Contingency Plan is the second book in Robyn Bachar’s Galactic Cold War series. Set in an alternate future in which the Cold War never ended, the series follows the crew of the privateer spaceship Mombasa as they follow the trail of a super weapon developed by the Soviets that may paint the entire intergalactic map red. Each book features a different couple as well as plotlines that span all three books in the planned trilogy. You will have no trouble following the story if you have not read Relaunch Mission, the first book in the series, but you will get a lot more information on the background of the characters if you read it first. And as is often the case with reviews of books in a series, this review contains spoilers for the previous entry, so you may want to keep that in mind before deciding to continue.
As Contingency Plan opens, Lieutenant Jiang Chen and Security Chief Ryder Kalani are having a drink in a bar in New Hong Kong while awaiting a rendezvous with a contact. Eight years ago, when Jiang still lived in New Hong Kong, the building she lived in collapsed on top of her during a bombardment. The injury she sustained left her with retrograde amnesia and since then, all she has been able to glean from her past is that she had a daughter and a husband, both of whom perished in the same incident that robbed her of her memory. That and the fact she used to work for the Soviets as an intelligence agent. This last bit of information only recently came to light after Jiang unknowingly ingested a drink that carried chemicals that can interact with a sensory implant in her brain. While under the influence of the activated implant, Jiang transmitted crucial intel to the Soviets which resulted in the death of a Mombasa crew mate. Wracked by guilt and not wanting to further endanger her friends, Jiang steals away from the Mombasa in a shuttle with Ryder – who has offered her his company and assistance – so she can go in search of her forgotten past.
After travelling to New Hong Kong aboard the stolen shuttle, Jiang and Ryder arrange to meet the former building manager of Jiang’s old apartment complex whom they hope will remember her or her family. But before the meeting can take place, someone takes a shot at them in the crowded bar. Jiang and Ryder manage to extricate themselves from the melée and locate the building manager’s residence, only to find him dead from a bullet between his eyes. All is not lost, however, as they are able to retrieve a data stick that points them to a remote colony deep in Soviet space. As Jiang and Ryder follow the clues that may lead to Jiang’s real identity, they also unearth more information about the super weapon the Soviet Union is developing and which the Mombasa has been chasing.
Contingency Plan is a fast-paced action-thriller that owes its DNA more to TV shows such as Firefly than your traditional science fiction romance. The action scenes are well executed and, at only 176 pages, the author does a really good job of keeping the plot moving forward and readers engaged while still finding the time to allow Ryder and Jiang’s relationship to develop. I did have an eye-rolling moment when Jiang’s real identity is finally revealed – I found the scene unrealistic and thought that the revelation undermined Jiang’s character development – but the fast-paced narrative didn’t allow me much time to dwell on this flaw. Towards the end, the plotlines involving Jiang’s identity and the Soviet super weapon converge nicely to set up the final book in the trilogy.
As the leads, Jiang and Ryder are both brave, smart, and extremely loyal to those they care about. Jiang is the more serious of the two, which makes the more playful Ryder a perfect foil for her – his affinity for what they call old Earther culture, which include twentieth-century Western cinema and the tango, is especially endearing. That is not to say Ryder doesn’t have his own demons to deal with. A former marine, he lost his right arm when a grenade exploded in his hand during one of his missions. The advanced technology of this future world allows Ryder to be just as lethal with a prosthetic arm, but when his prosthetic gets damaged and he is unable to get a replacement, his confidence begins to crack. With Ryder and Jiang having admitted their attraction to each other fairly early on in the book, the source of conflict keeping them apart mostly comes from Jiang’s uncertainty regarding her past and Ryder’s conviction that he can’t adequately protect Jiang with only one arm. They are both able to get over these objections fairly quickly though, so don’t expect too much angst. Just as is the case with Relaunch Mission, this is an action-centric story in which romance takes a backseat to the plot.
Overall, this is a quick and enjoyable read that should please readers who like their books breezy and comfortable – there are no complex and brooding heroes or grey areas to explore. The world-building is top notch and the characters likable. It is a good way to spend a couple of hours, and I for one will be on the lookout for the next book in the series when it comes out.