Last year, Dan Moren kicked off his Galactic Cold War series of spy-fi novels with The Bayern Agenda. With the second installment, The Aleph Extraction (paperback, Kindle), newly available, I spoke with him via email to find out what inspired and influenced this sci-fi space opera heist story.
Photo Credit: Mary Gordon
For people who didn’t read the first book, The Bayern Agenda, what is The Galactic Cold War series about, and when and where is it set?
Imagine a world very much like ours, but a few hundred years in the future. Humanity has spread out through the cosmos via naturally occurring wormholes, settling a number of solar systems. Two major superpowers have arisen: the Illyrican Empire, which has occupied Earth and some of its colonies, and the Commonwealth Of Independent Systems, which is mainly composed of those who fled Earth in the face of the Illyrican invasion and a handful of other worlds. While the two are no longer at open war with one another, the situation is uneasy, always a misstep away from hostilities. That makes it a perfect breeding ground for spies and those who operate in the shadows, whether they’re trying to give their own side a leg up, or merely trying to keep the whole situation from falling apart. The Galactic Cold War series predominantly follows Simon Kovalic, a covert operative for the Commonwealth, who is trying to do a little of both with the help of his team of colorful characters.
And then for people who did read The Bayern Agenda, what is The Aleph Extraction about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to The Bayern Agenda?
The main story of The Aleph Extraction largely stands on its own against the larger backdrop of The Galactic Cold War: Kovalic and his team are dispatched to acquire a legendary artifact, which is believed to be the only evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence that humans have ever found. There’s a theory, which may be more conspiracy than science, that this artifact might contain the key to ancient alien technology, which could shift the balance of the war. The only problem — okay, well, there are a lot of problems — is that it’s fallen into the hands of a ruthless crime lord named Ofeibia Xi. So, of course, the team’s only option is to get onboard her luxury starliner and steal it right out from under her nose.
The story picks up about three months after the events of The Bayern Agenda, and while the plot doesn’t follow directly on the previous book, the characters are still dealing with the implications of that earlier mission. There’s a lot of fallout from the job that these people do, and I wanted to spend some time investigating the toll that it takes, both on those who make the hard choices, and those that have to live with them — which aren’t always the same people.
When in the process of writing The Bayern Agenda did you come up with the idea for The Aleph Extraction and how did that idea evolve as you wrote this second book?
I’ve always had a larger plan in mind for this series, so I already had concocted the central thrust of The Aleph Extraction and where it would fit in with the larger story of these characters, even before I was working on The Bayern Agenda. But as I wrote Bayern, and especially when dealing with the conclusion of that book, I knew the characters would have to confront the events that transpired there. So the story went from something that was probably a little more “galivanting around to different places on a merry chase” to something that was a little more contained and claustrophobic, largely set in one place, with high stakes and tension that would only bring out more of the conflicts between the characters.
In the previous interview we did about The Bayern Agenda [which you can read by clicking here], you said that book was a spy-fi story. Is that how you’d describe The Aleph Extraction as well, or are there other genres that either describe it better or are at work in this story, too? Because when I read The Bayern Agenda, I thought it was also a space opera story.
Absolutely. There are a lot of different genres at play here; as an author, one of my favorite things is to get to smush many different types of stories together to hopefully create a new spin on old favorites. It’s like throwing all your favorite stories in a blender and getting something delicious.
In addition to being part space opera and part spy adventure, The Aleph Extraction also gets to dip into another one of my favorite genres: the heist story. The centerpiece of this book is an elaborate heist that takes place on a huge spaceship and, as with any heist story, it involves a complex plan that goes perfectly…until it doesn’t. It was a challenge and a blast to write, and I hope it’s even more entertaining to read.
So do you think people need to read The Bayern Agenda before diving in The Aleph Extraction?
I don’t think it’s strictly necessary to read Bayern first, just as it didn’t require people read my first novel, The Caledonian Gambit, which is set in the same universe with many of the same characters. I try to make the adventures stand on their own two feet, so that you can jump in and quickly get a feel for the world and the characters. What I think helps in particular about The Aleph Extraction is the addition of a new character, Adelaide Sayers, who’s also thrust into this strange new life of intrigue and danger and thus provides a proxy for the reader to learn about the setting and the other characters.
Now, having said that, what do you think people will get out of The Aleph Extraction if they read The Bayern Agenda first?
Where Bayern readers will really have a leg up is understanding from the get-go who these characters are and what they’ve been through. The choices that they’ve made in the past have influenced who they are and they’ve grown as a result. Our experiences shape and transform us, and I think it’s always a pleasure to see how characters evolve throughout a series. There are also some larger galacti-political ramifications of what happened in Bayern that help inform certain developments in Aleph…but I don’t want to say too much.
Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on The Aleph Extraction but not on The Bayern Agenda? Or anything else you’ve written for that matter?
This installment of the series deals a little more with the shady underworld of the universe, which gave me an opportunity to dive a bit into elements of crime fiction that I enjoy, especially classic works like Raymond Chandler and Richard Stark. There’s something fun about writing the seedier side of the galaxy, although I have to admit that most of my reading in that area hasn’t been especially sci-fi related.
What about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, and video games; did any of them have a big impact on The Aleph Extraction?
Actually, a slightly obscure one, but I’m going to throw it out there. I watched a lot of Star Trek: The Next Generation when I was growing up, and there’s an episode called “The Chase” which is a sort of a “galaxy hopping” adventure about dealing with alien artifacts; something about that stuck with me. Not to mention, of course, the influence of Raiders Of The Lost Ark and Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, which both involve encountering artifacts beyond human understand. And parts of the Mass Effect video games also influenced the feel of Aleph, including something of the team’s main antagonist, Ofeibia Xi. Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this great trailer I saw almost a decade ago for a show that never got made called Slingers [which you can watch by clicking here] which basically has a heist from a space casino, which definitely planted the seed.
And, as I said above, the main event of this book is a big heist, and I absolutely love heist movies and TV shows. (There should be more heist video games, because I would play the heck out of those.) One of my favorite movies of all times is the classic ’90s movie Sneakers, which has a couple of really fun technology-related heists, and I would say that you can always see a little bit of that movie’s DNA in almost anything I write. Very early in the process I also went back and rewatched Ocean’s Eleven, which is one of the great heist movies of the last couple decades, just to see how you handle the plotting and building of the heist. And of course, I love TV series like Leverage and Hustle, which always have these very cleverly constructed cons. I also watched the entire run of the recent show Imposters while I was working on this book, which also has this very fun and convoluted plot with lots of twists and turns and double crosses that keep you guessing.
Now, in the previous interview we did about The Bayern Agenda you said that The Galactic Cold War was going to be an ongoing series of stand-alone stories. Is that still the plan?
I’d love to continue The Galactic Cold War series — I’ve got plenty more ideas and stories for these characters — but as of this writing, there isn’t yet another novel in the works. As with any series, future books depend on how well the previous installments do. So if you love these characters and this world, and I hope you do, buy the book, encourage your friends and family to pick up a copy, and of course spread the good word online.
As for what’s to come, I think you’ll only see the conflict between the Imperium and Commonwealth get more intense as the stories progress, so while the adventures of these characters may stand on their own, there’s an overarching plot that’s going to draw these superpowers (and the characters) into peril with even higher stakes.
Though you do have two short stories, available as eBooks, that are also part of The Galactic Cold War series: “Pilot Error” and “Showdown.” What are those stories about, and how do they connect, narratively and chronologically, to both The Aleph Extraction and The Bayern Agenda?
Both of these stories essentially started life as deleted scenes, as I discuss in the afterwords included in the eBook versions. “Pilot Error” was originally the beginning of Eli Brody’s first chapter in The Bayern Agenda, and dealt with his reaction to the fallout of the events in The Caledonian Gambit. When I sat down to make Bayern more of a stand-alone story, I ended up deciding to remove those links (there were also other reasons related to pacing). But it remained compelling enough to me as a short story that I decided readers might be interested in getting more insight into Eli’s psyche at that point.
“Showdown,” which takes place between the events of The Bayern Agenda and The Aleph Extraction, had a slightly different process. At one point, I started writing a “cold open” to the book that eventually became The Aleph Extraction. The idea was to demonstrate the Special Project Team engaged in the kind of mission that they would be doing routinely — insofar as any of their missions are routine — after the The Bayern Agenda. Ultimately, it didn’t mesh enough with the story that I actually plotted out, so it was never really part of the Aleph manuscript. But it still seemed like a fun, engaging story that stood on its own, and I thought readers might enjoy seeing these characters interacting and doing what they do best.
Are those stories also included in either the print or physical versions of The Aleph Extraction?
Neither of these stories are in The Aleph Extraction, no. I produced the eBook versions on my own as an experiment, to dip my toes into the waters of self-publishing. At the moment, I have no plans to release them as a collection, I think I’d need a few more stories to do so, and while I do occasionally send out deleted scenes to my newsletter subscribers, I’m not a particularly prolific short story writer. But, hey, if there’s enough demand, I don’t rule anything out.
You also said in that previous interview that the only person interesting in adapting The Galactic Cold War series into a movie, TV show, or video game was you. Is that still the case?
Sadly, I still have nothing to report on this front. But I’m open to all takers. I’d love to see an adaptation in any form — I love movies, TV shows, video games, and comics, and I think there’s something in The Galactic Cold War that would work well in any of those mediums.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Aleph Extraction, and they’ve already read The Bayern Agenda, what spy-fi space opera novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
There are, frankly, a deluge of great books recently. While it may not be straight up spy-fi, I heartily recommend Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire, which has plenty of intrigue and political machinations in a galaxy-spanning empire — fans of The Galactic Cold War will find a lot to love there. Myke Cole’s Sixteenth Watch is the great rare military SF story that’s about preventing wars, which also might resonate with those who like my books. I also like John Scalzi’s Interdependency series, which is perhaps a little more space opera than spy novel, although it definitely has that galactic intrigue angle again. My friend Curtis C. Chen’s Waypoint Kangaroo is a sci-fi spy story that takes place on a space cruise ship, so we obviously have some similar ideas. And obviously if you haven’t read The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey or Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga (start with the Cordelia’s Honor omnibus), then what are you even doing here? Stop reading this and go find those post haste.