My Favorite Bit: Tim Pratt talks about THE KNIFE AND THE SERPENT

Tim Pratt is joining us today to talk about his novel, The Knife and the Serpent. Here’s the publisher’s description:

After her grandmother is murdered in a home invasion, Tamsin Culver leaves her cushy programming job in San Francisco and returns to her Midwestern hometown to settle the estate. What she doesn’t expect is to find out her grandmother’s life-changing secret: She’s not an Earth native, but an exile from another level of the Nigh-Space continuum, an adjacent reality with technology far more advanced than ours. What’s more, her grandmother ruled there  as an oligarch, meaning Tamsin is the heir to vast wealth only accessible by someone from her bloodline… but the enemies who tried to exterminate her family won’t be happy to see her return.

Back in the Bay Area, grad student Glenn makes a startling discovery about his girlfriend Vivy. She’s a secret agent for the Interventionists: an interdimensional organisation devoted to protecting the inhabitants of Nigh-Space from those trying to take advantage of less-developed worlds. When she lands in trouble, Glenn finds himself on a sapient starship in a distant level of the continuum, racing to save her. But when Glenn and Vivy’s plans clash with Tamsin’s, and secret connections among them all are revealed, their situation becomes catastrophically complicated.

What’s Tim’s favorite bit?

I’m so excited to talk about my favorite bit of my new novel The Knife and the Serpent, a novel of intrigue, romance, space battles, and fascist-punching across the multiverse.

Except it was surprisingly hard to settle on just one thing to write about, because the book is full of things I love. Should I talk about my Culture-inspired organization of interdimensional meddlers, the Interventionists? Or the romantic partnership at the center of the book, and why it matters that they’re kinky? Or the way a swarm of autonomous killbots I created for plot reasons ended up being one of my favorite characters and stole every scene they appeared in? Or, or, or?

I finally settled on different characters, though: the (mostly) villainous duo named Bollard and Chicane. I’m a big fan of iconic literary dyads, especially variations on the “big strong guy” and “little fast guy” combo. Sure, you’ve got Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser over in sword-and-sorcery, but though they shade toward the amoral, I like the out-and-out villain team-ups better: I’m thinking of Terry Pratchett’s thugs for hire, Mr. Tulip and Mr. Pin from The Truth, and Neil Gaiman’s freelance murderers Croup and Vandemar from Neverwhere, and the “private detectives” Mr. Clubb and Mr. Cuff from the eponymous Peter Straub story.

I wanted to contribute my own take on that structure, and the first thing I came up with were the names: Bollard and Chicane. Bollards, of course, are those pillars that block vehicle access, and chicanes are “traffic calming” structures that force cars to slow down; my town, Berkeley, is full of both, and one day as I was walking around, I thought, “What better names for a pair of characters who act as persistent obstacles to my protagonists?”

I didn’t want to just do Tulip and Pin with the serial numbers filed off, though–I needed to put my own spin on the idea. Though Bollard is the big strong guy and Chicane is the little whippy fast guy, Bollard is also the brains of the operation; while he looks a bit like a polar bear in a pinstriped suit, he’s also a brilliant scientist and engineer. Chicane, meanwhile, is more like a bundle of wires and springs in a suit, barely verbal, extremely deranged, prone to giggling and drooling, and handy with a knife. They carry a variety of business cards for purposes of introduction and intimidation, which say things like


Obstacles Removed • Burdens Shifted • Troubles Untroubled

“We Murder Problems!”



Pests Removed • Offenses Redressed • Knives Sharpened

“Your Enemies Are Ours!”

Early in the novel, Bollard and Chicane attempt to abduct one of the main characters, and Chicane gets his head bashed in and killed. Oh no! My duo is now a singleton! Except Bollard just sighs and says he’ll have to go back to his lab and “decant a new Chicane.” As I mentioned, he’s a scientist, and if one Chicane gets damaged, that’s okay; he’s got tanks full of them. They are, in fact, all botched clones of his original partner, who was sadly killed during a spot of regime change. Bollard keeps tinkering with the formula, hoping to recreate the original, but in the meantime, a ferociously loyal murder monster has its uses.

After all, it’s hard to find good help these days, even in a multiverse.

Tim Pratt


Book Link





TIM PRATT is a Hugo Award-winning SF and fantasy author, who has also been a finalist for World Fantasy, Sturgeon, Stoker, Mythopoeic, and Nebula Awards, among others. Since 2001 he has worked for Locus, the magazine of the science fiction and fantasy field, where he currently serves as senior editor. He lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife and son.

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