I said I’d talk about the title in another update, and behold! This is that other update. Instead of just describing how the name came about, though, I thought I’d take the opportunity to explain the whole history of Stars Rain Down, from its inception in the margins of notebooks, to the final novel you’ll be reading on September 20th.
That history is complicated by the fact that Stars Rain Down didn’t start as just one project; it was actually four (or more) separate ideas that I eventually combined into a single, stranger whole.
Grab a snack. This is gonna be a long one…
The earliest and most important part was called Legacy Effect, a sci-fi project which I started brainstorming in 2000 after I saw Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Filled with frustration over what I considered Lucas’ mishandling of his universe, I set out to create my own galaxy-spanning sci-fi franchise. My aim was to combine magic and technology much as Lucas had, but in a universe built with extensibility in mind, so that stories could be told from anywhere along its timeline without mangling continuity. Essentially, I was trying to craft an entire future history, from which I could cherry-pick interesting and important moments.
The universe was large and diverse, with thousands of alien races, countless habitable worlds, and a history dating back millions of years to when an ancient civilization ruled it all. In modern times, the human race had become a dominant force in the galaxy, thanks in part to the discovery of alien artifacts that jumpstarted our technological progress. Sometime after that discovery, humanity split into two powerful nations: the Earth, which became an isolationist theocracy, and the Confederated Fringe Systems, a secular melting pot of former colonies that broke away in a bloody independence war.
Hidden just beneath the surface was a covert struggle for the fate of the galaxy, waged between two orders of knights clad in living armor, who gained immense strength through the philosophy and technology of the ancients. Rather than simple good and evil, however, these two factions each believed themselves to be fighting for the greater good. They simply had different ideas about what the greater good was and how to achieve it.
It was a big, messy, difficult task… and that’s probably why it never really came together.
The Hungry Planet
About a year later, I started working on the second most important component, a comic series called Nemesis Rising set in a far off solar system where Earthlings would never set foot. I envisioned it as a strange and wondrous place populated by three peaceful races who travelled from one planet to the next aboard living spaceships.
When a mythical horror called Nemesis, a monstrous living planet which devours everything in sight, returns from the void and begins its assault, a multiracial group of young people race off to retrieve the one weapon that can stop it.
I thought the core concepts of Nemesis Rising—an entire series devoid of humans, and a world where all technology is alive—were fairly revolutionary. It also dealt with themes I found intriguing, like pacifism under attack, and the dangers of dogma. Unfortunately, it ended up on a permanent backburner while other projects occupied my time.
One subject keeps surfacing again and again: Biotechnology. At an early age, I became fascinated with the idea that machines could be constructed from living tissue, ultimately becoming more powerful and adaptable than their non-organic counterparts. I became so obsessed, in fact, that the concept shows up in virtually every science-fiction story I work on.
I developed some of these ideas further in 2003 when I started plotting out a science-fiction novel based on (don’t laugh) the Transformers. I thought they offered a neat counterpoint to biotechnology, being machines designed to function like living creatures. I wanted to explore the place where these two concepts might eventually collide. What happens when technology imitates biology, and vice versa? Is there some natural end point that they would both evolve toward in parallel?
The planned novel,Transformers: Across the Sea of Ages, only ever existed as the barest of plans, but it served as a fertile garden for my imagination. Two fruits from that garden would ultimately survive: the idea that human beings were bio-engineered by an alien race for their own purposes, and that this other race had mastered genetic engineering and statistical models so completely that they could schedule the rise of specific mutations millions of years in the future.
Flood Waters Rising
By the Fall of 2005, all of these projects had been set aside in favor of my forever-in-production fantasy novel, Ebon Tide. That novel wasn’t working, though, and I found myself pretty badly stalled out.
Then Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana, and as I watched the catastrophe unfold on the nightly news, fresh ideas sparked to life. The problem was that none of those ideas really fit into a fantasy novel.
The question that started it all was this: Why do we send the National Guard into these situations? I grasped the need for a well drilled, government force with a strong chain of command, but the National Guard are nevertheless combat troops. They’re neither trained nor equipped to deal with natural disasters.
It didn’t make a lick of sense, so I started coming up with something that did. My idea was to form a global volunteer force, trained to drop into disaster areas and help the wounded. Instead of troops in camouflage with assault rifles, they’d be medics and firefighters dressed like traffic cones and equipped with first aid kits. I called them the Emergency Response Corps, or ERC.
I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to convince anyone this was a good idea, though. Instead, I started considering how the concept might work in a novel.
The Similar Title Effect
In 2007, I was getting mighty frustrated at my inability to finish Ebon Tide. The novel was supposed to combine deep world building, martial arts, spirituality and an avant-garde literary style, producing nothing less than a total renaissance in fantasy fiction. My ambitions were astronomical, and the fact that I couldn’t reach them was infuriating.
The thought of aiming a little closer to Earth became attractive. I could write a more conventional science-fiction novel, which would not only give me a finished manuscript to shop around to agents, but also help me work through some of the kinks in my writing style. Right around the time I began sorting out my notes on Legacy Effect, something annoying happened… The first wave of marketing for BioWare’s Mass Effect hit.
And it wasn’t just the titles that were similar, either. Every new scrap of information I uncovered seemed to resemble my ideas, from the group the main character worked for to his semi-mystical abilities, and even the style of his body armor and design of his ship. The two universes certainly weren’t carbon copies and there was no reason to suspect foul play, but they had more than enough in common to annoy me. I felt unoriginal, and if I finished Legacy Effect as planned, I’d likely be accused of ripping Mass Effect off.
The surprising part is that this turned out to be just the motivation I needed. With a goal of finishing my novel before Mass Effect hit shelves, I dug through my old properties, and manically went about cutting and rearranging them to fit together. After a few weeks of brainstorming and adaptation, I had sixty pages of notes detailing a universe, a cast of characters, and the plot of a novel. The world was cobbled together from a decade worth of creative flotsam and jetsam, while the plot was strongly inspired by the Iraq war, with a few dashes of a cartoon called Robotech thrown in for flavor.
With notes in hand, I closed the door to my room and went to work. About three months later, I had a finished novel.
I feel like I’m forgetting something here… Oh.
While working, the folder was always simply labeled Legacy. I knew I would have to do something about the title, but (for once in my life) I figured that could wait until I was done with the story.
Once it was finished, the title became the subject of numerous heated arguments with myself (does that sound crazy?). After throwing away dozens of ideas, I finally settled on Legacy Undying, a reference to an immortal alien spaceship that plays a key part in the plot. This title adorned the manuscripts I initially mailed off to agents.
A bit of failure sure can change your perception of things, though. The first agent sent back a form letter, and I felt a bit downtrodden. The second agent held onto the book and thought about it for six months, before finally turning me down politely. Around that time, Legacy Undying started to sound like a great title for a trashy vampire romance novel.
It was another six months before I looked into submitting the book again, this time to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. I spent a lot of time rewriting and rethinking the manuscript, and that was when I settled on Until the Stars Go Dark, a phrase I’d also worked into the dialogue. I liked the image it conjured, the determination it implied, and the sentimental value it held for one of the main characters.
Another few months disappeared while I awaited the ABNA results. My novel was eventually cut in the second round with one very positive review, and one that said it was probably pretty good for science-fiction, but the reviewer didn’t care for the genre. I groaned mightily.
I was back to square one. I looked into a few more agents and toyed with the idea of mailing off more submissions, but that seemed like a long and painful game to play. I eventually decided that traditional publishing was a bad joke with a particularly cruel punchline, and I no longer wanted anything to do with it. If I was going to be successful as a writer, it would be by taking fate into my own hands, and ebooks would be the engine of that success.
In the run up to self-publishing, I modified the title one last time to give it some more punch, and that’s the title I’m using today: Stars Rain Down. It retains the same basic concept, but is shorter and perhaps a little more mysterious. It feels right, and I hope you’ll agree.
…and that’s the Reader’s Digest version of how Stars Rain Down came to be. It’s missing all the gory details like what I had for breakfast, or how many hours I spent staring at the wall waiting for a good idea to come along, but it’s complete enough and all true(ish). As for how all those different pieces came together in the final novel, you’ll just have to wait for September 20th to find out.
Thanks for coming along for the ride. Look out for another story excerpt in the next day or so, and in the meantime, I’ll leave you with a list of titles that didn’t make the cut. Warning: They didn’t make the cut with good reason.
- Legacy of Fire
- The Fires of Distant Stars
- Starborn Legacy
- Legacy Immortal
- Ex Infernis
- Mark of the Aggressor
- Devourer Awakened
- Monsters of Reason
- The Radiant Dark
- Requiem Recoil
- In the Valley Where We Die
- When Stars Began to fall
- Blood of Generations
- More Than Strength Alone
- Sorrow’s Far Shore
~Chris J. Randolph
This post was reprinted from my Kickstarter project page. Find any of it interesting? Please consider tossing a few dollars my way, to help make the launch of Stars Rain Down a success.