I’m…not very good at consuming fiction. Books, comics, movies, you name it. I’ll grab a copy of something that interests me, only to have it sit unread or unwatched for a long time. Comics I’m slightly better at, but that’s largely because the coffee shop being within forty-five seconds of the comic store lets me get an espresso and quarter granola bar in during the length of a comic. Once I get them home, not so much. It’s one of the reasons I’m more active over at Novus than I have been here.
I mention this because I finally got around to reading Michael Mammay’s military science fiction novel, Planetside. Originally published last August, I would have bought it not long after considering I got it at a grocery store, with their fairly quick book rotation. So while I don’t know exactly when I purchased it, we’re coming up on close to a year now. Which, coincidentally, is how long soldiers in the novel stay on the space station that is the main setting of the story. So I suppose I could have purchased the book on my out and read it on my way home. You know…were it not for the cryosleep. But, I digress. My point is, I really wish I hadn’t put this book off for so long.
Mammy does military science fiction very well, especially for his first novel. With a master’s degree in military history, as well as being a veteran officer of multiple wars, that’s not entirely surprising. It certainly can’t be said that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. However, military veterans aren’t particularly uncommon in the world of military science fiction, and it certainly doesn’t mean those books are all good. Knowledge, after all, can only help so much if you’re a mediocre writer. Mammy, however, writes Planetside very well throughout. The chapters average less than ten pages each, with mostly ones involving firefights being longer, and each one having a hook at the end to make you want to continue reading. Now, I don’t dislike long chapters by any means. As you might know, my favourite series is the Foundation set of novels by Issac Asimov, which is where my online persona, Foundation Afro, comes from. In comparison to Planetside, my copy of Foundation’s Edge (the first of the books I found) averages more than twenty pages per chapter. Considering its relatively small 1982 print (my 1953 copy of Second Foundation is even worse), it’s probably even a bit higher than that. Again, long chapters are by no means bad. They help keep the flow of the story going; which is why the extended battles in Planetside have longer chapters; and it’s not like they have zero breaks within them. Still, some books definitely feel like some of the chapters should be broken up. Mammy manages to keep the chapters at a length that doesn’t feel drawn-out, while at the same time keeping the flow of the novel throughout, which is really nice to see.
Mammy also managed to convert me multiple times throughout the novel when I started to worry. The first came right at the beginning, when I saw the book was in first-person, probably my least favourite grammatical point-of-view. Admittedly, it is a story that works best in first-person. As it involves the main character, Carl Butler, conducting a military investigation, it would work a lot less well in third-person, and not at all in third-person omniscient. This however goes back to how well Mammy manages to write the story. First-person can be tough to write, and is very narrow, getting deep into the head of one character and no one else. It was only a few pages in that I became a convert, though, and enjoyed it throughout.
My second worry came when the story got a bit deeper into the planet, below the orbital base that makes up most of the story. We learn that it’s not just a habitable planet, but one with an intelligent alien species, the Cappans, on it. Similar to the first-person thing, I sometimes get worried when I see aliens in science fiction. Do they really need to be there, or are they just there because space? This is again just a personal preference thing, but I usually get more enjoyment out of stories that could theoretically take place in any era. It’s one of the reasons I like the Foundation series so much. It’s about humans being greedy and being assholes and losing control of far-off places. Same with the big one, Dune. While both have to take place in a future era, similar stories could be written about today, just with nations instead of planets or sectors. Back to Planetside, the Cappans don’t feel at all shoehorned in. They need to be in the story for it to work, and they’re never used when they’re not needed. Again, this is a military story told from the humans’ side, mostly taking place on a human base. Mammay could have easily overused the Cappans, but he manages to use them just enough that they’re mysterious and dangerous, while still showing us a part of their side.
All in all, Planetside is an excellent novel. Not only does it manage to make good use of the things I do like, it does well with the things I often don’t like, or, probably more accurately, have seen done poorly too many times. Michael Mammay is able to combine writing skill with military experience to come out with a book that I’m almost certainly going to be reading again. Which I think is the mark of a great novel. There have been many books that I’ve quite enjoyed, and found very good, but after that they get forgotten about or taken to a used book store. Finding one that I can read a year or two down the line can be exciting, both now and on the second or third or fourth reading. Planetside feels like one of those books, and I’m excited to get into it again in the future, as well as the yet-to-be-released second and third books in the series. And with the sequel being released in just a few months, putting off reading it for so long actually had a bit of benefit for me. So it wasn’t all bad, I suppose.
Spaceside, a direct sequel to Planetside, will release on August 27 of this year. The currently unnamed Planetside 3 will release in 2020, and will feature Carl Butler in a new, contained story.
Have you read Planetside? What did you think? Be sure to let me know down below, or over on Twitter!