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Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Bayern Agenda by Dan Moren (reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)


Official Author Website
Order Bayern, Agenda over HERE


AUTHOR INFORMATION: Dan Moren's latest novel, The Bayern Agenda, was published by Angry Robot in March 2019. He's also the author of The Caledonian Gambit, which was released by Talos Press in May 2017 and was a semi-finalist for Best Debut Goodreads Author. His work has appeared in, among other places, The Boston Globe, PopSci.com, Yahoo Tech, and Macworld, where he formerly served as a senior editor. 

He's also a regular panelist on the Parsec-award-winning geek culture podcast The Incomparable, co-host of tech podcasts Clockwise and The Rebound, and writer and host of the nerdy game show Inconceivable! Somehow, he still manages to play a decent amount of Dungeons & Dragons, video games, board games, and ultimate frisbee.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: A new Cold War threatens the galaxy, in this fast-paced and wisecracking thriller of spies and subterfuge.

Simon Kovalic, top intelligence operative for the Commonwealth of Independent Systems, is on the frontline of the burgeoning Cold War with the aggressive Illyrican Empire. He barely escapes his latest mission with a broken arm, and vital intel which points to the Empire cozying up to the Bayern Corporation: a planet-sized bank. There’s no time to waste, but with Kovalic out of action, his undercover team is handed over to his ex-wife, Lt Commander Natalie Taylor. When Kovalic’s boss is tipped off that the Imperium are ready and waiting, it’s up to the wounded spy to rescue his team and complete the mission before they’re all caught and executed.

CLASSIFICATION: A Sci-fi espionage thriller with Space-Opera elements. 

FORMAT: Bayern Agenda was published by the author in April 2019 by Angry Robot. It's the first book in the Galactic Cold War series. It's available in an e-book, paperback and hardcover format. 

The book counts 386 pages. It's divided into 24 numbered chapters and the story comes through two main point of view characters: Simon Kovalic and Eli Brody. The cover was designed by Amazing15.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: I greatly enjoy a mix of dramatic elements and high-tech, but I prefer books that focus more on characters than on scientific ideas. That makes Space Opera / Technothrillers perfect subgenres for me as they usually deliver a full package. And more, depending on the grandness of the vision and the focus of the story. 

The Bayern Agenda fits in the genre, but I wouldn’t call it a pure Space Opera (if such a thing exist). Consider it a sci-fi spy thriller, set against the backdrop of a galactic cold war between two rival superpowers: the Illyrican Empire and the Commonwealth of Independent Systems. The former conquered Earth and its colonies, but sacrificed too much to achieve this and had to pull back and defend its borders. The Commonwealth is less organised but powerful.  A stalemate can turn into war at any moment, affecting every planet in the galaxy, including the ones that have remained out of the fight.

The story follows Simon Kovalic, a covert operative for the Commonwealth, as he tries to understand the nature of the ties between Illyricans and the Bayern Corporation: a planet-sized bank. Because of unexpected events, his ex-wife, Lt Commander Natalie Taylor, has to take over his undercover team. 

While Bayern Agenda doesn’t answer all the questions a reader might ask, it delivers a strong, layered intrigue and good pacing. Subsequent reveals surprised me and I consider them clever. While Moren doesn’t focus on a world-building, he gives plenty of details concerning the galaxy, high-tech and travels through wormholes. He uses interludes and some info-dumps to clarify things and build backstories. As interesting as they were, they also slowed down the story in places.

And now, characters. We’ve got two main POVs: Kovalic, the veteran covert operative, and Eli Brody, a pilot who never wanted to become a spy. Where Kovalic is self-assured and confident, Eli is out of his element in the world of spies and political intrigue. He covers his insecurity with bravado and sarcasm. I liked him. His chapters are faster, more tension-charged and funnier.  

I think most secondary characters shine as well, especially Sarah M’Basa, a Commonwealth spy who resents other spies stomping all over her turf. Clearly, we have both protagonists and antagonists, but the story avoids simplistic divisions into good guys and bad guys. Each side of the conflict has good reasons to act the way they do and I appreciate it.

Bayern Agenda doesn’t contain much violence; it mentions disastrous battles and war casualties but never in a graphic way.  Instead, it focuses on building tension through clever twists and reveals.

That said, I felt detached from characters and their actions. I liked Eli, but I didn’t care about Kovalic or his mentor. As a result, I’ve finished the book mostly because I was interested in the plot, not because I deeply cared about the characters.

CONCLUSION: Bayern Agenda is well worth a shot, as it mixes genres, creates an interesting galactic history and focuses on a high-charged stalemate between two superpowers. I’m sure most readers will find characters more compelling than I did.

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