Exclusive Interview: “Prison Of Sleep” Author Tim Pratt
As someone who has trouble falling asleep, I am envious of those who find it easy. But I draw the line at “…and then wake up in an alternate reality with no way to get home.” I hate when that happens. But as is so often the case, what’s terrible is real life is great in fiction. This brings me to Tim Pratt’s multiverse sci-fi novel Prison Of Sleep (paperback, Kindle), in which the main character has the aforementioned sleep problem. In the following email interview, Pratt discusses this novel, and the one that preceded it, Doors Of Sleep.
For those who didn’t read Doors Of Sleep, who is Zax, what does he do, and when and where did that novel take place?
Zaxony Dyad Euphony Delatree, or Zax to his friends, was a young man who worked as something like a social worker in a (mostly) post-scarcity world called the Realms Of Spheres And Harmonies. Then, one morning, he woke up in an entirely different reality. Now, every time he falls asleep, he travels to another world in a vast multiverse. Sometimes he awakes to barren wastelands, sometimes to cities full of aliens, sometimes to jungles, sometimes to gardens, sometimes to stranger places. He is driven ever forward, and can’t return to worlds he’s visited before. If Zax falls asleep with someone in his arms, they can travel with him, but his companions don’t usually last long; it’s too easy to get separated, or else they find a nice world where they want to settle down. Zax doesn’t have that option.
In Doors Of Sleep, a former companion turned enemy finds a way to follow Zax through the multiverse…and he wants to use Zax to help found a multi-dimensional tyrannical empire. Zax also makes some friends who seem like they might stick around.
And then for people who have read Doors Of Sleep, and thus don’t need to heed my SPOILER WARNING, what is Prison Of Sleep about, and when in relation to Doors does Prison take place?
At the end of Doors Of Sleep, Zax is reunited with his first companion, Ana, a woman he believed was dead. He also discovers there are more people like him; other “Sleepers” who travel the multiverse. In Prison Of Sleep, we learn some of those Sleepers have developed technology allowing them to control their travel, to an extent. They’ve joined forces to hunt down and stop the people responsible for causing their affliction. Yes, that’s right, I actually explain why this weird thing happened to Zax. I don’t want to spoil much, but…the reasons are nefarious, and the people responsible pose a threat to the entire structure of reality. Zax and Ana have to stop them. In the process they also have to contend with an unpleasant cosmic entity known as the Prisoner.
When in the process of writing Doors Of Sleep did you come up with the idea for Prison Of Sleep, and what gave you the idea for this second installment?
I always knew what caused Zax’s affliction, even though Zax didn’t. I wanted to explore the repercussions of that cause in a later volume. I always knew Ana’s return would be instrumental, too. I set up Prison Of Sleep in the last chapter of Doors because I knew where it was going.
Doors Of Sleep was a sci-fi story. Is Prison Of Sleep one as well?
Still multiverse science fiction, though the science fiction takes on a whiff of cosmic horror in this volume.
Are there any writers who had a big influence on Prison Of Sleep but not on Doors Of Sleep or anything else you’ve written?
The cosmic horror stuff is big here, so the whole Mythos idea of vastly powerful forces indifferent to humankind was on my mind.
How about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games?
The fun thing about a multiverse book is that I get to show lots of worlds, with lots of influences: sci-fi, fantasy, comic books. Basically my entire history of experiencing media gets to bubble up in various ways.
Now, in the earlier interview we did about Doors Of Sleep, you said, “I wrote it to stand alone, but with an open enough ending that it could serve as a launchpad for ongoing adventures.” Which you’re now doing with Prison. But are you thinking there will be even more adventures for Zax after Prison?
I talked it over with my publishers, and honestly, it’s hard to do a follow-up to “Zax and Ana save the multiverse.” Where do you go from there? So it’s a duology for now. I will continue to write short stories about Zax (and Ana, and Minna, and Vicki), and if I do enough of them, I’ll probably collect them into a volume.
I assume that Prison Of Sleep makes more sense if you’ve read Doors Of Sleep, right?
Prison is a much richer experience if you’ve read Doors. But I did write it so it could make sense even if you hadn’t read the earlier volume.
Now, along with Prison Of Sleep, you have another book that came out earlier this month, Twilight Imperium: The Veiled Masters. What is that book, and that series, all about?
The Twilight Imperium books are space operas set in the world of the titular strategy board game. While the game is about the movement of fleets and nations, the books are more small-scale, focusing on the individual actions of people working against the backdrop of those large-scale machinations. The Veiled Masters is my espionage / spy thriller installment.
The Veiled Masters and Prison Of Sleep are both sci-fi novels, but rather different kinds of sci-fi. How do you think writing books in the same genre, but different corners of it, influences things?
I don’t usually switch back and forth between novels. Focus on one book at a time is beneficial for maintaining pacing and tone, for me. I do write short stories while working on novels (I do a new story every month for my Patreon), and that’s nice. It gives me a quicker sense of accomplishment and gratification.
As you mentioned, The Veiled Masters is based on the tabletop strategy game Twilight Imperium. Do you think Prison Of Sleep, and thus Doors Of Sleep, could work as a strategy game as well? Or some other kind of tabletop game?
The Zax books would not lend themselves well to a strategy game because those games are about figuring out how to use rules to your advantage, and the Zax stories are all about the rules constantly changing, and adapting to those changes. You could do it as a role-playing game, though it would require the DM to do a lot of planning.
And have you talked to the people who make the Twilight Imperium game about it?
Oh, no, I haven’t thought about pitching games. I just write books, and prefer to keep my focus there. Although…I did co-create a card game with my wife and kid and an artist friend that we ran a Kickstarter for last year, called Cyber Wreck. That was a family pandemic project, though, and I mostly just contributed science fiction jokes; my kid was the one who did the fundamental game mechanics.
So, is there anything else about Prison Of Sleep you think people should know?
It has a fantastic cover by Kieryn Tyler!
Finally, if someone really likes Prison Of Sleep, what sci-fi novel of someone else’s that involves a multiverse — or someone sleeping a lot — would you suggest people check out next?
My love of multiverse fiction started as a kid when I read Miles Breuer’s “The Gostak And The Doshes” [available in The Best Of Amazing Stories: The 1930 Anthology] and Murray Leinster’s classic “Sidewise In Time” [available in First Contacts: The Essential Murray Leinster]; that’s a foundational text in the alternate history genre, but it’s about people traveling through various different alternate histories. My friend Paul Melko wrote a fun multiverse book called The Walls Of The Universe, and Adrian Tchaikovsky had a great multiverse book out in 2020 called The Doors Of Eden. Lisa Tuttle’s novel Lost Futures is a very personal and very dark tale of personal alternate histories… It’s a sub-genre I love, and I could go on and on.