As anyone who’s read any of the Halo or Dungeons & Dragons novels will tell you, novels based on games usually require readers to be players of said games to be understood, let alone appreciated. But apparently, it need not be that way. Take The Fractured Void (paperback, Kindle), a sci-fi space opera novel based on the strategic board game Twilight Imperium. As author Tim Pratt explains, not only do you not have to play T.I. to enjoy this story, you wouldn’t have had to play the game to write this novel, either.
For people who aren’t familiar with the board game Twilight Imperium, what is kind of game is it?
It’s a big complicated strategy game where the player controls one of several species / polities, all vying for control of a galactic empire. The game is very much about big-picture stuff: fleet movements and political maneuvering. It can take anywhere from 5 to 15 hours to play.
As a background for the game, the developers created a huge variety of alien species and complex cultures with a long and storied history that spans millennia. The particular specialties, abilities, strengths, and weaknesses of those races and their cultures are reflected in gameplay.
And then what is The Fractured Void about, and how is it connected to Twilight Imperium?
The Fractured Void is not nearly as big-picture as the game itself; it’s not about fleets and treaties and all-out war. My brief was to write stories focused on individual characters set against the backdrop of that galactic conflict: stories that could showcase a wide section of their beautifully detailed universe. It’s also set in the current timeline of the game, as detailed in their source material, but it’s not about the deep history of the world or anything.
The Fractured Void is, basically, about wormhole technology. Wormholes are hugely important in the lore of Twilight Imperium; control of them makes and breaks empires. There’s evidence that some very mysterious and reclusive aliens may be able to actually create wormholes…which, if true, means that’s technologically possible. If someone else could invent and exploit that technology, they could change the balance of power in the galaxy. So I wrote about a scientist who is working on wormhole tech, and the governments who want him, and the operatives sent to protect or abduct him. (I also made the scientist an incredibly terrible person that everyone hates.) My heroes are from the pan-species nation The Mentak Coalition, descendants of prisoners in an old imperial penal colony, and they try to help said vile scientist finish his invention, which involves heists, jailbreaks, and clandestine ops against other nations. The other nations don’t love that, and operatives from the human Federation Of Sol and the Barony Of Letnev are forced to join forces and pursue the scientist, though their peoples traditionally despite each other. Those two, Azad and Severyne, are the main antagonists and have a wonderful love-hate relationship.
It sounds like The Fractured Void is a sci-fi space opera story. Is that how you’d describe it?
Oh, it’s definitely space opera. They hired me because I had some experience with “ragtag crew in a weird universe” stories from my Axiom trilogy. It has elements of thrillers and espionage novels too, but like all of my work, it’s fundamentally character driven.
Are there any writers, or maybe specific stories, that had a big influence on The Fractured Void but not on anything else you’ve written?
Everything I write draws on the deep well of fiction I’ve read in my life, but I will say this one leaned on the espionage / black ops stuff more than my usual work. Le Carre, Kate Atkinson’s Transcription, The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan, and Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein were all on my mind a bit.
What about non-literary influences; was The Fractured Void influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? Aside from Twilight Imperium, of course?
More spy stuff. The Americans, The Third Man, a dash of Casablanca.
And this is my last question about influences, no matter how many muffin baskets you send me as bribes: Prior to The Fractured Void, you wrote some novels based on the role-playing game Pathfinder. How do you think that experience influenced what you did in The Fractured Void?
So, people probably realize writing a historical novel takes a lot of research, because there’s just so much material; depending on the era you write in, you can’t possibly read all of the available data, or you’d never get around to writing the novel. Writing for a role-playing game also takes a lot of research…but there’s a far smaller amount of background material to familiarize yourself with as compared to real history, even if you try to read the majority of what’s available. Twilight Imperium has a ton of lore by board game stories, but nowhere near as much as Pathfinder or Dungeons & Dragons, so it was comparatively easier to absorb and collate it all mentally. And they also left me a whole lot of leeway to fill in gaps and invent my own planets and idioms and cultural details, which I appreciate. That’s the fun stuff.
So, how did you come to write this novel?
I wrote a space opera series for Angry Robot, the Axiom, which I initially sold to Marc Gascoigne. He left Angry Robot and now runs Aconyte [who are publishing The Fractured Void]. I dropped him a note and said he should let me know if anything at Aconyte looked like a good fit for me, since he was doing adaptations of various games I enjoy. He knew I could do fun space opera, because he’d bought some not long ago, so he approached me about Twilight Imperium.
And who came up with the idea for The Fractured Void?
It was my idea. They gave me a big pile of background material, and I read through it and thought about the kind of stories it would be fun and rewarding to tell in that universe. I worked up three pitches for different novel ideas, and sent them in. I was hoping they’d pick one. The response was basically “We love all these; let’s do all three.” I’m writing book two now.
Cool. What can you tell us about those other novels?
The books all stand alone, but there is some fun cross-novel stuff; characters from the first book pop up here and there, especially, Severyne, a Barony Of Letnev bureaucrat who shows an unexpected knack for field work. She’s one of the main antagonists of The Fractured Void, and she has an important role to play in book two as well. She’ll appear in the third novel, too; she’s one of my favorite characters ever, and provides a nice through-line in otherwise separate books.
I’m working on book two, The Necropolis Empire. It’s a very different book (there’s a lot more time spent on one planet, for instance; the first one is almost entirely set on ships and space stations), more of a coming-of-age / lost inheritance adventure story than a military sci-fi / espionage thriller.
And do you know when The Necropolis Empire will be out?
I think the idea is to get it out next year. If all goes well, I’ll write book three next summer.
So, do people have to be players of Twilight Imperium to enjoy The Fractured Void, the way the Halo novels usually only work if you’ve played those video games?
Not at all! I’ve never even played Twilight Imperium. The longest game I can get my family to play with me is Dead Of Winter, or maybe Arkham Horror if it’s my birthday and they feel indulgent. If you know about the game, it’ll be a kick to see the various species in action, and there are lots of name drops and easter eggs, but it is designed to work as a stand-alone, accessible space opera.
Was that always part of this, was the hope of the Fantasy Flight Games people that this novel would stand on its own, and maybe even entice people to play their game?
I can’t speak to their motivations, but I certainly hope it entices people to give the game a try. I suspect one point was to showcase some of the cool stuff they’ve included in the new “Prophecy Of Kings” expansion; one of the new factions gets a big reveal in the novel, and a couple of others are big in book two.
On the flipside, are there plans to incorporate elements of The Fractured Void into Twilight Imperium?
I doubt it. I’ve had some of my novel characters show up as NPCs in Pathfinder material, which is cool, but the board game is less about individual characters and more about the movements of whole militaries and societies, so it’s less suitable for that kind of thing. They also just published a new expansion, so I doubt they’ll rush out another one, no matter how enticing they find my ideas.
Now, along with The Fractured Void, you also have a novel called Doors Of Sleep coming out in January. What is that book about?
Doors Of Sleep is about a man named Zax who wakes up in a new reality every time he falls asleep. Sometimes they’re nightmarish realms, sometimes they’re utopian worlds of plenty, sometimes they’re bizarre or banal, but they’re always unexpected. The entire bizarre vastness of the multiverse is open to him — but he can’t control where he goes, and can only control when he goes to a certain extent, with the help of sedatives and stimulants. He can take people with him if they fall asleep wrapped in his arms, but he has a hard time keeping companions. Either circumstances separate them, or they find a pleasant world and choose to stay instead of traveling into an uncertain future.
In the three years since the onset of his strange condition, Zax has visited nearly a thousand worlds, trying to survive, and even to do good when he can, or at least do no harm…but when an old enemy Zax thought he’d left behind many worlds ago reappears and pursues him through the multiverse, his whole reality has to change.
Doors Of Sleep sounds like it’s a sci-fi novel as well. How would you describe it?
Big weird multiverse adventure!
Did you write The Fractured Void and Doors Of Sleep at the same time or concurrently?
No, I wrote Doors Of Sleep in late 2019 and The Fractured Void in early 2020; it’s just the vagaries of publishing schedules that made Doors come out later, even though it was written first.
I don’t think I could write two novels at the same time; my brain would liquefy.
Do you think writing Doors Of Sleep had any influence on The Fractured Void, or vice versa?
No big influences, but there is one interesting distinction: The Fractured Void is full of professional soldiers and killers and spies, so there are a lot of violent solutions to problems. But Zax was trained as a harmonizer, a sort of social worker, and he eschews the use of violence whenever possible, which leads to a very different approach to storytelling that proved an interesting challenge.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Fractured Void, which of your other novels would you suggest they check out and why that one and not one of the others?
The most obvious link would be the Axiom space opera series — The Wrong Stars, The Dreaming Stars, and The Forbidden Stars — which are all out now, while the collection The Alien Stars, which has three novellas set in the Axiom universe, is coming out April 27. I’d also recommend Doors Of Sleep, which is coming out January 12th.