Authors Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff have found unconventional solutions to the publishing paradox in creating The Illuminae Files. They don’t follow the rules of conventional narrative. Or sentence structure. Or book-making.
Modern language evolves faster than books can be printed, so how do publishers know what will be relevant by the time a book hits shelves? What will be relevant decades from now? How do they decide what will hold water as science fiction?
For example, here’s a spread from Illuminae: The Illuminae Files Book One:
© Heather Kelly and Jay Kristoff, Knopf Books for Young Readers, Penguin Random House LLC
In this series design is an element of the narrative itself. Many designers embellish novels with typefaces and ornaments, but The Illuminae Files takes on a uniquely interactive approach to storytelling. Each spread is more like an investigation.
Yes, each book has two covers and a spine, you flip pages to advance the plot, but readers discover the story through dossier-style reports, hacked emails, journal entries and blueprints. The authors even include artificial intelligence accounts that read more like poetry than computational analysis.
The crux of these books’ success is that the contents of the “files” feel epic. The design builds the tension already inherent in a futuristic space odyssey, filled with cover-ups, adventure, romance, heartache, and truth.
The challenges of unconventional story-telling appeal to fans the same way LOST did. Readers grapple with its complexity, dissecting sub-plots, motives, and the overarching humanity of it all.
Also like LOST, this series has developed a cult following, since the reading is so interactive. In fact, there is a casualty list in each book, where characters in the world of Illuminae have died, and readers clamor to have their names printed on the lists. There’s currently a contest going on to be included on the casualty list of Obsidio.
Morbid? Yes. Brilliant way to interact with readers? Hell yes.
The motive of finding out the truth behind conspiracies drives Illuminae, and the second in the series, Gemina, jumps to another spaceship within the same galaxy, where the attacks from Illuminae have more of an impact on the new characters’ lives than readers originally think.
The third installment, Obsidio, has yet to be published, but promises to continue in the same vein as the first two, hopefully providing more answers and even prettier eye-candy for loyal fans.
Readers who enjoy the mixed media wait ravenously for more from Kaufman and Kristoff, while those who don’t enjoy multi-tasking as they read might not find this series to be their cup of tea.
Takeaway: if you’re looking for a traditional novel, these books are not necessarily for you. However, the story is rich and made even richer by the design. Even if you just pick one up to stare at the art, The Illuminae Files are pretty rad.