Review by C.J. Bunce
It’s not often a sequel surpasses the first novel in the series, but that’s the place where Spaceside lands. And that’s saying something, because Michael Mammay′s Planetside was one powerful first novel. I first reviewed Planetside before its release only a year ago here at borg, and its combination of military thriller and sci-fi action story was one of last year’s best sci-fi reads. Happily for readers of Mammay’s first story, the protagonist this round is again Colonel Carl Butler, that ex-military mastermind who keeps getting pulled back into danger. Imagine Edge of Tomorrow’s General Brigham a few years after the war or Starship Troopers’ Lieutenant Rasczak if he’d lived to fight another day, and you’ll have an idea of what you’re in for with Colonel Butler.
But this story and this style is different for Mammay. I saw Planetside as military conspiracy-thriller in sci-fi dress, but this time Butler is part investigator in a planetside mystery as a bit of a future noir or tech noir detective. Where Planetside featured plenty of the grunt-side action of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, this story delves more into the strategy and corporate politics (think Weyland Corp.), providing a fine standalone story. Yet for those that take on the first novel (as they should), Spaceside fleshes out the secrets of why Butler was thrust far away across the galaxy to deal with the alien race called the Cappans in the first place. Two books in and readers will be asking for more–Mammay has concocted one of the best science fiction universes around. So just when a new series of Blade Runner novels is on its way, Spaceside fits the bill as a worthy read-alike of a future, cybernetically enhanced human trying to stay alive while he’s constantly dodging bullets (although Butler’s borg nature is downplayed for much of the story). More like Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner than Philip K. Dick’s source novel, Mammay’s story is a compelling character study that amps up the intrigue.
Instead of spending most of this novel’s adventure in outer space as the title might suggest, ex-Colonel Butler finds himself grounded, exiled, shunned, and scorned for the murders of millions of Cappans resulting from his decisions in the pages of Planetside. Instead Butler is relegated to leading corporate team-building sessions where he takes groups on virtual reality combat missions with him as the real-life war hero. It’s embarrassing, but it pays the bills, and it keeps him busy after his wife left him and took half his money. That’s until the CEO calls him into his office to investigate a hacking of a major rival corporation–after all, his title has the word “security” in it. If Butler can figure out what went wrong at the rival, then his own company can make sure it doesn’t happen to them, too. Or so his CEO figures.
Butler enlists some contacts from the past to assist, great, smartly developed characters, and many of them strong women, all with fascinating–and entertaining–exchanges with Butler along the way. As strong as Butler is as a sympathetic, put-upon series lead, Mammay’s strength is in the helpers he chooses for Butler along his journey, especially his ex-military IT guru named Maria Ganos. It’s characters like these that other authors might use to cram in a sexual relationship as a tangent to the plot, but Mammay doesn’t fall for that trap. Spaceside is tightly written, with no fillers or fluff.
Plenty of great military and sci-fi tropes are touched upon in Spaceside. Readers may find commonality with major novels of the past like Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and the aforementioned Starship Troopers, but also that good steady paced noir writing you might find from the likes of Ed McBain or Donald E. Westlake. You’ll find some good science fiction elements you may find in the movies, too, like Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets and Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop.
Comparisons to Scott, Besson, and Verhoeven, or to Heinlein, McBain, and Westlake should alert any reader to some great reading ahead. Spaceside doesn’t arrive in bookstores for another month, but make sure you plan for it–read it if you love sci-fi, mystery, and noir. Published by Harper Voyager, it’s available for pre-order now here at Amazon.