Planetside–New novel a gritty view of a retired colonel’s curious mission in a sci-fi army

Review by C.J. Bunce

Colonel Carl Butler has done it all long before he is asked by his former boss and mentor–a general with plenty of influence to get things done–to take on a strange mission far away.  The son of a High Council member has gone missing and the investigation is at a standstill.  Butler is a semi-retired hero, he’s loyal to an old military boss, and that man has asked him to go on a far-away mission as a favor.  Butler takes the mission, but always has that niggling feeling all is not what it seems.  The price of the mission is great as he is put into cryo freeze for the long voyage ahead, but his wife is set up nicely with family for the duration.  It’s all a favor to someone who has always commanded his loyal and respect.

All goes downhill even before his arrival as he’s pulled out of cryo early.  On arrival Butler is immediately odd-man-out.  He is assigned some help, but he is disregarded by everyone in authority and all his efforts to sleuth-out what happened to the missing soldier are thwarted.  Even the medical branch won’t help, and a member of the press is persistent, asking why Butler was chosen for this mission and no one else.  That becomes the mystery for Butler, too, as much as discovering the story behind the missing man.  He’s on a space station and the planet below is at war with the alien inhabitants.  Butler does everything to avoid going planetside to meet with the local commander.  Can he stay away, or are all the answers down there?  And will he get those answers without taking command himself?

Arriving in bookstores tomorrow, retired Army officer Michael Mammay’s debut novel Planetside is a military conspiracy-thriller couched in sci-fi dress.  Heavier on the soldiering than the sci-fi, it has common elements you’d find in The General’s Daughter or Courage Under Fire (Mammay does it better).  Yet it is completely accessible to both fans of war novels and sci-fi readers thumbing the paperback rack for their next enjoyable read in the mystery genre, like Forbidden Planet, Blade Runner 2049, or Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s All You Need Is Kill (known to moviegoers as Edge of Tomorrow).  The author’s key strength in Planetside is the first person voice of Colonel Butler.  No doubt derived from Mammay’s years of encounters with similar types as a soldier in Desert Storm, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, Butler has that stilted dialogue and manner that seems to define long-tenured soldiers in books and movies.  Both Butler’s inner voice and his orders to those around him give the novel fuel to skip along at a brisk pace.  Butler is very much in the realm of Colonel Graff in Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, and he could have fought alongside Sgt. Zim or Lt. Rasczak–although Planetside is not a story immersed in ground and aerial combat as in Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, Mammay’s realism pulls readers in with some significant skirmishes along the way.

More than a discovery of the inner-workings of military command, Mammay’s novel wrestles with what makes anyone tick, and how Butler’s understanding of human nature can be tapped to get what he wants when no one wants to give anything up.  Some questions go unanswered.  What all did General Serata know before sending Butler on his mission?  Why did he really send Butler?  Was this really Serata’s only way to accomplish his goal?  Planetside is light on the kind of trench warfare and camaraderie of Aliens or Predator or Starship Troopers, but readers will get into his brain as he logically plots out his investigation.  Butler has seen his share of combat, so in this future tale he has cybernetic components, and Mammay nicely incorporates Butler’s life issues dealing with his borg side throughout the story.

Sabotage.  Bad information.  And a few good men and women who can help him.  The odds are all stacked against Colonel Butler.  Will he ever learn the truth?

A good read and a great writing voice for this first time author, Michael Mammay’s Planetside is a new novel being released tomorrow in paperback from Harper Voyager Books.  You can pre-order it today from Amazon here.

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