Long before I started writing the first Astronomicon novel, I began planning the universe in which the stories are set. Although I always planned to write novels and short stories set within the Astronomicon universe, it was never the primary reason for creating such a large and detailed scenario. I was originally working on a computer game, a multi-player real-time strategy game where players choose which species to play, before setting about annihilating all the other species through space exploration, technological development and military proliferation.
After several attempts to create the game established that it was a far larger project than could be realised with my resources, I decided that the only practical way to proceed was to write novels set within the universe.
With 12 alien races planned out in detail, a wide range of technological development and a projection of Earth history covering the next 200 years, there was a huge amount of potential material for an exciting science fiction novel. The first problem was picking where to begin.
The most obvious place isn't always the most interesting, but in this case most of the potential stories were not going to make much sense unless I introduced the Astronomicon itself, the mysterious device which links all the books. More than that, the title of the entire series needed to be explained, otherwise it would seem oddly abstract. The best way to do that had to be to cover its discovery. Better still, the group of humans who discovered the Astronomicon itself had a back story which was ideal for some classic science fiction. The first book took shape, named Astronomicon: The Beginning, and covering the first interstellar space flight by humans, seeing them survive a concerted effort to thwart their mission to build the first extrasolar colony.
Distant Relatives, seemed to be a natural progression, in that it was set immediately after the first one. It shifts the focus back to Earth and opens with a huge alien invasion of the solar system. We get our first taste of more advanced technology and the human race begins to the see the bigger picture and how they fit into the universe. The colony from book one turns out to be a key element in the ongoing story, uncovering a plot with serious implications for the inhabitants of Earth.
By the end of the second book, my aim was that readers would have a clear measure of the starting technology level and be fully aware of the approaching threat, but would still have no real idea of what technology they might be up against in future. Readers would discover that Earth's history up to the present day is not quite we have been led to believe.
Astronomicon: Those Left Behind was originally a contender for launching the whole series, but I think it worked much better as a prequel to the whole story. It filled in the reason for the Eridani race travelling to Earth, revealed some of their motivations and, for the very first time, gave a sense of the scale of the alien threat. We see how the relentless invasion of their home-world and ruthless extermination of their population drive them to execute a vast and daring escape plan. Only a tiny percentage of the population have a chance of getting away, but millions have to make the ultimate sacrifice to make it possible.
I believe that this is the best novel I have written so far. The emotions and motivations of the central characters are stronger than ever before. The "hero" has to overcome fear itself, avoid an alien menace and even go against his own people to save his children from extermination. Although this book is very much a prequel to the first two novels in the series, it also works perfectly well as a stand-alone novel. It's a good way of trying out the Astronomicon series without committing to a series.