In Review: Planetside

Perfect reading for sci-fi, mystery, conspiracy, or military fans.

Planetside by Michael Mammay

Published by Harper Voyager, July 31 2018. Paperback of 370 pages at $7.99. Also available as an eBook. 

Note: I read an advanced copy so anything may have changed by publication.

The cover: A monstrous space station sits in the orbit of a planet, observing the sun rising in the distance. A small ship is flying toward Cappa Base, insinuating that someone is coming aboard. The cover design is by Guido Caroti and the art was created by Sebastien Hue. I like that the title of the book goes through the center of the image vertically, which instantly draws the eye. To the top right of the title is the author’s name. At the bottom right is the tagline “Find the truth. Stop a war.” I like the tease of the art that suggests rather than shows, leaving the reader to make their own imagery from the text. Please note, the cover is much better than the image that accompanies this review; I had to scan the cover myself. Overall grade: A

The premise: From the back cover, “War heroes aren’t usually called out of semi-retirement and sent to the far reaches of the galaxy for a routine investigation. So when Colonel Carl Butler answers the call from an old and powerful friend, he knows it’s something big — and he’s not being told the whole story. A high councilor’s son has gone MIA out of Cappa Base, the space station orbiting a battle-ravaged planet. The young lieutenant had been wounded and evacuated — but there’s no record of him having ever arrived at hospital command. The colonel quickly finds Cappa Base to be a labyrinth of dead ends and sabotage: the hospital commander stonewalls him, the Special Ops leader won’t come off the planet, witnesses go missing, radar data disappears, and that’s before he encounters the alien enemy. Butler has no choice but to drop down onto a hostile planet — because someone is using the war zone as a cover. The answers are there — Butler just has to make it back alive…” I like sci-fi novels, I like mysteries, I like conspiracies. I think I’m going to like this book. Overall grade: A

The characters: Carl Butler is a no nonsense military man. He doesn’t want any smoke and mirrors, he wants to accomplish his mission and get out alive. He accepts the assignment to check into Lieutenant Mallot’s disappearance hoping it will go quickly. Instead it spirals into a gigantic conspiracy. Butler takes as good as he gives, he’s rightfully suspicious of people he doesn’t know, and is a good judge of character. After a rough day he’ll go back to his quarters and drink, often to his detriment. This makes him human. The book is told from his point of view and he’s a fantastic narrator. Once at Cappa Base he’s assigned liaison Lexa Alenda. He doesn’t trust the young woman, thinking she might be feeding all her information to her CO, Colonel Aaron Stirling who’s in command of the base. She is a terrific supporting character. Colonel Mary Elliot is the hospital commander and she runs her building and her people as she sees fit as she doesn’t answer to SPACECOM like Stirling and Butler do. She’s hiding something, but what it is will be a solid surprise. On the ground in charge of fighting the natives, the Cappans, is the mysterious Colonel Karikov, who’s heard from but not seen. He is revealed to the reader and he’s a surprise. Lieutenant Mallot is also discovered, but he, too, is also a good surprise. These characters are outstanding and I was taken by Butler’s voice from the first chapter. Overall grade: A

The settings: Cappa Base is a monstrous space station, containing soldiers, munitions, living quarters, a space fleet, and the hospital, which is as vast as any present day facility. It was a believable location, featuring what one would expect of military design, though the officers’ quarters resemble small apartments. The planet it orbits is populated by a native alien race, the most advanced ever discovered by humans, but they are a pre-gunpowder civilization, though are able to use the advanced weapons of the outsiders easily. The world is full of mines created by humans and the surface is full of forests and greenery. These opposing settings are great and author Mammay makes them believable. Overall grade: A

The action: There are two types of action: the first is the tension that grows as Butler learns more about his missing person and the second is the physical action encountered fighting the Cappans and others. As Butler questions individuals and learns more about the case the tension increases. He doesn’t know who is telling the truth and he slowly begins to realize that his life may be in jeopardy just for being at Cappa Base. There’s a serious skirmish on the ground in the first third of the book that later becomes full on warfare in the final quarter of the novel. The fighting is riveting and incredibly exciting. Overall grade: A+

The conclusion: The ending of this book is a stunner. I was absolutely floored. I was enjoying the book immensely, but the conclusion pulled the rug out from under me. The demeanor of the two individuals speaking during the conclusion is fantastic. I can’t imagine the book ending any other possible way and left me screaming for more. There’s no need for a sequel, as this story is complete, but with a finale like this I’ve got to get more of these characters from Mammay. Overall grade: A+

The final line: I am thrilled to read books that start with a seemingly small problem that blossom into a danger that threatens the nature of the universe. This book does that. It progresses at an incredibly tense pace, the action is outstanding, the characters are interesting, and the ending is a jaw-dropper. Mammay cannot write his next book soon enough for me. This is perfect reading for sci-fi, mystery, conspiracy, or military fans. Overall grade: A

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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