The Internal Revenue Service might be the one to thank for the creation of the recently released young adult science fiction novel “Illuminae: The Illuminae Files No. 1” (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $18.99, ages 14 and up).
At the very least, it was IRS tax forms that brought “Illuminae” Australian co-authors Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff together in the first place. As overseas authors published in the U.S., Kaufman and Kristoff were both required to fill out IRS forms.
“No American I have ever met was surprised that the IRS forms absolutely baffled me,” Kaufman said. “I was complaining about this to a friend at work, and he said, ‘I know a guy who had to do this.’”
One brunch and a couple tax forms later, Kaufman and Kristoff became friends.
“Initially, we were just hanging out and we would just get together and talk shop, really,” Kristoff said. “Then one day, Amie came in and said that she’d had a dream that we wrote a book together and it was an email book.”
“Illuminae,” which is set to become a trilogy, is written in the format of emails, instant messages, journal entries and other various documents and art pages — giving readers a truly unique and thrilling reading experience.
Set in the year 2575, “Illuminae” follows Kady and Ezra on an epic, suspenseful and terrifying journey. The two are barely speaking to each other after their recent breakup when their planet is caught in the middle of a violent fight between two megacorporations that destroy nearly everything and everyone around them.
Escaping from their planet becomes the least of their worries as a horrific disease sweeps through the evacuating ships, leaving terror in its wake. On top of that, one of their ship’s main computers, AIDEN, is malfunctioning in a bizarre and unprecedented way, leaving them not only helpless against the pursuit of a corporation’s fleet but also at the mercy of a rogue computer. Despite Kady’s anger with Ezra, it soon becomes clear that it’s up to them to find the truth the captain is withholding from them if they're going to escape with their lives.
“In (Kaufman’s) dream, these two characters were talking via email,” Kristoff said. “From that, a bunch of questions rolled out. They had to be separated. From that, we came up with the idea that they had to be on two different spaceships, and then we had to have a plausible reason why those spaceships couldn’t trade people back and forth. There wasn't one moment or one idea from which everything kind of fell out. It was a very gradual sense of building a house brick by brick."
But when the pair started writing “Illuminae” back in 2011, the author “watercooler talk” was that science fiction stories were unpopular and difficult to sell. With that in mind, and as the story format began to rapidly take on different styles, Kaufman and Kristoff realized their chances of selling their book were slim.
“We were looking at the format of it and thinking that the production costs alone on something like this were going to mean that people would be very reluctant to produce it,” Kaufman said. “And (Kristoff) said, ‘You know what? If it’s going to go down, let’s go down in flames.’”
With that being the authors’ frame of mind, “Illuminae” became a collection of ideas born of the mentality that nothing was too crazy.
“We would ask ourselves constantly, ‘What’s the best way we can get this scene across?’” Kristoff said. “And it was partly because we had initially admitted that this thing was never going to get published, so no idea was too crazy and no thought was too left field, and partly just trying to find the right tool for the job.”
Kaufman and Kristoff used journal entries and instant messages for more intimate moments, or security footage for broader views — but it was the more climactic and dramatic moments in the book that became literal works of art.
“If you’re talking a visual language rather than a verbal language, you’re going to absorb everything a lot quicker,” said Kristoff, who helped design many of the art pages. “When you lay it down on the page in such a way that the typography also helps to express the chaos of that moment when the type is running vertically and upside down and it’s all kind of crammed together in different ways that immediately reopens that page and gives an additional sense of the chaos that is going on in that scene without having to read a word.”
Despite the rumors that science fiction wasn’t selling and the worry that the book format would deter publishers, “Illuminae” had no trouble being picked up by a publisher and debuted on the New York Times young adult hardcover best-sellers list at No. 5.
“When people go to the movies, they line up to watch science fiction,” Kaufman said. “The world is counting down to the new Star Wars movie. And yet when you talk to people about reading, they say no, they don’t read sci-fi. It’s always strange to me because we clearly love science fiction stories. I really hope ('Illuminae') will bring a lot of new people into the fold."
“A lot of people that tell you they don’t read science fiction will be huge Hunger Games fans or huge Divergent fans and don’t realize that those books, in every way, are sci-fi,” Kristoff said. “It’s interesting to hear people say they don’t read science fiction when, in fact, they do.”
The other two books in the Illuminae Files trilogy will continue the story but focus on new characters. However, Kaufman noted, “We will also say that everybody who makes it alive out of each book will appear in the next one.”Comment on this story
“Illuminae” has no sexual content but does contain blacked out swear words and some described violence.
If you go ...
What: Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman discussion with Dan Wells and book signing
Where: The King's English Bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City
Note: Places in the signing line are reserved for those who purchase a copy of the featured book from The King's English.
Hikari Loftus is a graduate of the University of Utah. She blogs at FoldedPagesDistillery.blogspot.com.