Series: Planetside (#3)
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Genre: Military SF
Publication Date: 21/01/2021
Carl Butler – the man who committed genocide – has finally settled into retirement. But then a CEO’s daughter goes missing, and Butler finds himself called on again to solve the mystery. This time, it might just be the last time . . .
As I’ve said before, Michael Mammay’s debut novel Planetside was one of the two books (along with Christopher Ruocchio’s Empire of Silence) that made me take up blogging. It was a great little military SF/crime hybrid that received very little buzz in the UK and slipped under the radar of every other blog I followed at the time. The sequel Spaceside similarly just popped up on shelves one day, and again it was a brilliant book. With Colonyside, Mammay rounds off his trilogy of Carl Butler investigations with another tale of government cover-ups, grizzled veterans, and boots-on-the-ground action.
Structurally, Colonyside follows the same pattern as its predecessors. Butler is in retirement (two years after the climax of the previous novel), until an old friend offers him a job that isn’t really optional. From there, he investigates in a typically confrontational style, uncovering a conspiracy and getting shot at along the way. The familiarity of the plot is a drawback. On the one hand, it makes sense that Butler would face the same sort of situations time and again, having proven himself an expert at resolving them. On the other hand, there are points when it feels like Colonyside is retreading old ground. Never enough to dull my enthusiasm for the book, but I wouldn’t recommend reading the trilogy close together.
Where Mammay excels in his depiction of military life. I read a lot of military SF, and most of it is what you’d expect. Fierce battles against alien hordes, combat on a massive scale, and relentless action sequences. That’s not the case here. Mammay’s own military experience clearly informs his writing, and Colonyside focuses more on daily life in and around the armed forces than on the rarer battles. In that, it’s fairly unique. Only Jack Campbell’s JAG in Space quartet springs to mind as another peacetime military SF offering, and Mammay’s work reminds me of Campbell in all the best ways. It feels absolutely true to what little I know of military life, but at the same time it’s completely accessible. You won’t drown in unfamiliar jargon and military hierarchy.
Colonyside brings to the fore issues that have been building in the background of previous books. What right does humanity have to colonise other worlds? Does the end justify the means? Is it right to blame the follower, or the man behind the orders? Personally, I would have liked a slightly deeper investigation of these issues, but what we do get is strong stuff. Butler, with his unique history, proves to be a good pivot point for all these discussions, and in this book we get more worldbuilding than before as Mammay brings in various factions, all with their own agendas and opinions of Butler. While he is important, it’s nice to see a first-person narrative where the world doesn’t revolve around the narrator. there is a lot more going on than Butler knows, but it all comes together in the end.
With the Planetside trilogy now complete, there’s never been a better chance to get into Mammay’s work. If you’re a military SF fan, you won’t regret it.