The Bayern Agenda introduces author Dan Moren’s new series the Galactic Cold War, though careful readers will note it takes place in the same universe as his debut novel, The Caldonian Gambit. Whether you’ve read that earlier book or not, you’ll certainly enjoy this one, provided “fast-paced, high-action space opera with a spy adventure bent” sounds like your jam; think Star Trek meets Mission: Impossible.
In many ways, the plot hits all the familiar genre beats—active wormholes, intriguing planets, intense face-offs, and a few twists along the way—but set against the backdrop of a satisfyingly built world, it offers plenty to enjoy even if you think you’ve read this sort of thing before. The action takes place during the cold war that gives the series its name, and the complex history of tensions between its two opposing forces, the Illyrican Empire and the Commonwealth of Independent Systems, lends the caper at the novel’s center a fair bit of weight—both sides of the conflict being more than ready to instigate a new wave of aggression at the first sign of trouble.
And as to that caper: Simon Kovalic is a seasoned Commonwealth intelligence agent with deep experience in the field and the psychological damage to go with it. Though haunted by his wartime service and the soldiers he lost along the way, he remains a natural leader who takes his responsibility to protect his team not just seriously, but personally. During a mission gone awry that opens the novel, Kovalic obtains intelligence that suggests that the Empire is making some sort of move involving the massive Bayern Corporation, a planet-sized bank. Figuring out what’s going on and why is crucial: with the capital Bayern could provide, the Illyricans could seriously upset the balance of power in the system.
Like any Ethan Hunt-esque hero worth his salt, Kovalic knows he needs a team if he’s going to win this high-stakes spy game. His primary counterpart is Elijah Brody, a former Illyrican army pilot so fresh off the plane he is not yet allowed back in one—he is still being carefully monitored for fallout from battlefield trauma. A fresh defectee to the Commonwealth—and bored to death in recovery—Brody doesn’t take much convincing when given the chance to join Kovalic’s crew. Both heroes bring wit, snark and a strong impulse to act first, think later, to a team that also includes one Lieutenant Commander Natalie Taylor, Kovalic’s ex- and a seasoned intelligence officer. She opted for a desk job after her marriage fell apart, but steps back in to lead his team after he takes a shot to the shoulder. Also along for the ride is Tapper, Kovalic’s gruff-but-reliable former wingman.
After an explosive opening, the book downshifts to establish the character dynamics and set the stage for the mission to come. The measured pacing pays off once the fireworks begin, so you know the players and the stakes by the time the action and suspense right up to a 10are dialed up to 10. In a galaxy with a complicated, bloody history and a fragile, teetering sort of peace in the present, Kovalic’s team members must keep their cool and think fast to avoid dragging the two empires into another all-out war.
With so much going on in the plot in terms of action and politics, the worldbuilding is kept lean, favoring details familiar to a contemporary reader—coffee, formal dress attire, and other supporting minutiae of military life—despite a setting presumably taking place hundreds of years in the future. Which isn’t to say that the worldbuilding Moren does spend time on doesn’t pay off—for example, the elaborate banking city of Bayern, constructed in full underneath a volcano, and where most of the plot unfolds, is great fun to explore.
As Kovalic says,, “Sometimes the old tropes are the best.” This certainly holds true to The Bayern Agenda: though the novel does leverage a few familiar science fiction adventure tropes, it puts them to economical use, moving us quickly into the action. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to enjoy a fast, fun high-concept romp.