Exclusive Interview: “The Knife And The Serpent” Author Tim Pratt


Author Tim Pratt is not the first to cite Ian M. Banks’ Culture series as an influence on his science fiction space opera stories, and he won’t be the last.

Pratt’s also not the first to incorporate elements of multiversal theory into his work, and, again, he won’t be the last.

But he may be the first (as far as I know) to explain how he’s combining by paraphrasing a candy commercial from the 1970s.

Which is what he does in the following email interview about his new multiversal sci-fi space opera adventure, The Knife And The Serpent (paperback, Kindle, audiobook).

Tim Pratt The Knife And The Serpent

To start, what is The Knife And The Serpent about, and when and where is it set?

Grad student Glenn discovers that his beloved girlfriend (and domme; they’re pretty kinky) is a sort of secret-agent-slash-super-soldier for a multidimensional organization called The Interventionists, who fight fascism across the multiverse. (Also, he discovers there’s a multiverse.) He gets drawn into one of Vivy’s conflicts, and meets Vivy’s partner, a snarky starship named the Wreck of the Edmund Pevensie; Eddie to his friends. This naturally puts everyone’s life in danger and puts a strain on their romantic relationship.

Meanwhile, bitter tech worker Tamsin finds out her reclusive inventor grandmother has been murdered, and in the course of settling her estate, Tamsin discover she’s heir to an oligarchical techno-fortune in the universe next door; her grandmother fled to our reality as a refugee with infant Tamsin after the rest of the family was murdered by rivals in their homeworld. Now Tamsin is determined to return to that other world and win back her birthright, with the help of an interdimensional murderous ratfucker duo named Bollard & Chicane.

There are surprising connections among these characters, and their goals intersect…and diverge…and conflict…and then it’s clone armies and killbots and personal growth and productive chaos. It’s multiversal space opera, two of my favorite things.

Where did you get the idea for this story?

I always loved the works of Ian M. Banks, especially the Culture novels, and my Interventionists are sort of a multiverse take on that idea: technologically advanced people who want to make the multiverse a better place, but who disagree on the best way to actually do that, and also there are cool spaceships. I like writing about queer, kinky characters, and romance, and this was a chance to explore all that, too.

Plus, I’ve written stories about Glenn and Vivy, and about Tamsin (“A Champion Of Nigh-Space” at Uncanny; “A Princess Of Nigh-Space” at Escape Pod), and when I was thinking about writing a novel in that setting, I thought, “You know, it would be really interesting to mash those characters together and watch the sparks fly.” It worked better than I expected.

So, is there a reason you have Tamsin, Glenn, and Vivy all living in San Francisco as opposed to London or Tokyo or, conversely, in different places?

Tamsin works in San Francisco, but Vivy and Glenn live in Berkeley, the college town across the bay. Tamsin is a cranky tech worker from the Midwest when the book begins, and San Francisco is where those people mostly end up. Glenn and Vivy live in Berkeley because I live in Berkeley, and I liked the idea of seeing spaceships swooping over the hills and buzzing the Campanile. (Also, I wanted them to be grad students, and I have known many UC Berkeley grad students, so it was easier to get details right.)

It sounds like The Knife And The Serpent is an epic science fiction space opera story.

“You got space opera all over my multiverse!” is how I’d put it.

It’s also not your first novel. It’s not even your first sci-fi space opera novel. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Serpent but not on anything else you’ve written?

Banks, as I mentioned. Charles Stross had some great characters-who-happen-to-be-kinky-but-it’s-not-a-story-about-kink in his Accelerando series, and I always admired that. There’s a playfulness to my space opera that was definitely inspired by Joanna Russ’ The Two Of Them; Russ has a reputation as a serious writer and a bit of a downer (and to be fair We Who Are About To... is one of the biggest bummers of a great sci-fi novel ever), but The Two Of Them is really innovative and experimental and fun, and I strive for that spirit.

How about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games? Did any of those things have a big influence on The Knife And The Serpent?

Multiverse stuff is all over movies, TV, and games these days, but I’ve been writing it since I was a teenager, when all I had was Star Trek‘s mirror dimension and Sliders and the hidden world you could visit with a potion in Super Mario Bros 2. That idea of altered but adjacent worlds has always delighted me, though.

You’ve written novels that are stand-alone stories and others that are part of a larger saga. What is The Knife And The Serpent?

It does stand alone; the whole story of Vivy and Glenn’s relationship with Tamsin is told in this volume.

That said, I certainly intend to write more about Glenn and Vivy, anyway, even if it’s only short stories, but I’d really like to do a trilogy of novels for them. (We might even get a wedding in book three.) We’ll see! Discussions are being discussed.

Now, along with The Knife And The Serpent, you have another book coming out July 2nd, Arkham Horror: Herald Of Ruin, which is based on the board game Arkham Horror and the sequel to your previous Arkham Horror novel, The Ravening Deep. What is Herald about, and when does it take place in relation to Deep?

It’s book two in the Sanford Files, a trilogy of novels involving Carl Sanford, the leader of the occult group commonly known as the Silver Twilight Lodge.

In The Ravening Deep, Carl teamed up with a few do-gooders to fight their mutual enemy, a cult with apocalyptic ambitions.

In Herald Of Ruin, which is set a few months later, Carl has to deal with an enigmatic newcomer named Randall Tillinghast, who shows up in Arkham and starts bribing and stealing his way into power… and annoying Carl in the process. Their rivalry ratchets up and up until the whole occult community in Arkham teeters in the balance. It’s fun and full of betrayals and nastiness.

The Ravening Deep is a cosmic horror story, which suggests that Herald Of Ruin is one, too. But, as we discussed, The Knife And The Serpent is a sci-fi space opera novel. How, if at all, do you think working in these different genres influences what you do?

There are elements of cosmic horror, but mainly it’s about two masters of the occult trying to backstab, scheme, and annihilate each other.

I’ve always loved sci-fi, fantasy, and horror equally, and have always read them all extensively and simultaneously. The only real consequence is I sometimes write science fantasy, and often elements of horror appear in my sci-fi and fantasy work…genre divisions have never been that important to me. I love all the worlds of the strange and the fantastic and tend to range freely among them.

Going back to The Knife And The Serpent, earlier I asked if it had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip things around, do you think Serpent could also work as a movie, show, or game?

A dozen years ago I would have said no, but we’ve had mainstream shows with kinky characters where the kink was important psychologically but wasn’t treated as a joke, or as the whole point of the story (notably Billions, though they eased up on the kinky aspect in later seasons). I think The Knife And The Serpent would be a great show (there’s a lot of plot crammed in there for a movie) but making shows with space battles and armies of clones and killbots can be expensive, SFX wise.

And if someone wanted to adapt The Knife And The Serpent into a show, who would you want them to cast as Tamsin, Glenn, and Vivy?

Well, [Dune‘s] Timothée Chalamet could do a genderfluid grad student, and maybe he’d like a break from riding sandworms, so he could play Glenn. Sarah Shahi [Black Adam] is about 15 years older than Vivy, but she’d be great in the role, since she excels at action and romance and humor. Niousha Noor would be a good fit, too; I liked her in Kaleidoscope. As for Tamsin, easy: [American Horror Story‘s] Emma Roberts at her blondest and nastiest.

Tim Pratt The Knife And The Serpent

Finally, if someone enjoys The Knife And The Serpent, which of your other sci-fi space opera novels would you suggest they check out and why that one in particular?

The Axiom series, starting with The Wrong Stars, has spaceships and queer people and jokes and action, so it might appeal. Doors Of Sleep and Prison Of Sleep are my big sprawling multiverse duology, if people like the multiverse adventure aspect.



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