With his new novel The Bayern Agenda (paperback, Kindle), sci-fi writer Dan Moren is kicking off his spy-fi series, the Galactic Cold War. In the following email interview, Moren explains the origins and influences of this series and this first book, as well as his plan for this series going forward.
Photo Credit: Mary Gordon
To start, what is the Galactic Cold War series about, when does it take place, and what is The Bayern Agenda about?
The Galactic Cold War is just what it says on the tin. In this universe, there are two major superpowers: the Illyrican Empire, a faction of human settlers who invaded Earth and its remaining colonies about twenty years prior, and the Commonwealth of Independent Systems, a loosely arrayed coalition that’s made up of those who fought back against the Illyricans. Open conflict ended about six years ago, but both powers are still jockeying for position and influence in the galaxy.
The Bayern Agenda kicks off with a mission gone wrong: Commonwealth operative Simon Kovalic and his team are behind enemy lines, meeting a defector who’s got intel on a shady relationship the Illyricans have with Bayern, an independent planet that’s essentially one giant corporation. Kovalic’s job is to make sure the Illyricans don’t get a leg up in this conflict, and to stop the cold war from becoming a shooting war again. But naturally, complications and excitement ensue.
Naturally. So, where did you get the idea for the Galactic Cold War and The Bayern Agenda, and what was it about the idea that made you think should be a series as opposed to one novel?
I’ve always loved Cold War spy thrillers from authors like John Le Carré and Tom Clancy. Well, his earlier books. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the 1980s, as the Cold War was drawing to a close, but there was something about the shadowy intrigue, the twisty plots, the idea of two sides working against each other at high levels, while daily life goes on for everyone else. There’s also a real moral ambiguity to it, with all these figures operating in these gray areas: are the good guys really that different from the bad guys? It’s an atmosphere that appeals to me tremendously.
As for why it’s a series, well, there are two main factors. One is down to the plots, which I think are at their most interesting when their drawn out over time — yes, there are self-contained stories to tell, but the arc of the larger conflict itself needs time to mature and develop. I like when readers get comfortable with something, because it’s that much more satisfying when you shake them out of it.
The other reason is the characters. As with plots, I like the idea of developing characters over a large arc. Any good character changes within a story, yes, but a series allows you to see a much deeper and more gradual evolution of characters that. Readers get attached to characters — at least if we writers are doing their jobs right — and seeing how they grow and change is a significant aspect of any story.
The Bayern Agenda is a science fiction story, but is there a subgenre of sci-fi, or maybe a combination of them, that describes this better?
I know I’m not the first person to use the term “spy-fi,” but I think it’s a good encapsulation of the story I’m trying to tell. This is science-fiction, make no mistake — there are spaceships and wormholes and extrasolar planets — but it’s also very much steeped in the classics of espionage fiction: intrigue and hidden agendas, betrayals, unlikely alliances, and so on. “Spyjinks,” if you will. (I’m trying to make it a thing!)
The Bayern Agenda is your second novel after 2017’s The Caledonian Gambit, which was also a sci-fi story, but is not part of the Galactic Cold War series. Are there any writers or specific stories that were a big influence on The Bayern Agenda but not The Caledonian Gambit?
So much of my lifelong love for this genre is infused throughout my writing that it’s hard to narrow down which books influenced what. But I can say both of my books were inspired by some of my favorite sci-fi series, like Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, and Timothy Zahn’s original Thrawn trilogy. For The Bayern Agenda, I would particularly call out Bujold’s Cetaganda, which features this huge state-level intrigue with the protagonists at risk of being crushed in between them.
How about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or video games; did any of them have a big impact on The Bayern Agenda?
There are a few movies I always find myself drifting back to. You’d be hard-pressed to not find a reference to Sneakers or Star Wars in anything I write, and both this and The Caledonian Gambit owe a huge debt to the classic British spy TV series, The Sandbaggers, which I came to via Greg Rucka’s comic series Queen & Country.
But another big inspiration for The Bayern Agenda was actually music. There are definitely scenes in this book that I composed in my head while listening to movie scores, which are my favorite music genre. Specifically, in this case, Daft Punk’s Tron: Legacy score, which is just a phenomenal piece of work. I like to play these scenes in my mind’s eye, unspooling them like I’m watching a movie, before they ever make their way to the page.
Now, as we’ve been discussing, The Bayern Agenda is the first book in your Galactic Cold War series. What can you tell us about this series?
I think I can safely say that you haven’t seen the last of Simon Kovalic and his merry band of operatives. I’d love to keep writing these books for as long as people want to read them. I’ve long had ideas sketched out for several more stories in this universe, including how the overall arc of the series — the characters and the war itself — will progress, and I would love to be able to get all the way there. But so much depends, as always, on how well this book does.
Earlier I asked about the movies, TV shows, and video games that may have influenced The Bayern Agenda. But has there been any interest in making a movie, show, or game based on The Bayern Agenda?
To my knowledge, the only person currently interested in developing a movie, show, or game based on my books is me. I watch a lot of movies and TV, and play a decent number of video games, and I would love to see it adapted into any of these forms. Heck, I play a lot ofD&D, so a tabletop RPG would be supercool. TV in particular holds a lot of interest for me, because I love serialized storytelling: it really gives stories like this so much room to breathe, gives you time to explore side plots, other characters, and the rest of the world in a way that you don’t always have time to do in a film. That said, find me a writer who hasn’t wanted to see their creation on the big screen; there’s absolutely something thrilling about that idea.
If The Bayern Agenda and the Galactic Cold War series was to be adapted into a movie or TV show, who would you like to see them cast in the main roles?
Oh, fantasy casting. It’s funny, the more central these characters, the harder it is to pin them down to just one actor. Which is nice in some ways, as it gives everybody the chance to picture those characters in their own way. But I will say that I think F. Murray Abraham would be a great choice for “the general,” Kovalic’s mysterious boss. Not only does he have the right look for the part, but his role as Dar Adal on Homeland is exactly the kind of puppet master-y figure that I imagine the general being.
Okay, one more: I love the idea of Jerome Flynn [Game Of Thrones] as Kovalic’s right-hand man, Tapper. He’s got that craggy countenance, the perfect voice, and just the right amount of attitude.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Bayern Agenda, what would you suggest they read while waiting for the next book to come out?
First off, if anybody likes the idea of space and intrigue, I am always obligated to recommend my favorite series of all time, Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga. It’s a sprawling space opera that nevertheless hops genres and it is utterly delightful. Plus, I guarantee that its cast of characters will become some of your favorite in fiction ever.
If you’re looking for something more on the espionage end of the spectrum, I devoured my friend Antony Johnston’s techno-thriller The Exphoria Code, which came out last year…and, due to some recent events, now feels remarkably prescient. And hey, if you haven’t read it yet, there’s always The Caledonian Gambit.