In his ongoing series The Galactic Cold War, writer Dan Moren injects elements of sci-fi and space opera into spy stories. Or should that be the other way around? In the following email interview, he discusses what inspired and influenced the newest installment, The Nova Incident (paperback, Kindle).
Photo Credit: Mary Gordon
For those who didn’t read the first two books, The Bayern Agenda and The Aleph Extraction, or the interviews we did about them [which you can read here and here], what is The Galactic Cold War series about, and when and where does it take place?
The Galactic Cold War takes place several hundred years from now in a version of our universe where two major human factions, The Illyrican Empire and The Commonwealth Of Independent Systems, have reached an uneasy stalemate in their interplanetary conflict.
Simon Kovalic leads a team of covert operatives for the Commonwealth who have dedicated themselves to keeping the Galactic Cold War from turning hot. Their adventures often have them at odds with Illyrican agents and other dangerous third parties who want to tip the balance of the war for their own advantage.
And then for those who have read the first two books, and thus can ignore me writing SPOILER WARNING in all-caps, what is The Nova Incident about, and how does it connect to The Aleph Extraction?
The Nova Incident picks up about six months after the events of The Aleph Extraction. Simon Kovalic and the Special Projects Team have found themselves temporarily grounded, thanks in large part to the events of Aleph, which puts them on the Commonwealth capital planet of Nova just as a breakaway independence movement stages a major attack. Things get even more complicated when a former Commonwealth intelligence officer is implicated as the driving force behind the movement, giving Kovalic and his team a personal stake in the ensuing events, and not a small amount of internal struggle over who exactly they should be fighting for — and against.
When in the process of writing The Bayern Agenda and The Aleph Extraction did you come up with the idea for The Nova Incident, and what inspired it?
Like the rest of The Galactic Cold War, the broad strokes of what would become The Nova Incident have been in my head since even before I started writing my first book set in this universe. I knew that I wanted this chapter of the overarching story to be a conflict that hit closer to home than the previous books and that investigated what we think we know about who exactly are the “good guys” and the “bad guys” in the Galactic Cold War. The further I delve in the series, the more I like to color in shades of gray, because, well, that’s how the world is. People aren’t really all good or all bad. Everybody’s complicated.
In our previous interviews you talked about how The Bayern Agenda and The Aleph Extraction were sci-fi space opera spy stories. Is The Nova Incident one as well?
The Nova Incident does very much continue in the sci-fi space opera spy genre (boy, is that a mouthful!). In some ways, Nova‘s even more heavy on the spy angle than previous installments. In part that’s because our characters are so deeply enmeshed in the intrigue that suffuses the book, and also because the events are more tightly bound to a single planet. Don’t worry, though: there’s plenty of sci-fi and, if I can say so without spoiling too much, I’m pretty much incapable of writing one of these books without some space action sequences.
Are there any writers or stories that had an influence on The Nova Incident but not on The Bayern Agenda or The Aleph Extraction?
I wrote much of Nova early in the pandemic, and I had definitely been delving a bit more into some of my comfort zones when it came to books: mysteries and spy thrillers included. I read a couple of spy stories by John Le Carré that I hadn’t read before, as well as works by Adam Hall, and all of that helped me flesh out the idea of these operatives who find themselves in situations that are much more complex than they initially think. The best spy novels have shrouded agendas and make you think about the true nature of conflicts that are fought in the shadows, and I hope Nova is no exception.
What about non-literary influences; was The Nova Incident influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
For sure. One of the things I was doing early in the pandemic was rewatching a great spy series from a few years back called Covert Affairs. That show does a great job of building tension and intrigue, dealing with characters who are forced to live double lives, something that complicates every single relationship they have. I tried to pull from that insofar as creating a similar atmosphere for The Nova Incident — there were even an episode or two that gave me some ideas for plot points to help me jumpstart my writing process.
I was also re-watching some Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (my favorite Star Trek) and there’ s a lot of great slow-burn intrigue and spying in that too — not to mention some definite questioning about the intentions of people who we might otherwise think of as heroes.
Now, in the previous interview we did about The Bayern Agenda you said that The Galactic Cold War series was going to be an ongoing thing. Is that still the plan?
I’m always interested in continuing The Galactic Cold War; it’s very much a story that I’ve been working on in some form or other for the past two decades. I have an idea of what the endgame of this arc looks like, and I’d love to have a chance to complete it. At this point, there are no concrete plans for future books, but I hope it’s something I can come back to — and if there are readers out there itching for more, by all means, make yourselves known. Buy the book, tell your friends about the books, shout it from the rooftops, hire a skywriter. That support is pretty much the only way that more books happen.
You also talked in the previous interviews about how your novel The Caledonian Gambit was set in the same fictional universe, and shared characters with The Galactic Cold War series, but was not part of that series. Why isn’t it?
It’s actually a bit of a boring technical issue: The Caledonian Gambit was my debut novel, and it was published by Talos Press. They elected not to continue on with the series and we were very lucky to find a home for The Bayern Agenda with Angry Robot. So I kind of view Gambit as a prequel. Someone cleverly described it as The Galactic Cold War #0, and that’s kind of stuck.
As stand-alone stories, people don’t need to read The Galactic Cold War novels in the order they came out. But what do you think someone will get out of The Nova Incident if they’ve already read The Caledonian Gambit, The Bayern Agenda, and The Aleph Extraction?
In addition to the main plots of these books, which I try to keep somewhat self-contained, I’m trying to build an overarching narrative for all the characters. I want them to evolve and change within and between stories and I think they do. Nova is perhaps my most ambitious so far in terms of continuity — while I do believe it stand as well on its own as previous installments, I think readers of earlier books will definitely get a much bigger payoff to certain plot threads in Nova. What can I say? I’m a sucker for continuity; it’s one reason I love mediums like comic books and TV that allow you to tell these large scale stories spread out over a ton of installments. We get to spend time with characters and plots in a way that other mediums don’t really allow us to.
Along with these novels, you’ve written three short stories in The Galactic Cold War series — “Pilot Error,” “Showdown,” and “Homecoming” — all of which are available digitally. Are there any plans for a collection of them?
I don’t currently have plans for a collection. The first two stories I put out started life as deleted scenes from my previous novels; “Homecoming” is the first one that I wrote from scratch intending it to be a full short story in its own right. But if I do continue to write some short stories in The Galactic Cold War world (and I hope to), bundling them together might make sense at some point. I see them as the mortar in the bricks of the novels — they fill in the crevices and help bind them together by letting me explore characters, settings, and plots that I don’t have time to delve into in the novels.
“Homecoming” came out this past April. Is there any reason why someone might want to read it before diving into The Nova Incident?
Reading “Homecoming” before Nova definitely isn’t necessary. In some ways, I think it actually might read better after Nova. But if you wanted to get warmed up for Nova, it’s a great opportunity to dip your toes back into the world.
So, is there anything else you think people should know about The Nova Incident?
I’m really proud of this book. I wrote it, as I said, during the early stages of the pandemic and as someone who’s accustomed to working in cafes and coffee shops, it was weird to write a whole novel entirely within the confines of my own house. In some ways that made it a more insular and claustrophobic story which, fortunately, plays well with the spy elements of the plot.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Nova Incident, what sci-fi space opera spy novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
If you haven’t already read Arkady Martine’s excellent A Memory Called Empire. Both it and its sequel, A Desolation Called Peace, are replete with intrigue, factions working against each other, and lots of great science fictional set pieces. One of the largest themes within it is about culture clash: this big galactic empire and the small backwater space station that’s trying not to be assimilated by it. It’s a truly wonderful piece of work, but you don’t have to take my word for it: they were both nominated for a number of awards.