Sci-Fi? Aliens? First Contact? Check, check and check.
Axiom’s End is the first book in a new series called ‘Noumena’ by Lindsay Ellis. The second book ‘Truth of the Divine’ is due October this year, so now is the perfect time to tuck into Axiom’s End and join me being hyped.
I’m a sucker for Sci-Fi and have been since I was a kid. So any book that purports to be about Aliens and first contact are irresistible to me, regardless of execution. Name it and I’ve probably read it, the good and the bad. So given my preponderance of Sci-Fi books what did I think about Axiom’s End?
I loved it.
This book scratched a lot of itches. I realised that I haven’t read a really gratifying book about Alien life in a long time. There are a lot of great ideas in this corner of the genre and Lindsay Ellis explores some of the most fascinating ones.
First is the concept of Aliens. People have a tendency to anthropomorphise the idea of Aliens. It’s in our nature to do it. To visualise another intelligence, that could very well be unknowable, it is reasonable to assume that we would apportion these existences familiar anatomical landmarks. But in reality intelligent life out there could be so unfamiliar and unknowable to us that we wouldn’t know it if we saw it. I love that mystery. It is something that is utterly out of our comfort zone and experience. I think the book addresses this concept while also moving along a narrative vector that abides it. The concept of Aliens is, well, Alien.
One of my favourite ideas from the book came about from a discussion between two characters, that I won’t spoil, but it concerns the concept of the ‘Great Filter’. This is in relation to the Fermi Paradox, named after Physicist Enrico Fermi. I won’t go too deeply into it, but the gist of it is this: Given the enormity of space, the billions of potential of stars and planets that could theoretically support life in our galaxy, why have we not already encountered intelligent species beyond our own? The contrasting lack of evidence of other intelligences lead to the argument that there is a qualifying process that a species must pass through before extending beyond their star – a great filter for civilisation. It begs the question: when is this obstacle encountered, and when found, what is required to pass it?
This is heady stuff and I love that the book delves into these concepts.
Amongst these broad themes is the main character Cora Sabino and her family. The book is their story amidst tidal undercurrents of global change. Given how significant the events in the book, focusing on a family was an incredibly clever way to ground the story and make it relatable, while also exploring the deeper implications of Alien life and what that might do to our civilisation and our view of the Universe.
Through Cora we determine how prepared we are for the appearance of Alien life while also reconciling how we might go about quantifying it and understanding it. We have the contrasting needs of Cora’s granular concerns regarding her family and their wellbeing and her own safety and the overarching security of state and the governments mandate to protect and insulate the people in the face of something that nobody really understands.
Cora’s struggle between the immovable forces of government, the unknowable and unfathomable depths of Alien life and her own estranged whistleblowing father make for a dynamic and multifaceted conflict that explores the primary questions surrounding the idea of Alien life such as disclosure and freedom of information versus the need for security, preparation and the public’s ability to deal with this information.
And beyond all of this is the actual process of communicating and even understanding an Alien intelligence.
I’m inclined to keep talking about it but this post is more to nudge people toward reading the book, and not to break it down and spoil things. It’s better this way.
The more books we have on this topic the better and Lindsay Ellis have given us a great one. I’m looking forward to the next.