Pairings Project: SPACESIDE by Michael Mammay
Look at this: two pairings in one week! And it's because I read the sequel to Planetside fast on the heels of the first.
TLDR: Spaceside confronts Carl Butler with all the consequences of his decisions: life as a civilian and the task of unraveling a deeper conspiracy than he could imagine.
When you first pick up Michael Mammay’s Spaceside, it’s hard to see how it’s a direct sequel to Planetside. There’s the protagonist, Colonel Carl Butler. Except he’s no longer a colonel, and he’s no longer in the military. Bless his heart, he’s suffering the direct results of his decisions at the end of Planetside, and thanks to his BIG DECISION, he’s having a rough go of things. While he’s not necessarily filled with regret for what he did, boy do those consequences pay dividends. He’s a savior/murderer, hero/villain, celebrity/pariah; but he’s seeing a therapist, so he’s fine. He’s fine. Fine. Butler’s transitioning to civilian life, adjusting to his well-earned notoriety, and is then tasked with a new mystery.
At last! Somewhere he can shine. Butler immediately grabs onto his new task of tracking down a breach in security at a rival tech company and finds that the details are all a bit too familiar. Quickly, Butler realizes that as he pulls on the only resources he has available—his raw intelligence, combat experience, and military connections—that even when you kick a man out of the military, you can’t always render him a civilian.
His straightforward cybersecurity investigation uncovers deeper conspiracies that tie back to the mysteries left unsolved by Planetside. Butler dives into unraveling exactly how many knots he left untied, and, as before, learns that the bad guys and good guys are not as easy as us versus them.
Oof, that’s vague and cliche, but I’m trying so hard not to spoil things. Let’s just say that the same principles of the first book hold: while Butler is brilliant and intuitive, he often overestimates himself and underestimates the people around him.
Actually that is the truly great thing about Mammay’s writing. Even as he is focused on his protagonist and the ways Butler can use his resources to untangle complex plots to get at the “truth,” Mammay is constantly knotting things up again. He knows that even as the hero is doing his best to solve the mystery, everyone around him isn’t just standing still. They’re reacting in real time to pursue their own goals. They respond to Butler’s moves, they have more information and can muddy the waters to keep things opaque enough until they can achieve what they want. Everyone in Spaceside is moving at a faster pace than the hero and the reader, and that amps up the reality and the danger.
In too many mysteries, the crime has been committed, and the hero simply has to uncover the clues and solve the crime to put the bad guy away. In conspiracy thrillers like Spaceside, the crime’s clues aren’t lying in wait to be uncovered; they’re shifting about as everyone continues on their own paths. That means, sometimes the protagonist is outsmarted, sometimes the antagonists make mistakes, sometimes the hero does the wrong thing, and sometimes the antagonists turn into allies. Spaceside gives every character agency and makes the moments they come up against each other that much more intense. The stakes are real, the costs are high, and the conspiracies are only starting to be uncovered.
I was so glad I had both Planetside and Spaceside at hand when I started this series. The thought that I have to wait nearly a year for the next book is killing me. Luckily, I am going to meet the author Michael Mammay at AtomaCon this weekend. Maybe I can buy him a drink or two and find out just what secrets lurk in the next book. Or maybe I can just thank him for an amazing two books and tell him how excited I am for the third book. We’ll see how bold I get this weekend. Maybe I can suggest the cocktail below as a peace offering?
Cocktail Pairing: Bobby Burns
For Planetside I went with a classic whiskey cocktail: the Rob Roy. It’s got scotch whiskey, vermouth, and bitters. Straightforward with little complexity, it’s a tried and true classic. Since Spaceside takes the complexity of the Colonel Carl Butler up a notch, I did the same with the cocktail. This time we’re going for a Bobby Burns.
While a Rob Roy is two parts scotch and one part sweet vermouth, the Bobby Burns takes a 1.5 mix of scotch and sweet vermouth, and splashes in a .25 taste of Benedictine. It’s a strong drink, and should not ever be consumed in the quantities that Colonel Butler consumers his own liquor. But I think with moderation, you will definitely enjoy this classic, but complex cocktail.
1.5oz sweet vermouth
Combine liquids with ice in a shaker. Shake well. Pour into coupe or martini glass. The recipe I saw called for a lemon twist garnish, but it really doesn't suit the flavors involved. I went with brandy soaked cherries again, and it was absolutely the right choice.