19 August, 2018

Review of Michael Mammay's Planetside

PlanetsidePlanetside by Michael Mammay

So: Planetside is military SF meets hardboiled detective novel. There's a missing lieutenant, son of an Important Person, and an almost-retired combat veteran, Colonel Butler, is sent to investigate. The general who sends him says "get it done." The blunt simplicity of that directive drives the narrative. There are not a lot of stylistic frills here, nor meditations on the meaning of life. Butler describes his environment and observations with a spare, dry wit and an understated sense of drama. Butler's cool makes the action in the book--the explosions, the surprises--that much more, well, dramatic. And surprising. You're walking along the narrative, thinking (like Butler) you know where it's going, and then bang.

I really can't talk about the plot much without giving things away, because it's a mystery as much (more than) it is about firefights and violence, even though the story has its share of both. There were moments where I saw echoes of Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and moments when I laughed out loud (not the same moments). The military is, of course, at the core of the story, but Mammay's military is composed of people--good and bad and venal and brave and scared--and not caricatures. (Confession: I grew up in a military family. Reading this book felt a lot like coming home.) Morality is grey, but also crystal clear. Mammay does a fantastic job of showing multiple perspectives (no easy feat with a first-person narrator!); the war itself feels like a character as much as the people walking around and fighting and dying. Mammay spools out the backstory slowly, in fragments, relying on the reader to put things together as much by what's not said as what is, and lets the reader--through Butler--figure out how to feel, and what course of action to take despite an increasingly muddy morality.

Don't look for heroics (although there are heroes). Don't look for drama (though there's that, too). Look for a smart, and smart-ass narrator who does his best to get it done, while never letting anyone--least of all himself--get too comfortable in their assumptions.