Youtuber Lindsay Ellis makes her fiction debut with Axiom’s End, a novel about first contact and free transfer of information. This first entry in the series introduces college dropout Cora to alien oligarch Ampersand and three cultures to one another. In the year 2007, Cora leaves college without a plan for her life other than staying out of contact with her cybercriminal hacktivist father Nils, who has completely abandoned his paternal responsibility in order to become internet famous, when an alien invades her house, searching for her family’s connections to alien species stranded on Earth.
Cora strives to live under the radar, which leaves her with little direction in her life beyond going to concerts and playing music to help her kindergarten-age sister go to sleep. She helps her mother provide for her brother and sister, but only out of obligation. None of them have contact with her father, who leaked a report that implies that the US government holds aliens captive. Cora does have something of a mentor in Luciana, her aunt on her father’s side, who also lost a government job due to Nils’ activism, but Luciana has little patience and grieves the loss of her livelihood pretty hard. Truthfully, Cora has no one in her life, but the concept of relationships that should function, but don’t. Once Ampersand lands, Luciana reveals that her job had been to translate extraterrestrial languages and that she has almost a familial relationship with her former coworkers. However, this privilege does not extend to Cora herself, even as she gains far more experience with aliens then they.
Relationships are entirely strange to Cora, even before she meets a being without the same concept that she possesses. However, the friendship between Cora and Ampersand grows out of a kind of necessity rather than fondness. Ampersand knows nothing about humans and, after placing a tracking device and psychic communicator Cora, negotiates a strange kind of arrangement. Soon, due to Luciana’s interference, they find themselves dealing with U.S. intelligence agencies, and, soon after, a rival faction from Ampersand’s homeworld lands on Earth looking for him. This sort of enemy-of-enemy logic generates a more authentic relationship than Cora has with her actual family. However, Ampersand routinely hides information from Cora, that either she cannot understand or that might harm her. This betrayal cuts Cora hard, thanks to her father, but learning to forgive Ampersand sets itself up as the next entry in their story.
Axiom’s End provides familiar scifi thriller material for longtime fans, but Cora and Ampersand’s complicated friendship will leave plenty for readers to mull over. The reckoning between Ampersand and his enemies on his homeworld continues in Truth of the Divine.
Three out of five stars