I was cautious when I picked up the audiobook version of Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis, published in July 2020 by St. Martin’s Press, a science fiction novel that takes place in an alternate history version of 2007, not least because it’s an alternate history novel that takes place in 2007.
I was in college in 2007 and don’t think of it as “history.” That in and of itself made me feel slightly weird about the whole thing.
But I ended up enjoying it nonetheless.
A whistleblower — who appears to have been modeled in part on Julian Assange of Wikileaks fame* — has just revealed that the United States government may have made contact with alien life.
His daughter, Cora, who is the book’s main character, is far from her father’s biggest fan. She wants as little as possible to do with him, because he appears to have been a bad father and because he seems to have left her family in the lurch when she was very young.
Cora, however, can’t avoid her connections to her father, especially when she and her family have contact with one of the aliens in question.
What starts as a violent and terrifying interaction with this alien being — who is later, in English, christened Ampersand — turns into a friendship as Cora learns to communicate with him and understand his motives.
Cora becomes an interpreter for Ampersand, serving as an intermediary between him and the government officials who are effectively holding him and his compatriots hostage.
This is a complicated story with an involved, fast-moving plot.
Ampersand and his family — referred to as files in the book — are fleeing a group of genocidal aliens from their own planet who want nothing more than to wipe them from existence while the government is trying, by turns, to keep the aliens’ existence under wraps and to study them.
The main character really can trust no one — except possibly her new alien friend.
I enjoyed the alien race Ellis created. Their completely foreign biology, their culture and their language issues were interesting enough to keep me reading and enjoying the story. Watching how they interacted with the human characters was fascinating and a lot of fun. It really touches on how different the human and alien characters are in a way that a lot of science fiction I’ve read does not. The writing is good and occasionally funny. That too made this book compelling enough to keep me reading.
I must admit, the reporter in me enjoyed the freedom of information aspect of the book — and the constant iteration of the phrase, “truth is a human right.” The main character’s father is a government whistleblower on the run after leaking information about the government’s knowledge of alien life that’s made contact with earth. There’s nothing not interesting about that.
It reminded me of something I’ve never really forgotten — that telling the truth isn’t always pretty.
Some people will love you and some people will hate you when you tell the truth, When a journalist or whistleblower of any kind is doing their job, they tend to tick people off. Nobody actually enjoys being held accountable for their actions — it’s par for the course. Likewise, many people don’t enjoy having their respective worlds shaken up or having to take a different view of things.
Thankfully, I am have not ever been declared any kind of enemy of the state. I doubt I’ll have to go on the lam anytime soon, unlike our main character’s father.
But that aspect of the story really did resonate with me as someone who believes in seeking truth even when it’s an upsetting sort of truth.
Pardon the tangent.
This is the first installment in a series and I liked it well enough that I’ll pick up the next book and read it in a heartbeat when it comes out.
Overall, I give it a 4.5 out of 5 stars.
*At least, that’s who he reminds me of the most at this point in the story. This book is the first in a series, so I’m looking forward to some future character development.