Review by C.J. Bunce
In Colonyside, the third novel of Michael Mammay’s Planetside series, battle-hardened mastermind hero and retired marine colonel Carl Butler is “getting too old for this kind of thing.” With his notorious reputation and knack for getting people close to him killed–and getting alien inhabitants killed, too–his era’s equivalent of the prime directive is even named after him. Lucky for fans of Planetside (reviewed here) and Spaceside (reviewed here), Colonel Butler, now really just Carl, has a methodical approach to military, politics, and life that shows no signs of waning. But where Planetside was a military conspiracy-thriller in sci-fi dress, and Spaceside was a future noir mystery, Colonyside is more office politics and low-level squabbling power plays. The Aliens franchise Colonial Marines vibe of the first two books takes a shift here in a surprising direction. What begins as something like Predator, an intriguing story of a team going in to re-evaluate a prior action–here a mission gone bad resulting in the death of the daughter of an influential executive–ultimately doesn’t catch the intrigue of the earlier books.
That voice from Butler’s past calls on him once again, out of a cozy retirement for a job he just can’t refuse. And Butler knows just the right people to help, but maybe he should ask them first. Once assembled and on-planet, Butler’s sense of order clashes with the local disorder of a otherworlders trying to take over a promising new target planet, even if that means disrupting the local advanced life forms. From there the reader doesn’t get that pulse-pounding alien threat, but something more like Michael Crichton’s Congo, stitched together with the politics of war as seen in Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. Like those two novels, Mammay doesn’t give a voice to the aliens, and that may be something that could have improved the overall scope of the story. Something about having green apes as the alien threat doesn’t grab the reader like other galactic menaces in the genre, like the headhunting Predator or insectoid Bugs of Starship Troopers or the ghastly drippy ghouls of Aliens. What makes his green apes–the hominiverts–tick? We never find out. Perhaps the story could have used some more subplots. Once Butler is on his own, Mammay loses momentum.
There’s still much good happening here. The first two-thirds follows that well-developed framework of a typical Michael Crichton combination of the right people joining to go in and solve an impossible problem. But in this story Colonel Butler is left alone without his trusted team. At first that’s interesting, particularly because the reader thinks he/she knows Butler so well after traveling with him spaceside and planetside. But maybe there’s a bit too much of that Tom Clancy military/network process detail, that politics of The Phantom Menace, or not quite sticking the landing of Total Recall. This one doesn’t land as great as the first two books in the series. It’s still worth reading, and I’d be happy to get my hands on the next four adventures of Colonel Butler.
My hope would be for the next novel, if there is one, to begin right where this novel begins–on Butler’s farm, back in retirement, having to defend himself for once on his own turf. We’ve seen three similar adventures of Butler now, so something sharply different would be a plus. Even with such a formidable hero, Mammay’s biggest strength continues to be his supporting players, especially the women. New characters General Oxendine (a female version of the put-upon, cigar-smoking, toughy) and Captain Fader (the conflicted, eager to learn wannabe) are better fleshed out than Butler’s old crew, each strong women with complex personalities and skill sets. Returning are familiar ex-military IT guru Maria Ganos and Mac, the typical over-eager male sci-fi marine grunt–both welcome with good chemistry and banter to bounce off Butler.
Make sure you read Planetside and Spaceside first, but Colonyside is a good follow-on novel and recommended for fans of the sci-fi marines subgenre. Published by Harper Voyager, Colonyside is available now here at Amazon.