I don’t know what to really say about this book, other than I can’t imagine how you could make first contact seem so dull. Which is what Axiom’s End is ostensibly about, in a sort of roundabout way.
The main character is Cora, the daughter of a internet conspiracy theorist (though, in the end, he’s actually correct). She, through a series of events, ends of the translator to Ampersand, an alien who is looking for a group of aliens who ended up on Earth 40 years previously. So it’s not really first contact, but it is the first time the aliens started to speak to humans, at least via Cora.
But I swear, the first 300 pages is people just talking. Sometimes in different places, sometimes while travelling to different places, but omfg was that unbearably dull by the time something happened. Even then, there was a brief interlude of activity and then more talking. It was underwhelming to say the least.
There were some interesting things about it. I liked the discussions around the unknowability of an other alien species. The weird politics of that species and the existential threat they present to humanity. The things that are inferred by Ampersand about humanity which are literally true, but in our culture not threatening. The idea of half-truths leading to harmful outcomes or at least non-ideal. I even liked the weird conspiracy laden nonsense, because that does seem like it would happen.
But something else needed to happen to make the book more compelling. Cora herself basically stayed the same: a bit frightened/exhausted by the events happening to her. There was some growth in the relationship between her and Ampersand but it was glacial. The end almost comes in a rush, but there’s a tiny bit of action and then more talking. It just needed more interesting things happening basically. Like I said, first contact should be interesting, but somehow it just wasn’t.
And then it kind of just ends abruptly, with quite a massive revelation. Is this supposed to lead up to a sequel? If so, it does the cardinal sin of fucking up the ending of the first book for another, which bothers me on such a fundamental level. Anyway, not my cup of tea.