BOOK REVIEW: Spaceside, by Michael Mammay

-Major spoilers for Panetside-

spaceside.jpg

Publisher: HarperVoyager

Series: Planetside (#2)

Genre: Military SF

Pages: 347

Publication Date: 05/09/2019

Verdict: 5/5

 

Carl Butler is a war hero, the man who did what no one else was willing to do. Carl Butler is a war criminal, the man who committed an act of genocide on an unparalleled scale. Carl Butler is a retired veteran, looking to be left alone to do his work. But a man like Carl Butler can never be left alone for long . . .

Michael Mammay’s debut Planetside was a brilliant book that flew under the radar, particularly here in the UK. A tightly plotted, edge-of-the-seat thriller, it combined all the best elements of military SF with a heavy dose of investigative crime. I’m happy to see that Carl Butler’s story is continuing, and even happier to say that the second volume is even better than the first.

We catch up with Butler some time after his controversial action actions at the end of the last book. Forced into retirement, he has taken up an advisory position in one of the many companies that supplies the military in Mammay’s future wars. Right away, the same down-to-earth realism that made me enjoy Planetside so much is on full display. While many books would focus on the action and violence of the military, Mammay shows the other side of war. The logistics and cost, but personal and societal. Butler is seeing a therapist because of what he did, even as he continues to work in the same business.

It’s this plainspoken approach to the military that sets the Planetside series apart from others. It’s quieter, told on a smaller scale, but is no less thrilling for it. With Butler as our guide, we see the inner workings of the military, political and economic mechanisms behind war that so many other works gloss over. As a veteran himself, it’s clear that Mammay knows what he is talking about, and his straightforward style makes his storytelling incredibly accessible.

Perhaps because he is our sole point of view, Butler’s development as a character really comes to the fore. As we follow his daily routine, his meetings and his therapy sessions, it’s impossible not to get a solid sense of who he is. I wouldn’t say he’s likeable (Nor, I suspect, would he) but he is a very sympathetic character. Unable to escape his past, it informs his future, influencing his every move and decision. The ending of the previous book was a little abrupt, so I’m glad to see that the consequences of his actions are so fully realised here. You could theoretically read this without having read the precursor, but I wouldn’t advise it. This is a book that encourages logical progression.

Away from the frontlines, Mammay shows us a future not to dissimilar to our own present. In fact, it’s almost too plausible. With probing journalists, corrupt corporations, drones spying on everyone, and cover-ups around every corner, Spaceside is chillingly realistic. Even more so than its predecessor, this book balances the investigative with the military. As the story develops, so too does the world. Mammay avoids long and detailed worldbuilding, but fills the pages with offhand remarks and suggestions. It makes you ask questions. For me, I would like to know more about the ‘Mother,’ who appears to be a religious idol of some kind. But even if there are never any answers, because this isn’t that sort of story, the snatches of worldbuilding make the setting a living, breathing thing.

With his masterful blending of crime and military SF, Michael Mammay is proving himself one of the most capable new authors out there. I can only hope the UK catches onto him.

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