I enjoy military science fiction stories and when the author is a seasoned veteran, I know the details will ring true and provide authenticity to the exciting plot. I was thrilled to see author Michael Mammay’s recently released novel Spaceside (Planetside Book
2). I’d enjoyed the first novel very much and couldn’t wait to find out what happened to the main character, Colonel Butler. Then when I’d finished the book, I was eager to interview Michael about how he combines a very personal story of a man who’s now a hero to some and a villain to others, and not quite sure where his path is leading him, with the military action, interstellar politics and mystery. I was excited to have a chance to interview Michael about the new book.
A little about the author, from his official biography: “Michael Mammay is a retired army officer and a graduate of the United States Military Academy. He has a master’s degree in military history, and he is a veteran of Desert Storm, Somalia, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The book blurb (courtesy of Harper/Collins): A military legend is caught in the web between alien intrigue and human subterfuge…
Following his mission on Cappa, Colonel Carl Butler returns to a mixed reception. To some he is a do-or-die war hero. To the other half of the galaxy he’s a pariah. Forced into retirement, he has resettled on Talca Four where he’s now Deputy VP of Corporate Security, protecting a high-tech military company on the corporate battlefield—at least, that’s what the job description says. Really, he’s just there to impress clients and investors. It’s all relatively low risk—until he’s entrusted with new orders. A breach of a competitor’s computer network has Butler’s superiors feeling every bit as vulnerable. They need Butler to find who did it, how, and why no one’s taken credit for the ingenious attack.
As accustomed as Butler is to the reality of wargames—virtual and otherwise—this one screams something louder than a simple hack. Because no sooner does he start digging when his first contact is murdered, the death somehow kept secret from the media. As a prime suspect, he can’t shake the sensation he’s being watched…or finally succumbing to the stress of his past. Paranoid delusion or dangerous reality, Butler might be onto something much deeper than anyone imagined. But that’s where Butler thrives.
If he hasn’t signed his own death warrant.
Veronica for Amazing Stories: With Planetside published, what motivated you to write this new book? Why this one, as opposed to writing an all new adventure for someone else?
Michael: This one isn’t very romantic I’m afraid…I wrote it because it was in the contract. I signed a two book deal with Voyager, but didn’t really talk about what the second book was going to be. When I wrote Planetside, I thought of it as a stand-alone. When I got the contract, it was for two books featuring the same main character. So I started to think about Butler’s life after Planetside, and what it looked like. It’s an interesting topic, the combination of art and business.
ASM.: I read your “Big Idea” post on John Scalzi’s blog which was enlightening and insightful about the aspects of this book that are a personal journey for you and for Butler, the main character. If you were to write more of Colonel Butler’s life story, what do you envision his third act might be?
MM: First off, we’ve announced a third Carl Butler book, so we’ll all find out what the good colonel is doing when it comes out in 2020. And for my part, I’ve already written the book, so I know in pretty good detail. Without spoiling too much, he’s sort of checked out of society. He got tired of living under a microscope, so he retired to an agricultural planet where his neighbors mostly leave him alone. Obviously something happens to change that, or book 3 wouldn’t be much of a story. But at the beginning of the book, that’s where he’s at. He’s also quit drinking, if you can believe it.
ASM.: Exciting news, that there’s going to be a third book! I want Butler to have his chance to work out his final destiny. How much is the tech in your novel based in today’s reality? How did you extrapolate from existing capabilities to the types of gear Col. Butler gets to use?
MM: For Planetside I kept the tech pretty close to what we have in the modern world. I move it forward a little [for Spaceside], but it’s all stuff I think that’s pretty easy to envision. It’s nothing like a Bradbury or a Hurley, where they’re imagining stuff that’s way off of the radar. Part of that is because I wanted to make it more about the soldiers than the gear. I think the kind of soldiers I write in this series would keep it basic. Give them a Bitch (their nickname for their assault rifles) and a full load of ammunition, and they’ll be happy. I do want to write a book (or maybe a series) where the tech is way out there in the future. I have a couple of ideas. We’ll have to see how things develop.
ASM.: Michael and HarperVoyager were kind enough to let us share one of my favorite scenes from the book where Butler tries the new gear.
The excerpt: AFTER A SHITTY night’s sleep made somewhat better by breakfast and coffee with Matua, we went to the armory to get my equipment. Tanaka didn’t lie about me loving the gear. It took four hours for two techs to fit me for body armor and a helmet, but once they did, I almost wanted to dance. The fullbody suit was like being encased in a robot shell, with every action triggered by my natural movements, except enhanced. They started me out slow, teaching me to walk and how to use my eyes to trigger all the helmet functions, calibrating them to my exact measurements. After about five minutes I got tired of their teaching pace and did a standing front flip, landing on my high-tech boots, which thudded on the cement floor. I let out a whoop, and Matua laughed from his spot leaning against the wall.
“Ha!” I took half a dozen running steps and leaped to test out the leg capability. I got about two meters off the ground, and when I slammed back down onto the hard floor, the suit absorbed most of the impact. “We needed this shit in the infantry.”
“The army couldn’t afford them,” said Tanaka, who’d been standing on the far side of the room. “For the price of four of these you could outfit an entire line battalion with standard equipment.”
“Four people in these might be able to take on a battalion,” I joked. I had to admit, getting geared up gave me a little bit of the old fire, and I liked it. I wondered if that’s why guys like Tanaka did it, why they got out of the military and took the same kind of job in the civilian world. Something about it made me feel more alive than I had in two years. I’m sure it wasn’t just me. “Most of your team ex-military?”
“Almost exclusively,” said Tanaka. “We recruit pretty heavily in the elite units. We’ve got a good team.”
I looked over to the big corporal. “How’d they convince you?”
“Simple. They pay better. A lot better.”
ASM.: You always write strong female characters in the important supporting roles (which I relish). Might we ever see Karen Plazz, the intrepid reporter, or Ganos the IT whiz featured in their own book? Or a military heroine perhaps?
MM: I love Plazz and Ganos, but I don’t think I could do justice to them as main characters because I don’t know their worlds well enough. When I write them from Butler’s perspective, they’re colored by his lack of knowledge and his biases about reporters and hackers. Writing them from their own perspective would require a lot of knowledge that I don’t have in those areas. I do have a book I’m working on that stars a female soldier in the lead role…can’t say much more about that one right now, other than I think you’ll see it in the world one day in the not too distant future.
ASM.: Another piece of good news – I’d love to read a military science fiction book by you where the woman was the protagonist. Keep us posted on that! What was the most intriguing or fun thing you had to research for this book?
MM: For Spaceside, there wasn’t much. Probably planetary dynamics, which is really interesting to me. I had to create a planet with certain characteristics so that some of what’s happening makes sense (I’m being intentionally vague here to avoid spoilers). Overall, my Butler books don’t require too much research because I only have to know as much as Butler does. That’s one of the hidden benefits of writing in the first person.
ASM.: With several military science fiction books published, what’s the one thing you wish you’d known about being an author before you became published?
MM: I think I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. I guess if I had to pick one thing, I’d say how hard it is to write book 2. With book 1, you have all the time in the world and no pressure. With book 2, you have expectations and a deadline, so it’s a different dynamic. If I flipped the question and answered it by what one thing do I think most people get wrong about authors, it would be the pay. Being a mid-list author doesn’t pay nearly as well as people think it does.
ASM.: Do you write in the morning or the evening? In general what does your writing process look like? Do you have a pet who keeps you company?
MM: I can rarely write in the morning. Afternoons and evenings are better for me, creatively. Right now, since I’m teaching, I try to do a lot of drafting in the summer when I’m off, then revise in the evenings during the school year. If I’m making new words, it will be mostly weekends and holidays, though I might set aside a couple of nights a week to write as well, if I have a deadline coming up.
I definitely write sequentially, and once I start, I write through to the finish, even if I know there will be changes earlier in the book—that happens quite a bit. Something later in the book will catch me by surprise and then necessitate changes to earlier scenes.
We have a cat, but she’s definitely more my wife’s cat than mine. The only time that she really shows up during writing time is if my wife is out for some reason. When that happens, the cat shows up at my office door at meal time and announces her displeasure with my failure to serve her.
ASM.: If you – or Colonel Butler – could have your pick of a military unit from any science fiction or fantasy novel/TV show/movie to take on a dangerous interstellar mission, who would you pick and why?
MM: Gah! This is hard. The thing is, the units are usually built to fit the world, so taking a unit out of context into a random mission isn’t really fair. For newer stuff, there’s Hurley’s The Light Brigade, which I really enjoyed. I’m also a fan of Jay Posey’s military SF, but I don’t know that I’d choose his unit for a mission. I guess give me Gavin Smith’s Bastard Legion.
ASM.: Fair enough. What’s on your To Be Read List these days?
MM: I’m currently doing a re-read of Downbelow Station by CJ Cherryh and on audio I’m listening to Jade War by Fonda Lee. Next up I have an early copy of something my publisher sent me, and then I really want to read The Dragon Republic, which is the sequel to The Poppy War.
ASM.: What’s next for you, writing-wise?
MM: I’m finishing up Planetside 3, which is due in December, and then I’m working on the project with the female soldier main character that I can’t talk too much about. After that, I owe another book to Harper Voyager next December, but we haven’t settled yet on what that will specifically be. My editor and I will probably talk in the next couple months and come to a decision.
ASM.: For more about Michael and his books visit http://www.michaelmammay.com/