed to by their last names more than their first names. Even in situations where it wouldn't be required to address someone by their last name.
  • 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 Laws and Customs of War: Other than battle planning, this is the other big thing Geary reintroduces to the fleet.
  • 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.
  • Legacy Vessel Naming: Every ship named Invincible has a very short lifespan. Most sailors believe that the name is an affront to the living stars, although fleet engineers see this superstition as pointless, especially since no captain will have his or her ship be repaired with parts salvaged from an Invincible. Despite this, the fleet bureaucracy refuses to retire the name and keeps naming new ships Invincible as soon as one is destroyed. They get really annoyed when Geary and another admiral choose to christen a captured bear-cow superbattleship Invincible.
  • Like a God to Me: Geary himself never get's 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."
  • Living Legend: Geary. So much in fact the 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.
  • Loophole Abuse: By the end of the main series, Geary and Desjani want to be together. However, fleet regulations prevent Geary from having a personal relationship with a subordinate of his. Thus, he gives up his rank of Fleet Admiral and goes back to being captain. Realizing that the fleet bureaucracy has already likely promoted him to Admiral, he refuses to read his messages and goes after Desjani. They get married before Geary is finally informed of his promotion. Geary's superiors are not amused at this turn of events.
  • Love Triangle: Geary, Rione, and Desjani. At least until they find out Rione's husband might not be dead.
    • 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; if anything, they seem to become more embittered with each other after the triangle ends.
    • 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.
  • Mars: As Geary and Desjani find out in Steadfast, the red planet has three countries run by corrupt governments and is a haven for mercenaries.
  • Master of None: The Battlecruiser, exactly like real life. Both the Alliance and Syndicates had the unfortunate tendency of putting their best and brightest in command of these, accelerating the loss of experienced personnel beyond even what would normally happen during a war.
    • The reasoning for that is because, under new "tactics", a fleet commander is expected to lead his or her fleet into battle, not stay back under the thick armor of a slow battleship. Shields and armor don't matter much when the goal is to inflict the highest number of losses on the enemy. In fact, battleships are the ones who get the "less-than-stellar" officers because it's believed that the thick armor of a battleship may compensate for their shortcomings.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: A lot of characters think that Geary was found because the living stars thought he was needed. He denies this as it would feed A God I Am beliefs in him. However the fact that he was the right man at the right place and every single on of his instincts turn out to work in the long run it's hard to argue against it.
    • In the second series it's all but confirmed that the living stars have been guiding everyone.
  • 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.
  • Meaningful Re Name: After Geary captures the Kick superbattleship, the crews begin to refer it with mocking nicknames, that turn into increasingly long acronyms. Eventually, the former POW put in command of it, Admiral Lagemann, decides to rename it Invincible. When they get back to Alliance space, Geary and the others object to the council wanting to rename the ship, stating that it would be dishonorable to the soldiers who died on the ship defending it.
  • 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.
    • Another combines Catch-22 and 42 (the answer to life, the universe, and everything) into Catch 42, "the meaning of life is that you always get screwed."
    • Being nibbled to death by ducks has somehow become being licked to death by cows.
  • Mighty Glacier: Battleships, as expected. They pack quite a punch and have thick armor and strong shields. A single battleship can take on several battlecruisers. However, since the new fleet mentality is Attack! Attack! Attack!, battleships are considered too slow for a "proper" fight and are usually crewed by officers who lack in aggressiveness (i.e. they like to think before acting).
    • The bear-cow superbattleships are even moreso. It takes several Alliance battleships to even put a dent in one of these monstrocities. However, normal battleships can run circles around them.
  • 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.
  • Miles Gloriosus: Mister Medals and his entire fleet, who literally eject out of fully functioning warships when they start losing a battle.
  • 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.
  • Mirror Match: Geary has to fight AI ships programmed with his fighting style. They're not as good as him due to being robots, but they're very challenging nonetheless.
  • My Species Doth Protest Too Much: Enigma always blow their ships rather than risk capture, but during one skirmish, one ejects from a ship just prior to self destruction. It still gets killed and mangled in the blast, but is surmised to have disagreed with that philosophy.
  • 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 THE Captain Geary is suffering from a Geary Complex.
  • The Neidermeyer: Captain Numos in Spades.
  • 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 things he may have done 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 Invicible they are scrupulous about it.
  • No Pronunciation Guide: Numerous instances, including Commander Gaes (according to the audio books, her name is pronounced "gaysh")
  • 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 was 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.
  • Older than They Look: Geary, being a popsicle going on 100 years will do that to ya
  • Omnicidal Maniac: The Kicks: They evolved as a herbivore herd species. They started by killing all of their predators.... and all carnivores on their planet.... and all the other animals on their planet.... And all plant life that they couldn't eat... and any sentient species that get near them...]
  • Only Sane Man: Geary. When he's not restraining his subordinates from harebrained, damn-the-torpedoes headlong charges into battle, he's fighting a desperate battle of wits against the faction among them that wants to overthrow their government and make him God Emperor or something. And then there was the aptly-named Captain Kila and her little Klingon Promotion scheme...
  • 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.
    • This gets explained in Book five: Pretty much "living stars" refers to the fact that every element that makes up a human was made in the fusion reaction of a sun. IE We are all made out of star stuff. Burial in space involves launching the person into the star so that they will become a part of the star and a part of the next star system when the star goes nova.
    • 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.
    • Old Earth religions are mentioned in Steadfast when Geary and Desjani are visiting Stonehenge. Geary points out that the people who built Stonehenge did not believe in ancestors. Desjani counters that, at their core, they believed the same thing but used different names for it.
  • One-Federation Limit: There aren't many named governments in the series, so this is justified. There are the Alliance, the Syndicate Worlds, the Rift Federation, and the Callas Republic.
  • 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.
  • Point Defenseless: Averted completely. The weapons all capital ships carry are just as effective against small targets as large ones and small 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.
  • Psychic Block Defense: It turns out that the Alliance sometimes installs mental blocks in certain people in order to keep their secrets hidden. Unfortunately, after six months, the subjects experience personality shifts and begin to act irrationally. Any treatment is a failure, as the subject can never reveal the truth about their condition. Most end up committing suicide. Rione's husband has a mental block related to the development of biological weapons. He is only allowed to talk about it if given direct permission by a fleet commander, which Geary unintentionally does, and without anyone else listening in.
    • When Geary asks the senior fleet doctor about it, the doctor points out that not only is it against regulations to talk about mental blocks, it's against regulations for the doctor to tell Geary that talking about it is against regulations.
  • Ramming Always Works: Highly unrecomended, given the speed the ships are traveling even the slightest contact would destroy both ships involved.
  • 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.
  • Readers Are Geniuses: The descriptions of the battles. Very complex 3D tactics are involved.
  • 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.
    • Also 'Fighting' Falco and Otropa 'The Anvil'. 'The Anvil' is more of an Embarrassing Nickname, though. He got it because he always gets beten.
  • Redemption Equals Death: After she comes under suspicion of being disloyal to the anti-Geary conspiracy, they kill Captain Gaes — and her entire crew. But not before she manages to out the killer to Geary.
  • 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.
  • The Rival: Desjani and Rione are this to each other. First being romantic competitors for Geary, even after Desjani ends up with John, they still bicker with each other over almost everything.
  • 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.
  • Schr÷dinger's 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."
    • Mentioned by name in Guardian by Captain Smythe.
  • 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, if the war is anything but a limited conflict. The idea that two economics could sustain a Total War to a stalemate for almost 100 years is very far fetched, considering how much a Total War economy drains an economy's resources. Skilled manpower losses seem to be critical, but whether that translates to an ordinary/unskilled' manpower shortage is unclear.
    • 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 severely bolstered morale). The newest ships in Geary's fleet, the Adroit class, are also appalling underdesigned, 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, below) who will soon die if they don't intervene. Geary decides to save them because he thinks it's a Secret Test of Character provided by their ancestors. Even though there is no test to speak of, he still believes they need to pass it. Later it's revealed the governor of one of the Syndic worlds had family that Geary helped save, and in thanks she provides them with the location of much needed supplies they can get.
  • Shiny-Looking Spaceships: Captain Geary laments that this is not the case in Dauntless, despite being in the future even from his perspective.
  • Shout-Out: A one-line mention in Victorious that Captain Parr commands the ship Incredible. He later speak up more often as the series goes on.
    • Dreadnaught has a Shout Out 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."
    • Invincible has a brief Shout-Out to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy when Geary mentions "Everything. Life. The Universe."
    • In Steadfast, Geary meets Lieutenant Popova, a female FAC pilot whose codename is "Night Witch". During World War II, the Red Air Force had an all-female biplane regiment whom the Germans dubbed "Nachthexen" (or "Night Witches") for their habit of strafing German camps under the cover of darkness. One of the notable pilots of the regiment was Nadezhda Popova.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The fleet manages to bring back two sedated bear-cows alive. They promptly commit suicide the moment they are woken up.
  • 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.
  • Soldier vs. Warrior: Geary is a Soldier through-and-through, finding himself in command of a fleet consisting entirely of Warriors. Reigning in their Leeroy Jenkins tendencies is still something of a work in progress as of the latest instalment.
  • So Proud of You: Geary's reaction to the fleet on a regular basis.
  • 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. This part is less about space being an ocean and more about how combat aircraft maneuver.
  • Space Friction: Averted. If ships want to slow down, they typically have to fire their engines in the opposite direction to reduce speed.
  • Space Mines: The hypernet gates that came into use during the war turn out to also have this use.
  • Space Navy: Played straight. Destroyers, Light Cruisers, Heavy Cruisers, Battleships, even Battlecruisers and auxiliaries. Full Marine compliment as well. The only thing missing are carriers because small attack craft simply don't work in fleet engagements.
  • Species Loyalty: The spider-wolves appear to be impressed by this in humans.
  • Spin-Off. Beyond The Frontier is a Type 8 for the Lost Fleet.
  • 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 (starfighters) do exist in small numbers but they're short-range, weak and easily destroyed. They're used by the Aerospace Forces for air and space patrol and interdiction and have a sleek, manta-like shape for atmospheric flight. A squadron can take on a Hunter-Killer at great risk.
    • The Syndics don't have destroyers. Instead, they have Hunter-Killers, slightly faster than destroyers but smaller and drop like flies even faster. Their system defense forces also have so-called "nickel" corvettes nicknamed so because they are relatively cheap to build and maintain and can be thrown away just as easily.
  • Starcrossed 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 little real conclusions, fitting their name. The aliens are later proven to be amphibian physically, though their exact mentality is 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 spiders-wolves are the only ones we can relate to and who actually communicate instead of trying to kill us.
  • Stealth in Space: Considered and averted, in the case of the enigma. They try to figure out how the Enigma hide their ships, then eventually realize that their sensors are just getting hacked.
    • Humans have stealth shuttles and suits for covert ops, but they only delay detection when an active search is under way, and also rely heavily on software trickery in addition to physical attributes.
    • In Steadfast, the fleet comes across a Syndic world where there is very clearly combat going on, with installations suffering kinetic strikes and running ships getting blown to pieces, but they can't see any enemy. When they by chance get images, they disappear from the systems. After eliminating outside interference or internal sabotage or malware, they narrow it down to one conclusion: software patches that have been causing bugs throughout the book for both the ships and other Alliance forces they met were in fact designed by their own military to hide a 'dark fleet' stronger even than Gearys.
  • The Stoic: Captain Shen, who's facial expression remains firmly neutral. Geary is surprised to even see a ghost of a smile touch his lips on one occasion.
  • 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.
  • The Strategist: The secret to Geary's success, actually planning out his moves rather than go Attack! Attack! Attack! like everyone else does. Some of his subordinates learn about this as they go on. The Syndics later try to be this by emulating some of Gear's formations, but they fail since they don't understand the purpose of said formations.
  • Stunned Silence: Captain Badaya's reaction for about half a minute when Geary allows him to keep his command after he chokes in a bad situation.
    • Also happens when Badaya starts doing smart things when people least expect him to, such as urging caution or refusing to act rashly when placed in command of a fleet.
  • Taking You with Me: Two sets of aliens go in for suicide attacks.
  • Tempting Fate: Several times
    • Every ship named Invincible. They all inevitably end up being destroyed very quickly.
    • Inverted - When Admiral Lagemann renames the captured kick superbattleship to Invincible, there are several objections against him seemingly invoking the trope. Lagemann explains he's doing the opposite, because he's acknowledged the ship isn't invincible, in fact, it's defenseless. He also points out that it means Alliance bureaucrats can't name any other navy ships Invincible, protecting them from the cursed name.
    • Defied. Geary is unwittingly about to invoke the trope and Tanya interrupts him. Geary tries to ask why she did and she simply replies she doesn't want to find out and neither does he.
  • 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.
    • A meta example with the novel titles. Word of God is that each novel is titled after a ship that plays a key role in its story. The only exception is Fearless, which he was forced to rename from Furious which the publisher didn't like.
    • There's also a discussion about why battlecruisers and battleships tend to be named after human qualities, and no ship is named after a person (Geary's own Merlonis not, as one might think, named for Merlin but for part of a castle wall). There were several attempts to name ships after real people, but then the senators began arguing about which people should be honored... and the ideas quickly died.
  • There Are No Coincidences
  • Thicker Than Water
  • Throwing Down the Gauntlet: A non-heroic example. Commander Benan attempts to do one against Geary after he learns Rione slept with him, forcing Desjani to interrupt him before he can issue the challenge before she's required by regulations to execute him for it. Apparently, this became a common thing during the war and the Alliance had to work hard to quash it through heavy handed regulations.
  • Title Drop: The series name is only mentioned once in the main set of six books: Right after Geary manages his closest victory yet, nearly totally out of power, and returning the fleet home.
    • The individual books titles (ships) are mentioned at least once during their respect books and usually have 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.
  • Try to Fit That on a Business Card: 'His Excellency Captain Commodore First Rank Stellar Guard of the Fist of the People Earun Tavistorevas, Paramount of the Shield of Sol.' Inverted however, instead of sounding impressive, Geary and the others find it clownish. They simply take to calling him 'Mister Medals' because of his ridiculous Bling of War.
  • Two-DSpace: 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. invoked
  • 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 God's 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 all have mostly exaggerated or distorted views on what they thought Geary was suppose to believe. 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 doubts against him 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 POW's they were ordered to pick up on the way out).
  • Ursine Aliens: The bear-cows.
  • UST: Which is less romantic than the people not involved seem to find it.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The premise of the first book series is modeled on the march of the Ten Thousand.
  • 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.
    • The bear-cows take this Up to Eleven. Their ships lack escape pods because their leaders don't give a crap about the underlings. Only the herd matters. The only thing that could possibly count as one is about half the size of an Alliance destroyer and is likely filled with herd leaders. Their system defenses involve a planetoid space station firing around 900 giant missiles at the enemy, and those missiles are piloted. When the marines try to board their superbattleship, the crew puts up a fierce resistance. Any bear-cow who is wounded is immediately finished off by the others, likely to spare it from being eaten alive (they assume any predator wants that, and humans with their incisors are recognized as predators). Anyone captured can (and will) instantly kill itself.
  • What Could Possibly Go Wrong?: Geary starts saying that in Guardian when the Dauntless enters the hypernet gate to get to Sol, only for Desjani to sharply cut him off and tell him in no uncertain terms that he better not finish that question.
  • What Did I Do Last Night?: Rione has to ask Geary this the morning after a drunken BSOD upon learning her husband may be alive.
  • 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.
      • Well, it did survive the attack, just not well enough. Might be considered a Deconstruction on 'Invincibility'
      • 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.
    • Dreadnaught leads a hopelessly outnumbered charge into the enemy to protect its compatriots. Although, averted later as Jane tells John that when she ordered the charge, she was scared out of her wits.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Averted with the fate of Captain Gundel, 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 Measureis A Non Cute: The spider wolves.
  • With Due Respect: Used, discussed, and lampshaded at various points.
  • Would Not Shoot a Civilian: Geary is horrified the Alliance kills POWs and Syndic civilians en masse. And his enraged rant about how they will never do it again so long as he is command is a slap in the face to all his officers.
  • 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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alternative title(s): The Lost Fleet
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