Serendipity, or WTF does "ILLUMINAE" mean?

I have a new book coming out this year called ILLUMINAE. I co-wrote it with my bud and partner-in-crime (and recently crowned New York Times bestselling author, I don’t know if they actually get crowns but still, yyyyyeah grrlfriend), Amie Kaufman. It’s the first in a trilogy named THE ILLUMINAE FILES. It drops in August and it’s like no book you’ve ever read. I cross my heart and pinky swear.
(you can read my ‘review’ of it here, btw)
A couple of folks have asked me “So wtFFF does Illuminae mean? Is that even a real word thing or did you just make it up to look like you wear fancypants?”. To which I reply “yes” and “yes”.
See, book titles are a bitch. And I don’t mean “bitch” like Calhoun in Wreck It Ralph, all hardcore on the outside but with a heart of gold on the inside. I’m talking like Alien Queen. I’m talking Ma Ma in Dredd. I’m talking Maggie Thatcher here, droogs.
A lot hangs on a book title. One might venture a book like TWILIGHT might not have sold as well if it was called I’M DATING A VAMPIRE NAMED EDWARD AND HE IS JUST DRRRRRREAMY ASIDE FROM THE WATCHING ME WHILE I SLEEP AND BEING A HUNDRED YEARS OLDER THAN ME THING (My bride tells me the original title was FORKS, so good move whoever decided to deep six that idea). And GONE GIRL probably wouldn’t have been an unmitigated phenomenon if it was called MARRIED PEOPLE ARE ALL FUCKED IN THE HEAD.
Actually, maybe that would sell a bazillion.
So. Titles. They suck. And authors agonize over them. When Amie and I started writing this bookthing, the codename I gave my copy of the ms was VOID (yes I give all my manuscripts codenames, I am james bond all up in this thang). But Void was never going to fly – the connotations to bodily functions alone make it a no-starter. Which might sound puerile, but puerile is the internet’s middle name so this is the kind of mind-breaking crappola you need to contemplate when dreaming up a title. “Is there any way someone can twist this into a silly word?” “Does it rhyme with any bodily functions?” “Does it mean something rude in Russian?”
So. Early on in the piece, I was tossing around the word “Illumine”

verb (used with object), verb (used without object), illumined, illumining.
1. to illuminate.

because it’s the name of a song by one of my favorite bands, and the book is about shining light on the awful truth about what went on aboard this refugee spaceship fleet, what with the conspiracies and plagues and insane artificial intelligences and aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAA. But as a title it was a little meh.
So then I go to a Tool concert.
Tool are one of my favorite bands. They’re as close to religion as I get. So they’re up there playing a song called Lateralus, which (I suspect) is a song about opening yourself up to random possibilities and contemplation of the constant expansion of the universe and along with it, our consciousness as a species (they’re punching a little above the weight of your average top 40 song, is what I’m saying). Anyway, they’re playing Lateralus and there’s this amazing, mind-bending light show that looks like this:



and I get to thinking. Why not make up a word for the title? You’re a fucking writer, why not just invent a word that’s entirely your own? YOU MAKE THINGS UP FOR A LIVING. And so I circle back to Illumine, and start playing with letters in my head and there in the middle of this crushing psychedelic lightshow and massive breakdown, I ask myself Kristoff, are you REALLY this much of a wanker?
And of course, the answer was yes.
Because at this stage, we hadn’t even sold the book yet, and it was different and crazy and would cost a bazillion dollars to produce properly, and no publisher was ever going to buy a book this strange and even though Amie and I LOVED IT IN THE PANTS it’d probably never sell. So hells with it.
I bounce the idea off Amie. I think I sent her a text before the song had finished. And she liked it, so bam, we had our name. ILLUMINAE it was. Like I say, no one was ever gonna read it anyway.
Fast forward about a year and a half. Surprising everybody, most of all us, we’d sold ILLUMINAE to Random House. Which was like HOLY SHIT, THAT IS A THING. And Amie is sitting on my couch and we’re bouncing around timelines for book 2, and she’s talking to a buddy of hers on Gchat who speaks Latin (Yes, Amie is 100% metal. Her friends speak fucking Latin) and somewhere along the line, the friend tells us Illuminae is actually a real word. I didn’t make it up, after all.

noun (Latin)
1. those who shed light
literally, the radiant ones

From our translator:
“Illumino” is a Latin verb meaning “to shine.” This is usually turned into an adjective as IlluminATus, but latter day Romans played just as fast and loose with their grammar as we did, so it’s perfectly reasonable that someone decide to drop it down to just “illuminus.” Adding the ending “ae” instead of “us” makes the word female and plural. With Latin, which so often takes shortcuts through grammar, you can make an adjective function like a noun, so the descriptive word “radiant” is simply extended to mean “radiant ones,” with the “ae” ending giving it that feminine vibe.


Which about fits this story and these characters as perfectly as anything, ever.
So. Serendipity. Coincidence. Call it what you will. I guess I’m glad I went to that Tool concert, is what I’m saying.
That and “fuck top 40”.


Black then white are all I see in my infancy.
red and yellow then came to be, reaching out to me.
Lets me see.
As below, so above and beyond, I imagine
drawn beyond the lines of reason.
Push the envelope. Watch it bend.

Over thinking, over analyzing separates the body from the mind.
Withering my intuition, missing opportunities and I must
Feed my will to feel my moment drawing way outside the lines.

Black then white are all I see in my infancy.
red and yellow then came to be, reaching out to me.
lets me see there is so much more
and beckons me to look through to these infinite possibilities.
As below, so above and beyond, I imagine
drawn outside the lines of reason.
Push the envelope. Watch it bend.

Over thinking, over analyzing separates the body from the mind.
Withering my intuition leaving all these opportunities behind.

Feed my will to feel this moment urging me to cross the line.
Reaching out to embrace the random.
Reaching out to embrace whatever may come.

I embrace my desire to
feel the rhythm, to feel connected
enough to step aside and weep like a widow
to feel inspired, to fathom the power,
to witness the beauty, to bathe in the fountain,
to swing on the spiral
of our divinity and still be a human.

With my feet upon the ground I lose myself
between the sounds and open wide to suck it in.
I feel it move across my skin.
I’m reaching up and reaching out.
I’m reaching for the random or what ever will bewilder me.
And following our will and wind we may just go where no one’s been.
We’ll ride the spiral to the end and may just go where no one’s been.

Spiral out. Keep going…

13 Responses to “Serendipity, or WTF does "ILLUMINAE" mean?”

  1. Dude, I think this might just be the most awesome back story for a book title ever!!

  2. JdV says:

    Lovely explanation of the title of your new series. I am very excited to get my hands on it as I have loved the Lotus War series from start to finish. Can we pre-order yet? Did I see that somewhere?
    On that note I owe you a review for Kinslayer yet. Short version is it made my eyes all drippy and my insides gooey. In all the best ways. Well done sir.
    Thank you also for going out of your way and personally sending me a copy of The Last Stormdancer when Barnes and Noble failed to do so.
    You are a stand up Gent.

    • Yep, you can pre-order at all the usual outlets (B&N, Powells, The Zon etc). And it would be awesome of you if you did, thanks!
      So glad you enjoyed KINSLAYER! Hope you dig ENDSINGER too. If KS made you a bit weepy though, best bring a box of tissues for ES 🙂

  3. Manz says:

    Thank you, radiant one.

  4. jowgoat says:

    Great story. And yes, Tool rule 🙂

  5. Frankie Ash says:

    Tool inspired the title! That’s cool. I haven’t been to a proper concert since I saw them in 2000. Well…Slipknot and Mushroomhead were awesome concerts but…TOOL!
    I’m excited for Illuminae’s release, man!

  6. […] recently talked about the new project, Illuminae, and the origin of it’s title here. It involves music. Tool, to be […]

  7. The Wanderer says:

    wow, must EVERYTHING about this book be so EPIC? i just finished the audibook today, and i CANNOT BELIEVE that the series isn’t a cultural phenomenon. best audiobook i have ever heard. EVER. i also own the books because they’re works of art, and i look forward to have THAT immersive experience as well.

    just… wow. that is some avant garde brilliance!

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