• Featured Novel: 'Under the Shadow' by J.M. Kay

    J.M. Kay's young-adult science fiction novel Under the Shadow is the first book of the Children of the Star Trilogy. Described to be a "story of self-discovery", the novel follows tow thirteen-year-old boys, Jason Swann and Daniel Elliot, who get accidentally abducted by the Archivist, a robotic being created by an ancient alien race known as the Shantar Anar. But there's a deeper mystery that runs in the story as the boys and the Archivist find themselves lost in an adventure on a foreign world called Ranis Anjiran. What they discover there only further dismantles the myths surrounding their accidental abduction and their connection to the Shantar Anar. While the boys are in far off worlds, their respective families in the small town of Ashton, in the American Midwest, desperately seek to find them, thinking the worst. Their search uncovers a hidden history with ties to the events surrounding Jason and Daniel’s journey.

    J.M. Kay was inspired by T.S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land. The author was fascinated with the poem's complexities and cryptic nature that reveal the emotional component of the awareness the poet has for the world he inhabits. His recognition of this awareness is inspiration for his trilogy. Kay says that his work is ultimately based on his own feelings about how human beings deal with fear and how fears dictate the state of the world we have created.

    Interview with J.M. Kay

    How do you present the themes of humans dealing with fears and the recognition of awareness in "Under the Shadow"?

    In the human world of “Under the Shadow” fear rears its head primarily as a function of ignorance and loss. The protagonist, Jason, fears acknowledging that the life he loved will never be the same after his father’s death. His mother, Anne, fears the consequence of being totally honest with her son. Her own ignorance over why her husband died ultimately clouds the relationship she desperately wants to have with Jason. Other characters deal with similar fears that drive from ignorance and loss by being consumed with an anger brewing beneath the surface. The common thread is, the fears that rise up from tragedy can easily become the dominant emotion in our personalities if they aren't checked. The theme of dealing with fear, however, is not limited to the humans in the book, but plays a very real part in the story of the Ranis Aun and the Shantar Anar. The source of the Shantar Anar’s fear is unveiled more fully in the next installments of the “Children of the First Star” trilogy.

    What do you think is the most unique aspect of "Under the Shadow"?

    I think the most unique aspect of “Under the Shadow” is the interaction between human and alien beings. The story doesn't revolve around a more typical story of battle between humans and aliens, but rather tries to create a universe in which the cast of characters are connected by commonalities that at first seem preposterous. The evolution of how Jason and Daniel view and understand Nierion, their accidental abductor and archivist for the ancient Shantar Anar, is a good example of this.

    How would you describe the societies in Ranis Anjiran?

    There is one dominant societ, at least at the time the story takes place, the Ranis Aun. They are an advanced subterranean culture that shares some of the more aggravating traits of human beings. Nierion notes that they are very proud of their architectural accomplishments. When Jason, Daniel and Nierion discover, however that the entire race has mysteriously completely disappeared from Ranis Anjiran, figuring out what happened to the Ranis Aun leads to an understanding of their history that even Nierion couldn’t have imagined.

    How are the robots and aliens portrayed? Did you write about other races or species?

    While Jason surmises that Nierion, the archivist sent to Earth to study human beings, is a robot, by the end of the novel, exactly what Nierion is, remains a mystery. What Jason learns, as he spends time with the archivist, is that in as much as it isn't human, it is possessed of a complex and compassionate personality. The aliens themselves are portrayed, overall, as neutral societies with good and bad elements. I tried to give them physical attributes to match the environments I set them in. Not much is gleaned in the novel about what exactly the Shantar Anar are, other than that they are very old and very powerful. The details of their story are yet to come!

    What do you think is the most fascinating science fiction element that you've included in your books?

    I think when I decided not to try to be able to explain everything I wanted to invent; my imagination took over unheeded by the demand to create a fully knowable and working world. My rationale for this was simply that, if a thirty year old human with no background in the hard-sciences could readily explain the technologies of an ancient
    and powerful civilization, they wouldn't be very ancient and powerful now would they?

    How would you describe your writing style?

    I think my writing style is very detail oriented, and also poetic, a carryover from my poetry-writing life. The hardest part of the writing process for me was killing the darlings, so to speak, since my love of words and how they fit together left the first drafts of my book quite heavy with redundancies. Thank heavens for good editors. What came out of these combined efforts was a story that moves and has a good pace but didn't lose the vibrancy of language or the poetic flow of the prose.

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