Review: Axiom’s End

Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received this book for free as part of 2021 Hugo voting process.

Also, a reminder that I use the Goodreads tooltips for ratings – 3/5 means “liked it” – it’s not a bad rating. Let’s use the whole scale, guys!

I have been following Lindsay Ellis on Youtube for a few years now – both with her older videos that originally appeared on some other website (and no longer exist on YT as of mid-2021) and her newer stuff. I love her deep dives into various story-telling concepts and it’s pretty clear she definitely understands what she’s talking about. So I was pretty excited when I found out she released a book.

A few months or so before I read this book I saw her video about the process of creating the book. It took about 10 years of revisions, drafts, and (I think) a couple different publishers and/or agents. In some ways, I think it robs the book a bit of the immediacy it might have felt in the midst of the Bush Presidency. In other ways, in the wake of Donald Trump, the Q conspiracies, etc the story seems both more relevant and naive at the same time. Let’s just say that I think if Ms Ellis were writing this book in 2020, the Nils character might be more powerful or influential. Plus who knows how Twitter and Facebook would have come into it. Getting away from the meta ….

I think Ellis does a good job with a first contact story from the point of view of someone who has zero interest in the idea or even any expertise to make her ready. Unlike that movie from a couple years ago where the linguist speaks to the aliens who have a different concept of time, Cora has no reason to end up in the position of importance that she does with the aliens.

Speaking of aliens, Ellis also does a great job of making them truly alien. They are neither humanoid nor the traditional “bug”-like creatures. Instead they are truly alien in a way that makes any eventual TV or movie adaptation surely disappointing. Ellis also does a great job with figuring out an alien language that frustrates 40 years of in-story linguists and still makes sense.

The story as a whole follows the more enlightened (the idea’s been around in the PUBLIC sphere maybe 5-10 years) idea that we don’t actually want aliens to make first contact with us. They are likely to be AT LEAST as advanced against us as the Europeans were to the First Nations folks in the Americas. Yet, Lindsay Ellis keeps the focus on the personal struggles of Cora and the immediate consequences for the USA. The idea is there and characters speak it aloud a couple times, but I don’t think it rises to an anvilicious level.

If there’s one thing that kept the story back from 4 stars for me, it’s something about the pacing. As a contrast, I’m also reading The Ruin of Kings as it’s in competition with this book for the Hugo. Every day when I make time for that book, I can’t wait to read it. I REALLY want to find out what happens next. I wasn’t dreading my time with Axiom’s End, but I never found myself dying to know what was next for Cora. I was curious because Ellis created a story I where I couldn’t predict what would happen next. But I wasn’t going to do one of my Bad Decisions where I stay up until 2 AM to finish the book.

I recommend the book if you’re looking for something a little different in the First Contact and alien space. Ms. Ellis puts together a good book that will have you surprised as you go along because she’s mostly either subverting or playing with tropes in a way that’s out of the ordinary.

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