Author Essay and Excerpt from The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight, by Jack Campbell
Nobody is perfect. When I was a kid, I would latch onto some hero and read all that I could about them. Inevitably, I would learn about their flaws, get disappointed, and move on to another hero. Eventually, it occurred to me that being a hero isn't a question of being perfect. It's a matter of overcoming all of the imperfections that come with being human, of being more than anyone had any right to expect a person to be. That's a lot of what Black Jack Geary is about in the Lost Fleet series.
But there's another dilemma, one which doesn't have any simple answers. How do good people, someone you would regard as a hero on your own side, fight for bad causes? At conferences in the 1980s, I listened to German fighter pilots from World War II talking with their American counterparts, exchanging war stories and engaging in the camaraderie of those who have experienced the same things and thus understand each other in ways the rest of us cannot. It was obvious these men weren't monsters. But they had fought for a monstrous cause. They had fought very well for that monstrous cause.
The Lost Fleet series has already looked at the reality that good people fighting for a good cause can do terrible things, convincing themselves that the terrible things are a necessity for good to triumph. It's a given (to most of us) that terrible people will do terrible things for a bad cause. But what about the good people who are fighting for a bad cause?
The people of the Syndicate Worlds (the "bad guys" in the Lost Fleet series) are not cut from cardboard. They are human, and they have fought for a system that (from the perspective of the "good guys" in the Alliance) looks pretty rotten. In fact, the Syndicate Worlds is a rotten system. As the Lost Fleet series went on, and it became apparent that the people of the Syndicate Worlds vary as individuals, the old question arose. Why are what appear to be some decent people on the Syndicate Worlds' side fighting for a system that seems to have few (if any) redeeming qualities? Does fear keep the people of the Syndicate Worlds in line? Do some of them truly believe that their system is the best, blinding themselves to the inhumanity of its actions? Do any of them protest, resist, try to change things?
That is what led to the Lost Stars series. Readers wanted to know more about the Syndics. The Syndicate Worlds has lost the war, the empire held together by a ruthless and powerful central government finally crumbling in the wake of defeat and the destruction of a large portion of its military. What decisions do people make when they finally have the chance to make decisions? Those people know the Syndicate way of doing things, but have seen that way fail and know its many flaws from the inside. They know what they don't like, but when they revolt what will replace the old rules? How hard will those who are still invested in the old system fight to keep it? And if they gain their freedom, can they keep that freedom?