Truth Is A Human Right: A Look Into Lindsay Ellis’ Debut Novel Axiom’s End

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Cover art for Axiom’s End (left) and Lindsay Ellis (right)

Maison Rauer, Staff Writer

Truth is a human right.

So says Hugo award winner and video essayist Lindsay Ellis in her debut novel Axiom’s End. The book in itself is an enthralling take on how humans use language, physical or verbal, to communicate with one another. Within the novel, Ellis addresses the ins and outs of familial relationships, closely related love and hatred, the concept of a Big Brother type of government, and the little-appreciated art of social survival. There is a catch, though: this story involves extraterrestrial life.

Set in the year 2007, the book follows Cora Sabino as she is thrust head-first into a government cover-up operation when she is abducted by an alien referred to as Ampersand. His mission is to contact Nils Ortega, Cora’s estranged father, before he is taken captive by either the U.S. Government or Obelus, the government system of Ampersand’s home planet. Through the use of body language, a microscopic voice chip, and an entwined history, the two beings come to understand and communicate with one another on a professional, yet personal, level.

Unlike other invasion stories where otherworldly visitors are treated as “The Other,” Ellis made it a priority to humanize both parties, Earthling and “Amygdaline” alike. One of my favorite passages that addresses this is when Cora and Ampersand speak to each other for the very first time, and Ampersand is terrified of Cora after she buys a burger from In-N-Out:

Would you consider a fear of billions of flesh-eating aliens illogical?”

“She couldn’t help but laugh, and she shook her head. ‘You’re afraid of us.’ 

‘Would you consider a fear of billions of flesh-eating aliens illogical?’ 

‘No… it’s… I guess it’s logical, but you see… you are… very intimidating by human standards. I’m surprised that you’re afraid of anything.’ 

‘…I am alone on an alien planet. I have neither resources nor means to communicate with those who have summoned me here. I am being hunted by militarists from the Superorganism, and I have no allies. And the dominant species on the planet is billions of aggressive, violent flesh-eaters.’” 

Perspective is key when diving into Axiom’s End, especially when it comes to the socio-political context of the story. But there is another aspect to this story that makes it even more delightful: dated but relatable humor and the masterful use of pop culture references. 

Ellis slashes into the pop culture of decades past in a loving way, ranging from her indulgence in Pop radio and her time as an IT-crowd/scene kid, to the influence Steve Jobs had on the globe with the introduction of the iPhone. My favorite line (for entertainment’s sake) in the entire book has to be this: “Why hadn’t she turned the station back to NPR? Why, God, why had she listened to ‘Fergalicious’ instead of the news?” 

Then again, this could be a part of the novel’s irrelevance in the far future. 2007 was 14 years ago and, assuming the people reading this are high school students, you probably don’t know as much about 2007 pop culture as you would about the pop culture of today. 

In short, Axiom’s End is a wonderful commentary on what it means to be human. It teaches the importance of perspective, understanding, and common decency across people, places, and cultures. I would have to give it a 4.5/5 on the rating scale. Masterfully written, amazingly compelling, and a wonderful way to start a new decade of literary works.

If you would like to learn more about Lindsay Ellis and her work, I suggest checking out her personal YouTube channel, her contribution to the PBS literary channel Storied, and the variety of articles about her book and the inspirations behind it (all of which I will link below).  

The Novel: Ellis, Lindsay. Axiom’s End. New York, New York, St. Martin’s Press, 2020.

Get the book from locally owned book stores! 

St. Paul

Minneapolis

Lindsay’s YouTube Channel 

Storied

Other Articles and Interviews