The Planetbreaker’s Son by Nick Mamatas

This entry is part 41 of 41 in the series 2022 Reads

As with earlier posts in this series, I’m publishing this some time after reading the book. 


The Planetbreaker’s Son is another of the PM Press Outspoken Authors series. As I’ve said before, that series hasn’t let me down before. 

Mamatas’ contribution to the series contains the usual mix of fiction and nonfiction plus an interview by Terry Bisson. 

“The Planetbreaker’s Son” is a wild story of life, well, “life,” in a post-Singularity spaceship with a bunch of digital personalities: some uploaded, some rebuilt simulacra based on the memories of the uploaded, and some generated onboard. Except it’s really about family and all the pains and challenges that come with having one, being part of one—as a parent, as someone’s kid. Despite having characters named after Titans (Kronos, Rhea) who have retired to the interior of a simulated black hole (but who are so old they remember life on Earth), and a lot of surreal imagery around the breaking of planets, it’s on the level where it’s a story of family that the story shines brightest. I always find it fascinating to read about childhood and parenthood by writers who are also doing the work of being a parent: what comes to the fore or gets emphasized is always interesting to me, and in this story it was the eponymous planetbreaker’s son—caught between two ages, struggling to figure out what growing up was like as a “real” kid back when people had bodies made of meat a bone, reappears split between a young child and a teenager. It’s a powerful image, embodying one of the enduring dilemmas of how one feels and thinks about one’s kid while also recognizing how that child is changing and growing as time passes. I found the story striking, strange, and fascinating in the best way. 

“The Term Paper Artist” is an essay I’ve read before. Mamatas apparently really did write papers for cash… but as he explains, the students he wrote for were not just screwing themselves: they were also being screwed by the universities that took their tuition fees while failing to give them anything in return—certainly not a proper education. Despite having read this back when it was first published online, it was only in rereading it that I realized one part of the essay discusses precisely the same problem that Gerald Graff brings up about academic writing education: that profs are eager to complain about terrible student writing, but most of them do very little to teach how academic writing works to the bumbling undergrads whose work they so energetically criticize. (Mamatas makes the point that you need to read examples of a given type of text if you’re to be able to write them yourself.) 1 

The interview with Bisson is what you’d expect, but in a good way. 

The book closes with “Ring, Ring, Ring, Ring, Ring, Ring, Ring,” a bizarre and very Nick Mamatas story set in Jeffrey Thomas’ “Punktown” setting. I don’t know anything about Thomas or Punktown, but “Ring, Ring…” is wild and dark and absurd story of cosmic horror and malfunctioning occult devices in a surreal nightmare world. It reminds me a lot of some of the earlier Lovecraftian stories by Mamatas I’ve read in the past. 

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  1. A friend of mine tells me that these days, there are a few websites students can visit to download term papers about as coherent as a typical TEFL undergrad writes, so I suppose this work, like so many other kinds, will be replaced by machines… and, in short order, we’ll probably have to either stop using term papers for evaluating students, or develop ways of cheatproofing the process. Which I’ve done, but it’s so onerous I don’t think many will be willing.

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