End Transmission (Galactic Cold War #3) by Robyn Bachar

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Maria Watson defied her family to join the Mombasa as Chief Engineer, finding her place among a ragtag fleet of pirates and privateers. Their latest mission left her with a price on her head and a scar on her heart. When a surprise attack separates her from her ship, stranding her in hostile space with a stolen Soviet weapon, she’ll do whatever it takes to uncover that weapon’s secrets—even sacrifice herself.

Broken by the war, Combat Medic Tomas Nyota spent years drowning his sorrows in the bottom of a bottle. Sober, he found a new purpose as the Mombasa’s Chief Medical Officer. His job is to keep the crew alive, even the brilliant but contrary Chief Engineer with whom he’s constantly at odds.

Trapped together in a stolen ship, running from both the Alliance and the Soviets, they must work together to survive. But when the weapon’s horrific purpose is uncovered, their quest becomes a race against time. They must expose the truth and destroy the weapon—before it’s too late.

Rating: C

I enjoyed Relaunch Mission, the first book in Robyn Bachar’s Galactic Cold War series, set in a future in which the Cold War never ended and which follows the adventures of the members of the crew of the privateer ship Mombasa.  I somehow missed the second book, Contingency Plan, but decided to pick up this third instalment anyway;  although I would probably have benefited from reading the previous book, the author includes enough information about what happened there for me not to have felt too lost.

Because this is the third in a series with an overarching plotline, there will be spoilers for the earlier books in this review.

When End Transmission opens, we find Mombasa’s chief engineer Maria Watson and ship’s surgeon (and the captain’s brother) Tomas Nyota at a small lab at an ex-mining facility attempting to analyse the tiny Project Compliance prototype they managed to get hold of at the end of book two, a mind control device developed by the Soviets that they plan to implant (secretly) among the population.   The task is proving frustratingly difficult; there’s to be no way to open it up and it’s resistant to scans – and as it’s the only one they have, they can’t do anything that might risk destroying it.  While Tomas and Maria are arguing about different approaches, alarms start blaring out and on contacting the Mombasa are told to get back fast – there’s a fleet of ships from the Soviet Navy about to arrive.  Before Maria and Tomas can make a move, there’s an explosion at the facility that sees Tomas injured by falling debris and cuts off their route to the Mombasa.  Their only option now is to escape aboard the Tiger Shark, a small ship (formerly property of the Soviets) docked at the opposite end at the base.

Having patched Tomas up as well as she can, the pair make their way to the ship and have to fight their way through enemy ships and a minefield in an edge-of-the-seat sequence that sees them finally get away by the skin of their teeth, but not without damage to the ship.  The Tiger Shark needs repairs and for that, they need to find a safe port where they can get what they need and lie-low while Maria fixes the ship as best she can.  On the run from the Soviets and the Alliance – which has labelled the Mombasa crew as wanted terrorists – Maria and Tomas have only each other to depend on as they race against time to find out more about Project Compliance and make their way to their rendezvous with the Mombasa.

End Transmission is fast-paced and action packed, and as I’ve said before, has the feel of a TV show with its fast edits and non-stop action. There’s no doubt the author knows how to keep things moving and how to write an action sequence, but the trouble is here that there’s just too much going on.  I lost count of the times Maria and Tomas were shot at, blown up, beat up, drugged and had to get themselves out of really tight corners in the first half of the novel alone – and in practically every case, they were saved thanks to Maria’s trusty tablet, Tabby, who, it seemed, was programmed to do everything from analyse a toxin and prepare and administer an antidote to setting off explosions, car alarms and connecting with pretty much any security, navigation, communication, power and other computer network imaginable.  Tabby really is a deus ex machina, a device that can do practically anything when our heroes are backed into a corner or need important information.

Reading through our review of Contingency Plan, I note the same issues with the romance as I had in the first book – and I’m going to say the same thing about this one, which is that the romance is very much secondary to the plot and is sadly underdeveloped. Maria and Tomas spend the first two thirds of the story getting on each other’s nerves, and although there’s an undercurrent of attraction between them, it’s fairly slight.  Then when they finally get back to the Mombassa, they go from ‘you’re hot but you annoy the crap outta me’ to ‘let’s have sex and get it out of our systems’.  It’s a common trope to be sure, but not generally one I like all that much, because of course it never works and I often feel it’s just a way for authors to shoe-horn in some sex scenes their characters aren’t otherwise ready for; they haven’t really built a relationship and can’t (for some reason) say, ‘hey, I like you so let’s shag’ so there has to be all this ‘I want you but can’t admit it, so let’s shag and then I can walk away’ nonsense.

While there’s an attempt at character development at a deeper level, we’re told rather than shown what makes these two tick.  Maria comes from a very traditional background and her family thinks she should be getting married and having babies rather than working as an engineer, and Tomas suffers PTSD as a result of horrific wartime experiences and is a recovering addict who screwed up his marriage and still battles his saviour complex.  Once they’ve both admitted these hang-ups to each other, they agree to try to do better – or ‘reprogram’ their behaviours as Tomas suggests wryly – but it’s all quite superficial and actually, the vibe they give off is more that of affectionately  exasperated siblings than a couple who are romantically involved.

End Transmission ties up the overarching plot of the series – the search for the mind-control weapon and its destruction – neatly, and delivers a quick (if not especially believable) HEA for Tomas and Maria.  It’s a fast, easy read, and I liked the worldbuilding and political background to the story but I never got caught up in it or became invested in the characters.  The lack of depth I mentioned in my review of Relaunch Mission was more of an issue for me here,  I suspect because the characters were pushed from one perilous situation to another so quickly that I didn’t have time to take in what had just happened before the next thing went wrong.  I was also annoyed by the frequent use of Tabby the get-out-of-jail-free tablet and had to raise an eyebrow near the end, when a character is critically injured one minute, and able to run, shoot a gun and then man a weapons system aboard ship the next.

If you’ve been following the series and want to know how it all works out then you may want to pick up End Transmission for the sake of completeness, but I can’t really recommend it otherwise.

Relaunch Mission (The Galactic Cold War #1) by Robyn Bachar

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Living mission to mission on the fringes of civilized space, Captain Lindana Nyota has managed to keep her crew paid and her ship in one piece. Barely. The privateer’s life of stealing Soviet supplies for the Alliance is taking its toll on everyone. Down a crew member, she now has to take on a new intel officer and hope it’s someone she can trust.

Lieutenant Gabriel Steele knew Lindy wasn’t expecting him to walk out of the air lock and back into her life, but he didn’t think he’d get his nose broken. As an intelligence agent for the Alliance, Gabriel has spent his career in deep cover, his sense of self crushed under layers of deceit—starting with the lies he had to tell Lindy years ago when he left her. A fresh start is all he wants, but the Alliance and his secret orders have already jeopardized that.

When an infamous pirate and friend of Lindy and her crew is reported alive and in possession of knowledge of a powerful Soviet weapon, finding her before the enemy does is paramount. But Gabriel can’t do it without regaining Lindy’s trust—and hopefully rekindling what he once sacrificed in the name of duty.

Rating: B-

This is the first in Robyn Bachar’s new Galactic Cold War series of science-fiction romances, and when I saw it touted as  ‘Firefly meets James Bond’  I couldn’t resist!

Set in a future in which the Cold War never ended, the story features the crew of the privateer ship Mombasa as it operates on the fringes of known space carrying out missions for the United Alliance of Democratic Nations – which mostly consist of raiding Soviet ships for supplies.  Captain Lindana Nyota and her tightly knit band of officers live a difficult existence; times are hard, their ship is in dire need of parts and repairs, and their last few jobs have gone badly wrong, resulting in the deaths of two crew members to whom Lindana was particularly close.

One of those people was the ship’s intelligence officer, and it’s imperative to their continued operation that they obtain a new one as soon as possible.  Arriving at the neutral  Tortue Station, Lindana is shocked and more than a little pissed off to discover that her new crew member is Lieutenant Gabriel Steele, the man who broke her heart fifteen years ago.

(As an aside, I had to chuckle a little at the description of Gabriel – he’s gorgeous, British, upper class, well-dressed and from a posh family… basically, he’s a space-duke 😉  It seems there’s no getting away from ‘em in romance – even in outer space!)

Not only is Lindana furious at the idea of having to work with the bastard who betrayed her so cruelly, she’s furious at herself for the fact that even after so many years, Gabriel still makes her feel things nobody else ever has.  Unfortunately, she has little choice but to agree to his appointment – but she doesn’t have to like it.

For the past fifteen years Gabriel  has worked as an intelligence officer (spy) for the Alliance, but that life has begun to pall and he’s tired of living a lie.  He requested the posting to the Mombasa because he wanted to see Lindana again and try to make things right, but he then receives orders to track down the Soviet spy responsible for the ship’s recent run of bad luck.  And of course, he’s not authorised to share that information with anyone – even Lindana – which pretty much puts paid to his idea of regaining her trust and asking if they can make a fresh start.

The story is action-packed and fast-paced, and Ms. Bachar packs a lot into a fairly small page count.  If anything suffers, it’s the romance – which is fairly perfunctory – but all the other elements of the story – the setting, the background, the action – are well done and kept me engrossed and entertained.   The political shenanigans between the Alliance, the Soviets and the breakaway Core Colonies Collective (C3) are clearly explained, and in a way that adds information at relevant times so there’s no feeling that you’re being subjected to an info-dump; the plotline is complex without being unintelligible and the author ramps the tension up nicely in the later chapters, when the crew of the Mombasa is on the trail of a ‘super weapon’ developed by the Soviets and beset by betrayal from their own side.

The two central characters are engaging; Lindy is a competent, kick-ass heroine and Gabriel is a useful guy to have around (and is capable of much more than he lets on).  They are a good match but the romance, such as it is, is secondary to the rest of the plot.  Lindy and Gabriel meet again after fifteen years, exchange insults, banter a bit, talk properly and clear the air, then end up in bed – and that’s more or less it, although the author has created a nicely bubbling undercurrent of sexual tension between them.

The other crew members we meet here are characterised using fairly broad brush strokes; they all have roles to play and the author creates a real sense of camaraderie among them. They’re likeable and maybe a bit stereotypical, especially to anyone familiar with the genre – although we are told that Tomas, Lindy’s brother  (the ship’s doctor), suffers from PTSD as a result of his experiences in the recent rebellion, so perhaps that will be addressed in a later instalment in the series.

One of the things I particularly liked about the book is that it’s set in a future where people are people and the rest is their own business.  We’re told that Lindana had a friends-with-benefits relationship with a fellow – female – officer, and that Gabriel has used his good-looks and charm to seduce both men and women; Lindana  and her brother are of Kenyan extraction, Lieutentant Jiang Chen is Chinese, Security Chief Ryder Kalani is Maori and so on.  This isn’t just gratuitous tokenism, though; this is a world in which the colour of one’s skin or what one does in bed isn’t important in the grand scheme of things, and I appreciated that a lot.

If you’re after a book which almost reads like a TV show or film – fast moving with quick edits and plenty of action – then Relaunch Mission might be right up your street.  I generally like and expect a little more depth from a book than I’d get from either of those media, but once I’d got used to the different style, I found myself pulled into the story and enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would.  The epilogue clearly sets up the next book, Contingency Plan, which sees Jiang and Ryder take centre stage, and I’ll be on the look out for it this summer.