Like his novel The Fractured Void, Tim Pratt’s The Necropolis Empire (paperback, Kindle) is a sci-fi space opera based on the strategic board game Twilight Imperium. But while both novels share the same universe, as he explains in the following email interview about it, Necropolis isn’t a sequel to Fractured…well, not entirely.
For people who haven’t played Twilight Imperium, what kind of game is it and what is the setting and timeframe?
It’s a big intricate 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.
Late last year they released an expansion, The Prophecy Of Kings, and some of the cool new stuff from that expansion appears in the novels. (To say more specifically ventures too far into the realm of spoilers.)
And then what is The Necropolis Empire about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to both Twilight Imperium and to your previous T.I. novel, The Fractured Void?
It takes place not long after The Fractured Void, though the only character who really carries over is Severyne, who was a viewpoint character in the first book and is in this one as well. Though her role is a bit different; she’s less directly an antagonist in this one and more of a…complicated supporting character, let’s say. There are some other characters who were mentioned in passing in book one who actually appear on stage in this one, too. Those kind of connections are fun.
The main character is Bianca Xing, a smart and ambitious young woman with the misfortune to be born on a remote and forgotten colony planet. She spends a lot of time daydreaming and fantasizing about exploring the galaxy, but she only has a future of farming and boredom to look forward to…until the aliens come, and tell her she’s actually the heir to a great fortune, and they’re here to take her away from her mundane life.
Bianca is smart enough to know that something that sounds too good to be true probably is…but hey, it’s a way off the planet, isn’t it? Bianca has to figure out what’s really going on, and fight to find her own place in the universe.
I had a lot of fun playing with “secret princess” and “lost heir” and various fairy tale and coming-of-age tropes in the context of a space opera adventure.
Twilight Imperium is put out by Final Flight Games. Where did you get the idea for The Necropolis Empire, and what role, if any, did the people at F.F.G. have in shaping the story?
They gave me a pile of lore about the world, and I absorbed it all and thought about the different sort of stories I could tell in that world. I came up with a bunch of pitches, and they picked their favorites, then worked with me to tweak things so they’d fit the world better and showcase those elements they consider most important.
In the previous interview we did about The Fractured Void you said that novel was “definitely space opera.” Is The Necropolis Empire one as well?
Oh, yes, all space operas. Cool aliens, weird planets, neat weapons, chases and betrayals and threats. They all come at the genre from different angles though. The Fractured Void is a found family / ragtag crew adventure; The Necropolis Empire is a lost heir story against a backdrop of ancient galactic danger; the third book will have a strong espionage element.
Are there any writers who had a big influence on The Necropolis Empire but not on The Fractured Void, or, for that matter, anything else you’ve written?
The biggest difference is that The Necropolis Empire has some fairy tale tropes, but viewed through the lens of space opera. Dark forests, hidden lineages, mysterious figures…things like that.
And then aside from Twilight Imperium, was The Necropolis Empire influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Nothing specifically comes to mind. Just the giant compost heap of all the science fiction I’ve absorbed in my lifetime.
You’ve said before, both in this interview and in the aforementioned one we did about The Fractured Void, that you were writing three Twilight Imperium. What can you tell us about book 3?
I don’t think we’ve settled on a title yet, and the outline is still being tweaked, too, but in general terms it has some espionage thriller elements, with characters trying to uncover a grand conspiracy. There will be a new main character, but also some familiar faces from the earlier novels, too, including Severyne. Everyone loves Severyne.
As you’ve said, The Fractured Void, The Necropolis Empire, and the third book are all stand-alone stories, but have some reoccurring characters. What do you think people will get out of The Necropolis Empire if they read The Fractured Void first?
I can only speak for my editor and the game developer team, since they’re the only ones who’ve read it so far, but they were all delighted to see what happened to Severyne after The Fractured Void. I had a lot of fun fleshing out characters who were only alluded to in the first book — the scenes with a Yin Brotherhood scientist named Errin were especially a treat. Ideally the two books show off the vast breadth of the Twilight Imperium universe.
And is there any reason why you think someone might want to wait and then read all three in a row?
No, not really. They all stand alone, and they don’t tell a single overarching story.
Now, along with The Fractured Void and The Necropolis Empire, you’ve also, in the last year, released the sci-fi multiverse novel Doors Of Sleep [which you can read more about here], as well as The Alien Stars [which you can read more about here], a collection of three sci-fi space opera novellas that are connected to your Axiom trilogy. Do you think people who enjoy your Twilight Imperium novels will also enjoy Doors Of Sleep and your Axiom books?
All my books are Tim Pratt books, and if you like Tim Pratt books, you’ll probably like those! They’re all science fiction, too, though Doors Of Sleep is less space-opera-y than the others. (Though it does have the odd space station and spaceship and lots of aliens.)
Do you have any other books coming down the road?
I recently turned in a Doors Of Sleep sequel that will be out in spring of 2022. It’s called The Prison Of Sleep.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Necropolis Empire, and they’ve already read The Fractured Void, what sci-fi space opera novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read while waiting for book 3 to come out?
In the interview you and I did for The Wrong Stars I mentioned Banks’ Culture novels, M. John Harrison’s Kefahuchi Tract trilogy [Light, Nova Swing, and Empty Space], and Joanna Russ’ The Two Of Them. I also quite enjoyed Edmond Hamilton’s Star Wolf novels as a kid. I don’t know how they’d hold up now, but they were delightful when I was 12!