While it’s already pretty epic, author Robbie MacNiven is pushing the sci-fi space opera board game Twilight Imperium into even bigger spaces with Twilight Imperium: Twilight Wars: Empire Falling (paperback, audiobook, Kindle), the first book in a new prequel trilogy. In the following email interview, MacNiven discusses what inspired and influenced this first part of the story.
Tim Pratt did a good job of explaining the game Twilight Imperium in the interview we did about his novel Twilight Imperium: The Fractured Void. How familiar were you with the game before you signed on to write Twilight Imperium: Twilight Wars: Empire Falling?
I had played the game a few times before, but not comprehensively, and nor was I hugely clued into the lore. While I’ve yet to find time to dive back into the tabletop version, I’m glad to say I’m much more knowledgeable about the background than I once was. It’s a brilliant setting, very unique in many ways, and I’ve found myself really enjoying getting to know it.
So, what is the story you’re telling in Twilight Imperium: Twilight Wars: Empire Falling, and how does it connect to both the game and the previous Twilight Imperium novels and short stories?
Empire Falling is the first of an ambitious trilogy that seeks to flesh out key events and characters involved in the “Twilight Wars,” a historical period in the Twilight Imperium universe that occurs roughly three thousand years before the setting’s “present day.” It sets up a lot of the events that will eventually lead to where we are in the current timeline. Without getting into spoilers, we witness the Lazax Empire in its final days, and the tumultuous decades — and eventually centuries — that follow, as the galaxy slips into chaos and disunity. The intention was to show this playing out on a grand scale, while keeping it anchored to a number of core, key characters, some of whom fans of the lore will be familiar with.
And is there a connection between Twilight Imperium: Twilight Wars: Empire Falling and the story you wrote for the anthology Twilight Imperium: The Stars Beyond, “Shield Of The Reef”?
There isn’t a connection between the “Shield Of The Reef” novella and the Empire Falling trilogy, besides them sharing the same universe, simply because the trilogy takes place thousands of years prior to “Reef.”
Where did you get the idea for Twilight Imperium: Twilight Wars: Empire Falling?
I was initially approached to write about the Twilight Wars period, and I quickly realized I would love to focus in on the last days of the Lazax. The flashpoint events and the conflicting personalities that led to the collapse of a galaxy-spanning empire — what sci-fi writer wouldn’t jump at the chance to write that? My only hope is that I’ve done it all justice.
Twilight Imperium is a sci-fi space opera game, as are the novels. Is it safe to assume Twilight Imperium: Twilight Wars: Empire Falling is, too?
It is indeed. It follows half-a-dozen point-of-view characters from a number of difference species across a number of different planets, from the capital world of the empire to colony planets and outlying space stations, over the seven decades that defined the last days of Lazax Empire. Hopefully it hits all the beats of a classic space opera, as befits the board game.
You’ve written dozens of novels over the years. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Twilight Imperium: Twilight Wars: Empire Falling but not on anything else you’ve written?
I’ve been reading Adrian Tchaikovsky’s masterful Children Of Time books, and while there aren’t too many hard similarities Empire Falling, one thing I did try to pick up was the epic, generational sweep of classic space opera stories.
How about non-literary influences; was Twilight Imperium: Twilight Wars: Empire Falling influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
I recently started The Expanse (long overdue!), and I’ve been loving it, so it’s probably lurking somewhere in the background of my inspiration.
I’ve also been trying to get all of the animated series of Star Wars: Clone Wars under by belt ahead of watching Ahsoka, so I’m not sure if any of that has bled in — there’s certainly plenty of galactic politicking and space warfare in all of the above.
As you mentioned, Twilight Imperium: Twilight Wars: Empire Falling is the first book in a trilogy called Twilight Wars. What was it about this story that made you realize it needed to be told in three parts, as opposed to just one or two, or, conversely, five or seven? Or even as an ongoing thing?
Simply put, the scale of the Twilight Wars trilogy demanded more than one book. At the same time though, I didn’t want it to run away with me in terms of plotlines and characters — I’m not going to try and tell every political and military clash during the centuries that the Twilight Wars lasted (though if it did become a mini-setting in its own right with more novels…that would be pretty cool, too). A trilogy seemed like the natural answer, allowing me to explore the fall of the Lazax empire and the degradation and collapse of their galaxy-spanning society while still adhering to a classic beginning-middle-end format that underpins classic storytelling. Frameworks are important so that stories remain focused and rewarding, and hopefully that’s what I’ve given myself here by working via a trilogy.
And do you know yet what the other books will be called and when they’ll be out?
Titles are a work in progress just now, and the release dates are yet to be determined (I’ve got to write the other two still!), but I would imagine we’ll be looking at book number two next year, and book three the year after that. But we shall see.
Upon hearing that Twilight Imperium: Twilight Wars: Empire Falling is the first book of a trilogy, some people will decide to hold off reading it until all three books are out, and still others will decide to binge them when the time comes. But is there any reason why you think people don’t need to wait?
Well, it just comes down to your own reading taste, really. Personally, if I know a book is part of a series that isn’t yet complete, I still go ahead and read each book as it comes out, mainly due to a lack of self-discipline. But if people prefer to hold out and binge them when they’re all out, there’s nothing wrong with that either. I think, given that there are likely relatively big gaps between the releases, the way I would do it is buy each book and read them when they come out, then re-read them all together once the last one is out.
Almost all of the writers I’ve interviewed who’ve written tie-in books for Aconyte have said they try to write them so people unfamiliar with the source material can enjoy them as well. And as someone who’s read a bunch of them, and not played any of the games, I’ve found this to be true. Is that the case for you and Twilight Imperium: Twilight Wars: Empire Falling?
Yes, absolutely. As mentioned, I have played the board game, but haven’t come at it with a great deal of pre-existing knowledge, so it seems only natural to have written it in such a way that other people with only a basic, or even no knowledge, of the setting should be able to pick this up and enjoy it.
Having said that, though, what do you think people who play Twilight Imperium will get out of reading Empire Falling that non-players like me won’t?
While anyone should be able to dive in, I think people familiar with the setting will get a particular kick out of the fact that these books go straight to the heart of the tumultuous, historic characters and events that essentially set up the setting as we know it today. It’s the ancient apocalypse that you see mentioned here and there in the current lore, but now it’s fully fleshed out. As mentioned, my only concern is that I’ve done it all justice.
Does that mean Twilight Imperium: Twilight Wars: Empire Falling would work as a scenario for the game?
I’d say so, albeit you’d need to be able to include the Lazax Empire itself which, by the present day, is long defunct. Getting to actually explore the Lazax as a waning, but still all-powerful faction was actually one of the big draws of writing the book, as they still exert such influence over the present day of the setting, but are now long-absent, almost mythical being.
So, is there anything else people need to know about Twilight Imperium: Twilight Wars: Empire Falling?
I think that about covers it really, other than to say this novel was very fun to write — I think it’s one of my favorites, and I really hope people enjoy it.
Finally, if someone enjoys Twilight Imperium: Twilight Wars: Empire Falling, and they’ve read all the other Twilight Imperium novels, what sci-fi space opera novel of someone else’s would you suggest they check out next?
I can’t recommend Tchaikovsky’s books highly enough. Like all the best sci-fi works, they feel at once fantastical and yet grounded in the present, making us interrogate the world we live in through the lens of a strange and alien future. In short, great stuff.