Publishers: Harper Voyager
Publication Date – 31 July 2018
Well, that was an unexpectantly awesome book! I am usually pretty good at predicting how good a book is going to be by its plot synopsis or my prior knowledge of the author. When I first heard about Planetside I thought it sounded like an interesting concept from first-time author Michael Mammay. While I had high hopes for the book, I did somewhat assume that it would just be another solid but enjoyable science fiction mystery. What I was not expecting, however, was one of the best science fiction books of 2018 that easy achieves a five-star rating from me.
Set in the far future of Earth’s expansion, Planetside follows Colonel Carl Butler, a war hero living out a peaceful semi-retirement on a training base. However, when his old friend General Serata calls him late at night and drags him all the way to headquarters, he obliges for old times’ sake. Serata needs him to travel to the planet of Cappa, humanity’s current warzone, where members of a resilient and intelligent alien race known as the Cappans are fighting a gruelling insurgency against the humans attempting to exploit their planet. Once there, he will head up an investigation into the disappearance of a young lieutenant who went missing after being wounded on the planet. By all accounts, the wounded lieutenant was successfully evacuated from the surface, but the military hospital claims that he never arrived at their facility. To makes matters worse, the lieutenant is the son of a high councillor, and the disappearance has become a highly publicised affair. Despite knowing that there is more to the case than Serata is letting on, Butler agrees to find the missing officer.
Arriving at Cappa Base, the space station hovering over the planet, Butler soon finds that his investigation is going to be a lot harder than he anticipated. All the soldiers he speaks to have the same rehearsed story, the head of the base’s military hospital flat out refuses to cooperate with him, the head of Special Ops is continuously unable to come off-planet to speak to him, and any witnesses or evidence that could point him in the right direction mysteriously disappears. It is also damn suspicious that any time he takes a step in the right direction, somebody tries to have him killed. Under pressure to wrap this investigation up, Butler decides to drop down onto the surface of Cappa, but what he finds down there will change everything. Forced into an increasingly desperate situation, Butler must find the answers he needs before it is too late.
This is the first book from Michael Mammay, but it was more than enough to make me a dedicated fan of this author. With a sequel already set to be released in 2019, Planetside is an extraordinary introduction to an amazing new series. I chose to listen to this book in its audiobook format, read by R. C. Bray, and at 8 hours 38 minutes, this is a fairly quick way to enjoy this fantastic book.
Planetside’s story is based around the protagonist’s investigation into a missing human soldier on an alien planet that has been occupied by the human military. As Butler arrives at the military base the solider was stationed out of, he begins to realise that there is something much more to the case than what was advertised. Every single person he speaks to is hiding something, he seems only to uncover more lies, and some shadowy figures are actively trying to sabotage his investigation in any way they can. Despite all these setbacks, the protagonist persists with his investigation throughout the course of the book and slowly begins to uncover the underlying conspiracy that the soldier’s disappearance is just one small part of. There is so much about this mystery investigation to enjoy, as the author seamlessly combines the mystery and conspiracy part of this story with the science fiction element, creating a unique and captivating overall narrative. The full scope of this conspiracy is very impressive, and Mammay’s slow burn reveal of the extent and implications of what Butler uncovers is well done to keep the reader in suspense. I was intensely intrigued by this multilayered conspiracy, and was left constantly guessing at what the potential solution was.
The book is told from the point of view of its protagonist, Colonel Butler, and Mammay has created an excellent central character for this story that the reader is instantly drawn to and cannot help but like. The author has done a fantastic job conveying the fact that Butler is a straight-shooting, no-bullshit, wily veteran soldier who has had enough of war and is just looking forward to retirement. He is an amusing and intriguing choice to investigate the book’s intricate and potentially wide-reaching conspiracy, as he powers through the expected political niceties other investigators may have worried about without any concerns for his future or career. His years of service also ensure that he has impeccable instincts when it comes to the people he is dealing with and is fully aware of when the other characters are bullshitting him, which occurs frequently throughout this book. I had fun observing this rough and seemingly uncomplicated old-school soldier get to grips with this elaborate conspiracy and blow through all the careful plans of the book’s antagonists. The colonel also has a sense of humour, something that the other characters encounter to various degrees of frustration, especially the people he is intentionally pissing off. I also appreciated the self-deprecating and extremely honest reflections about the situation that Butler presents to the reader, as it made me like him even more.
The military aspects of this book are another amazing part of Planetside, as Mammay has perfectly captured elements of the modern day military and transplanted them into this science fiction storyline. The majority of the story is set within Cappa Base, and the reader is made to feel like they are in a real military base. The author also seeks to capture the full minutiae of military life throughout the book, and the reader is given insight into what tasks are undertaken on the base, the main characters experience and the respect he commands of the other soldiers in the story. While most of the focus is on the investigation, there are a couple of action scenes throughout the book, including an extended battle sequence that see’s the protagonist and his allies engage in a protracted firefight with enemy forces on the planet’s surface. The author’s use of the first-person perspective is perfect for these battle sequences and the reader is dragged right into the middle of these firefights, really experiencing the action through Mammay’s skilled and descriptive writing. This battle sequences felt very realistic and had some noticeable similarities to real-life skirmishes in modern day battlefields. The tactics the humans use during these conflicts on Cappa are highly reminiscent of American forces in the Middle East, although the inclusion of more science fiction appropriate weapons and technology allow for some interesting differences.
While the impressive investigation storyline does a fantastic job holding onto the reader’s interest, and the solution to the entire mystery arc is creative and clever, nothing compares to the book’s epic conclusion. Without going into too much detail, I thought that the way that Mammay ended this book was just incredible, and is one of the main reasons why I am giving this book a five-star rating. I also loved how, towards the end of the book, the protagonist becomes fully aware of how everything has to end, and at the same time he starts to understand that his oldest friend had sent him on this mission because he knew exactly how Butler would act upon uncovering the full extent of the conspiracy. The final scene of the book was just perfect as the protagonist reflects on everything that has happened with one of the book’s side characters. During this scene there is an excellent use of the end of a subtle countdown that has been occurring throughout the entire book, represented by a depleting number of whisky bottles, as well as an appropriate moment of happiness for Butler as he finally gets to have a whisky in a proper glass, which was just perfect. As mentioned above, Mammay already has a sequel planned, and I am extremely curious to see where the story goes next.
The audiobook version of Planetside is a great way to enjoy this fantastic book, and I had a lot of fun listening to this format. The audiobook’s narrator, R. C. Bray, manages to capture the gruff and grizzled personality of Butler perfectly, and for most of the book it really sounded like the old colonel was telling you his story. Bray also does a good job producing distinctive voices for the rest of the characters in book, including several female characters, and the listener is able to distinguish between the various people without too much difficulty. I also felt that listening to this story really helped bring me into the book’s awesome battle sequences as well as ensuring that I was fully invested in the success of the enjoyable main character. Overall, I would recommend the audiobook format as an excellent way to enjoy this book, although readers will of course get a lot out of this book if they choose the paperback format.
Michael Mammay’s debut novel, Planetside, is an incredible piece of science fiction and is one of my favourite books of 2018. Featuring a captivating mystery storyline that places the book’s likeable protagonist in the middle of a massive conspiracy, this book completely grabs the reader’s attention and refuses to let go until its powerful and memorable conclusion. I cannot recommend this book enough and it is essential reading for all fans of the science fiction genre. I am very much looking forward to Mammay’s sequel to Planetside, which is already at the top of my must-read list for 2019.