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Axiom's End is a science fiction novel by YouTuber and video essayist Lindsay Ellis about humanity's First Contact with extraterrestrial life.

Cora Sabino is an ordinary college dropout with an ordinary anxiety about her future prospects. Except her Disappeared Dad is a whistleblower about a supposed coverup by the U.S. government about proof of alien life. Not that she cares. It's all an excuse to draw attention to himself as far as she and her family are concerned. Until an asteroid strikes down near Los Angeles in the exact same spot that an earlier asteroid which caused the conspiracy to begin with. Thrown into a shadowy world of dangerous secrets and cautious mistrust Cora must now re-evaluate her preconceptions about what is the truth and what is a lie.

Book One in The Noumena Series. Two sequels are planned; the first, Truth of the Divine, was released on October 12th, 2021.
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Contains examples of the following tropes:

  • 20 Minutes into the Past: Set in 2007, but released in 2020.
  • Absent Aliens:
    • Discussed in regards to the "Great Filter" — a hypothetical barrier that prevents intelligent life from colonizing the galaxy. According to Ampersand, intelligent life is very rare: all three spacefaring races, including his own, are descended from the same ancestral species, and the Superorganism propagandizes that they are the only intelligent life there is. Ampersand believes that they'll sterilize Earth rather than let humanity expose this axiom as false.
    • Made even more explicit in the sequel: according to Nikola, only a tiny portion of the Orion Arm of our galaxy has life at all; the rest of the galaxy, and the entirety of Andromeda and the Local Group, are completely sterile. While life could exist in some hypothetical distant galaxy, the expansion of the universe means that humans and amygdalines have no hope of finding it without developing Faster-Than-Light Travel.
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  • Accidental Kidnapping: After Ampersand fails to pilot Cora into Google's server room, he gets knocked out by an EMP, which Cora mistakes for death. Since she can't lift him and she thinks it's a bad idea to leave an alien corpse in a random parking garage anyway, she just drives off with him still in the back of the van. This freaks him out quite a bit when he wakes up, since he thinks Cora, who he finds terrifying, did it on purpose.
  • Action Survivor:
    • Cora finds herself struggling for food, water, and clothing for most of the month or so the novel takes place over, let alone higher needs. That said, she always does what needs to be done to get alive, even if by the thinnest margin.
    • Ampersand broke containment from the Transient prison he was being held in, then traveled through deep space to rescue Ĉefo...only to find him dead before he arrived.
  • Alternate History: Cora's 2007 goes quite a bit differently from the real one—after the two meteor strikes, her father releases a slew of classified documents and files, including, crucially, a recording that proves George W. Bush lied under oath about his knowledge of the aliens. In the face of the outcry, Bush resigns and Dick Cheney becomes president.
  • Aliens Speaking English: Alien Ampersand speaks perfect English, as does Obelus, because they've cracked an algorithm that lets them learn all Earth languages perfectly—or rather, they know Earth languages; the way amygdalines vocalize is totally incompatible with human speech, so Ampersand uses a high-tech text-to-voice gadget. This only makes communication a little bit easier. The Fremda, who don't have the algorithm, don't know any English, not that most of them are interested in learning it anyway.
  • Alien Abduction: The amygdalines managed to interact with humans (and learn the language) by abducting them before returning to Earth centuries later. All abductees were euthanized by the aliens.
  • Ancient Astronauts: The reason why the amygdalines can understand human speech: they arrived in medieval Europe shortly after the Black Death and abducted several humans in order to understand their speech.
  • Angst? What Angst?: In-universe. Cora wonders why Ampersand doesn't seem more upset about autopsying Ĉefo, a Fremda who dies by suicide at the beginning of the book, since they were friends. She eventually figures out that Ampersand is quite upset but doesn't consider what he was autopsying to really be Ĉefo.
  • Apocalypse How:
    • The Superorganism inflicted a Class 6 on a transient planet in the not-too-distant past, destroying all life on the planet (including microbes) as well as the atmosphere and oceans. Ampersand believes they will do the same to Earth once they find out that Humans Advance Swiftly, both to curb a potential threat and to preserve their narrative that amygdalines and their sister species are the only sapient species in the galaxy.
    • Obelus threatens to unleash a pandemic on Earth to slow humanity's technological development; this would presumably be a Class 1 or Class 2.
  • Arc Words: The phrase "Truth is a human right" is used throughout the story.
    • "What do you need me to do?" is a phrase repeated by Cora to Ampersand several times over book 1, and how the responses change over time reflect the change in their relationship.
  • Big Bad: Obelus, the amygdaline "Similar" sent to hunt down the Fremda Group, is the primary villain whose actions drive the plot, though he is merely a servant of the Autocrat.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The Esperanto code names that ROSA assigns, making them Meaningful Names. Of note, "Fremda" is an adjective meaning "foreign," "Ĉefo" is a noun meaning "chief," and "Esperas" is the present tense verb form of "to wait."
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: Amigdalines are a "post-natural" species of cyborgs. Among the peculiarities of this arrangement are that they have skin like canvas, no visible mouth, can die of starvation in less than ten minutes (should they choose), and can carry an array of tools inside their own bodies. These changes are especially noteworthy when comparing them to Transients and the Genome, biologically related life forms that lack Amigdaline upgrades.
    • This contrast reveals another ability of the mechanical components: the ability to live on a planet whose atmospheric nitrogen would kill an unmodified amigdaline.
  • "Blind Idiot" Translation: Ampersand's early attempts to make a sort of human-alien Google Translate go pretty badly because of the huge linguistic differences. An attempt to translate a word as simple as "table" gets incredibly garbled.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: A major theme of the novel. Ampersand warns the Secretary of Defense that communication between two intelligent species is dangerous because any two species will have fundamentally different values and those differences will inevitably cause conflict. As Cora grows closer to Ampersand, she finds this out first hand. Ampersand sees no issue with lying to Cora if he believes it to be in his interest or in hers, has no regrets over damaging the brains of humans through experimentation, and has little respect for human life in general. The rest of his species, those not in the "Fremda Group", are even more alien in this regard, as they have little issue with committing genocide in the name of self-preservation.
  • Brain Uploading: Implied, but not shown. Ampersand states that there is one "post-biological" spacefaring species, but does not elaborate.
  • Calling Parents by Their Name: Cora refers to her father as Nils. He abandoned the family. In fact, her mother insists on it, and corrects Cora's younger siblings when they call him "Dad".
  • Creative Sterility: The Superorganism has purged itself of any diversity out of xenophobia, leaving its culture and technology largely stagnant.
  • Daddy Had a Good Reason for Abandoning You: Nils Ortega left his wife and children. It's built up throughout the book as something he had to do for the greater good, but it's ultimately subverted. Nils Ortega is shown throughout most of his interviews as being an honorable man who wants his family to live in a world of full transparency and will pursue it at any cost, which clashes with his family's highly negative views about him. But during the last third of the book, it's posited that all Nils cares about is the fame and profits that come with his stardom, not to mention the circumstances of Cora's birth and Nils' marriage. Any hopes that Nils might be a good person are destroyed with the final internal memo, where he displays an incredibly callous attitude to his family's detainment except for where it relates to his status.
  • Deadly Euphemism: Vincent Park "no longer works for the agency." Meaning that he has been disintegrated by a space alien.
  • Despair Event Horizon:
    • Cora hits it hard when she discovers that Ampersand was the one who destroyed the minds of all those humans previously thought to have been experimented on by the government and allowed Cora to go along with this misunderstanding because it was beneficial to him.
    • Per usual, Ampersand gets it much worse, but hides it until the end of the novel.
  • Disappeared Dad: Nils Ortega, Cora's father, ran off and has been absent from his family because of his role in the conspiracy.
  • Disintegrator Ray: Obelus' main method of killing, in which he disassembles the molecules of his victims, leaving no trace.
  • Downer Ending: For Truth of the Divine. Oh boy. Kaveh is killed, and is seen as an evil muslim / alien sympathizer by most of the country for no specific reason. Grief-stricken Nikola starts taking intelligence-suppressing drugs again and goes from Tranquil Fury to homicidal rage to being left comatose after a somewhat unsuccessful murder-suicide. Niles paints Cora as a crazy alien collaborator and an accomplice in the deaths of several CIA agents, and is promised a hero's welcome in the US for his efforts. Third Option succeeds in getting aliens declared second-class people, and is poised to win US presidency. Obelus is returned to Superorganism, as a prisoner, and will certainly tell all it knows about Earth. Regardless, Superorganism knows what's happening on Earth in real-time, and is expected to attack Earth in about 5 years. The plan to preserve some of the human DNA is likely abandoned due to un-availability of its two founders. And while Cora seems to have gotten some of her will to live back, faced with all this loss and human cruelty, she takes up Ampersand on his offer to devise a way to get them both off Earth to live out their days on a habitable planet somewhere.
  • Dying Clue: Prior to his suicide, Ĉefo draws a blue planet and a red planet (referred to as Erythra), who the main characters puzzle over for most of the book until it's revealed that it's actually a hint at the Superorganism's destructive capabilities; the blue and red planets are a sketch of the planet colonized by the transients before and after the Superorganism sterilized them.
  • Dyson Sphere: The amygdaline Superorganism resides in a superstructure built around a star. Ampersand directly compares it to the theoretical construct of a Dyson sphere.
  • Epistolary Novel: The story is intercut with various "Real Life" documents, many of them authored by Nils Ortega, providing context to the events of the story.
  • Evil Is Bigger: Obelus is the largest amygdaline seen, and is the primary villain.
  • Exact Words: Ampersand promises the CIA that the Superorganism will never invade or communicate with Earth. He doesn't say anything about sterilization, which he thinks is likely if not inevitable.
  • First Contact: Aliens have been on Earth for years but only now in 2007 are they being discovered.
  • Gamer Chick: Cora's Aunt Luciana is noted to be an avid gamer, as she's first introduced to the reader playing The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, it's mentioned that she hangs out with her nephew to play Soulcalibur, and she's treated in awe by one of her World of Warcraft buddies when she asks him for a favor to hide Cora and the Genome.
  • The Ghost:
    • Despite his heavy bearing on the plot, Nils never actually interacts with Cora in the novel and he never appears in person with his presence limited in the main plot to being talked about.
    • The amygdalines' sister species, the "transients" and the unnamed "post-biological" species never appear.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: Cora recognizes that the two CIA agents assigned to keep an eye on her, Vincent and Sol, are doing this routine, with Sol being the jerk and Vincent being the charming one. Cora is annoyed at how well it's working on her even though she recognizes the strategy.
  • Government Conspiracy: The United States government has been covering up proof of extraterrestrial life for quite a while when the story begins.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: The Autocrat, leader of the Pequod Superorganism. It is responsible for the genetic purge of the Fremda, sent Obelus after the Genome, and it is extremely likely that it will attempt to destroy the human race sometime in the next hundred years.
  • The Heavy: "Similars" like Obelus are huge amygdalines who specialize in combat and other dangerous tasks. They're usually employed as soldiers or explorers.
  • Higher-Tech Species: The technology of the amygdalines is light-years ahead of Earth's. A single individual is capable of telekinesis, telepathy between members of their species, minor shapeshifting, invisibility, teleportation, and can reduce human structures (and humans themselves) to ash in an instant. As a species, they are capable of building a Dyson Sphere and exterminating life across an entire planet.
  • Historical Domain Character: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, whom George W. Bush named as Donald Rumsfeld's successor, appears for a chapter, but is not directly named until a later epistolary segment concerning "ET-Gate."
    • George W. Bush is explicitly the president over the course of the story
  • Homeworld Evacuation: The amygdalines, transients, and the unnamed "post-biological" species all descend from a race that fled their dying homeworld and colonized the surrounding star systems.
  • Humans Advance Swiftly: Ampersand explicitly states that humanity is advancing much more rapidly than his own ancestors did. And that is yet another reason for the Pequod Superorganism to consider them a threat.
  • Humans Are Bastards: The amygdalines have this opinion of humans, Esperas in particular. It is revealed that the Superorganism's most recent knowledge of humanity comes from the Middle Ages, shortly after the Black Death, so it's understandable that they view humans as particularly violent and dangerous.
  • Humans Are Special: Ampersand comes around to this mindset eventually. All three advanced, spacefaring species in the galaxy are descendants of the same common ancestor, and the Superorganism's axiom is that it is unlikely, to the point of impossibility, for any other intelligent life to evolve and survive to create an advanced civilization. Humans are on the road to proving them wrong — the axiom's end.
  • Humans Through Alien Eyes: Ampersand is at first frightened of humans, despite being more powerful than them by several orders of magnitude. He is particularly disturbed to be surrounded by (to quote the title of Part Two) "billions of flesh-eating aliens," and Cora speculates that his initial apprehension around her is out of fear that she will try to take a bite of him.
  • Horde of Alien Locusts: The transients are a nomadic group that travel to different planets and strip them of their resources, and are even mentioned as having grasshopper-like mouthparts. It's noted that their methods aren't too different from what humanity is doing to the Earth. That said, they're not ravening monsters — Ampersand spent decades as a prisoner of war in their care, and notes that they treated him reasonably well during that time.
  • Hunter of His Own Kind: Obelus, who zealously hunts down the Fremdans under orders from the Autocrat, is himself a Fremdan.
  • Interservice Rivalry: The CIA butts heads with the Department of Defense over control of the Fremda Group.
  • Interspecies Friendship: Cora, a human, and Ampersand, an alien, develop a strong bond, the first of its kind between their species.
  • Interspecies Romance: By the end the book, Cora and Ampersand's relationship is edging out of mere friendship and into something a bit less platonic. Ampersand "fusion bonds" with Cora, thus making her his "symphyle". Fusion bonding among amygdalines is roughly analogous to romantic relations between humans. On Cora's end, this bond causes her to become extremely attached to him in the way one would be attached to a lover.
    • By the time the second book starts, three months after the end of the first, Cora freely admits that she's in love with Ampersand within her own head. She tries to convince herself it's platonic love, but her burgeoning sexual attraction to him calls this into question.
  • It's All About Me: Cora's family sees Nils' devotion to exposing government secrets as a smokescreen for increasing his own fame and importance, at the expense of the well-being of his family members. Pretty much everyone who personally knows Nils describes him as self-absorbed to the point of narcissism. The email from Nils shared near the end of the book proves them completely right.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Nils Ortega is a selfish egotist who abandons his family and causes global chaos in order to raise his public profile. He also happens to be completely right about just about everything he says.
  • Large and in Charge: Ampersand and Obelus are both noticeably larger than their underlings. Furthermore, amygdalines that are neither Oligarchs nor Similars are much, much smaller; the Propagandist fremda are described as roughly one-third of Obelus' size.
  • Left Hanging: A number of key plot threads are not resolved by the end of the book, likely being saved for the sequels.
    • The Fremda Group has still not left Earth, and it is not clear if or when they will, or what they will do after they've gone.
    • Luciana continues to maintain that she had nothing to do with leaking the Fremda Memo to Nils. Cora suspects she is not being completely honest, but the real answer is not revealed.
  • Made of Iron: Cora is disemboweled by Obelus and loses a lot of blood; this following having her arm torn open in a multi-vehicle crash the day before. Despite this, she maintains consciousness through the climax.
  • Mauve Shirt: Vincent, who appears throughout the book but is still a relatively minor character. He's slain by alien Obelus along with rest of the CIA caravan protecting Cora and the Genome, both of whom manage to escape in the nick of time.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • An ampersand symbol (&) represents the letters "et", a homage to another famous "extraterrestrial" who bonded with a human.
    • "Obelus," the antagonistic alien, is named after an historical typography mark that has evolved into the division sign (hinting that Obelus is actually divided from Ampersand), a dagger (an alternative footnote mark when an asterisk has already been used), and a commercial minus sign (which is a rarely used mathematical symbol used to denote a negative remainder of a division). It also has the same root as "obelisk," making it a shout-out to 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is also the basis of the name of the large and strong friend of Asterix, Obelix. Asterix, of course being derived from the word Asterix in keeping with the thematic naming.
    • Cora is an alternate name for Persephone of Greek Mythology, a story that Ellis has discussed before in her videos. Like Persephone, Cora is abducted into a Beast and Beauty story. Cora's mother is named Demetra, an alternate name for Persphone's mother Demeter.
  • Narcissist: Nils Ortega according to those who knew him on a personal level only cared about the attention his work brought, which is in stark contrast to other interviews where he claims that he wants to make a transparent world for his family to live in. We only have other characters' testimony and a few interview excerpts to go off of however, leaving the truth ambiguous. His sister eventually reveals that the one time he was nice to her was because he was trying to sleep with her best friend, Cora's mother Demi, and his final memo confirms that he doesn't care at all about his family's well-being unless it directly impacts his fame and profits.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: Zigzagged. While the amygdalines are able to handle Earth with no problems, it's because they're cyborgs—all their biological parts are safely ensconced inside their synthetic parts, so they're not breathing the atmosphere or eating Earth food (they survive on stored glucose). When the Genome comes out of her bag, she's protected by a thin biological film that is only barely adequate and everyone constantly worries about accidentally poisoning her; she suffocates to death after the film gets ripped in the big fight with Obelus. However, Ampersand is able to fusion-bond with Cora, with the only hiccup being that High Language doesn't work for them.
  • No Body Left Behind: The amygdalines in the Fremda Group make sure to disintegrate each other's bodies after death, to prevent the humans from studying them. This is also the effect of Obelus's weaponry.
  • No Historical Figures Were Harmed: According to Ellis, Nils Ortega is functionally based on Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, although his personality is not.
  • Nom de Mom: Cora and her family go by her mother's maiden name, Sabino, after Nils Ortega ran off.
  • Notorious Parent: Cora's father Nils Ortega is the single most wanted but influential man in the book's universe. It's because of his involvement in the government conspiracy.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: "Ampersand" is not Ampersand's actual name, but Cora and the narrative never call him anything else (both because she probably couldn't pronounce it and because, it's implied, it's a bit of a sore spot).
    • This is true of all alien proper nouns. Ampersand, Obelus, and Pequod are all CIA codewords, while Amigdaline, Fremda, Esperas, and the other aliens' names were all names given them by ROSA employees. The aliens use them as a functional Sure, Let's Go with That translation of proper nouns that have no native human vocabulary.
  • Overdrawn at the Blood Bank: Obelus badly wounds Cora before she, Ampersand, and the Genome can escape in one of the autonomous plates. When the plate opens, all three occupants have been effectively painted red. Despite this, Cora remains conscious and aware.
  • Pet the Dog: Nils is actually fairly laidback and friendly in an email sent to Kaveh Mazandarani, one of his leak sources, which is in stark contrast to the grand declarations he makes in his public blog posts. Whether or not he's just emotionally manipulating him to keep him useful is up in the air, not helped by the fact that the email is also a huge Kick the Dog moment towards his family, who he reveals he cares little about outside of how they impact his movement's momentum.
  • Polite Villains, Rude Heroes: Obelus has his final confrontation with Ampersand in English, claiming it would be rude to speak before Cora in indecipherable Pequod-phonemic; Ampersand, who would rather insulate Cora from the bloodier history and politics of his species, stubbornly sticks to the latter. It might be that Obelus is less concerned with politeness and more just seizing a chance to sow dissension between Ampersand and his interpreter under the guise of civility by giving her a very grim appraisal of Ampersand's nature.
  • Posthumous Character: The plot gets rolling when the fremda called Ĉefo called for help. Cora doesn't arrive until a few days after Ĉefo has died.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Ampersand is subjectively over 600 years old. Relativistically (factoring in his time traveling through space), he's over 900 years old.
  • Relationship Reveal: Ampersand is revealed to be symphyles (essentially an amygdaline counterpart to mates) with Ĉefo, who died prior to the novel's events, and Obelus, who is The Heavy of the story.
  • Scandalgate: "ET-gate" is the term that starts circulating towards the end of the novel.
  • Scary Dogmatic Aliens: Averted for most of the Fremda (barring Obelus), but played straight with the rest of the Superorganism, who once completely sterilized an entire planet for hosting a population of transients.
  • Sequel Hook:
    • The transients, a sister species to the amygdalines that can quickly deplete a planet's resources, are implied to be on Earth.
    • There's a very good chance the Superorganism, the amygdaline government, will invade and sterilize the Earth within the next century.
    • And there is also a third amygdaline subspecies, one that is only mentioned in passing and is referred to as "non-biological."
  • Shout-Out
  • Shovel Strike: Cora nearly kills Obelus with a shovel while he's stunned.
  • Speculative Fiction LGBT: The Amygdaline relationship model shown is closest to a polycule, though it's explicitly noticed that there's a level of intimacy involved that doesn't translate to human understanding.
    • Ampersand and all his symphiles are described using male pronounsnote . That said, there's no indication that Amygdalines have genders.
  • Soul-Crushing Desk Job: Cora starts the book with a stultifying office job; after she has to drop out of college, she ends up working for a terrible temp firm with equally terrible micromanaging clients.
  • Starfish Aliens: The amygdalines look like dragon-mantis-velociraptor hybrids (sort of), with skin textured like canvas, and they speak either through the vents in the sides of their neck, through a sort of telepathy, or through the incredibly intimate High Language. They're also all cyborgs.
  • Tactful Translation: In her capacity as Ampersand's interpreter, Cora often smooths over some of his overly blunt comments that could be construed as insulting.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Cora ends up allying or working with several different factions of humans or aliens over the course of the story, but always explicitly with an aura of distrust and feeling that their goals do not totally align
  • These Hands Have Killed: Cora and Ampersand discuss the effect of having taken a life after Cora has accidentally caused the death of Vincent Park. Ampersand relates to her feelings, having been forced to kill his transient captors to escape captivity.
  • Title Drop: Ampersand explains that the amygdalines know of three spacefaring civilizations, but they're all descended from the same common ancestor. There has long been an axiom in their civilization that intelligence is almost impossible to evolve and their ancestor was unique. He then muses that the discovery of humanity—an advancing intelligent species on par with their ancestors but independently evolved—means that axiom must end.
  • Tuckerization: Several background characters are named after Ellis's YouTube colleagues.
  • Wham Line: Ampersand, when Obelus finally catches up to him: "Greetings, Beloved."
  • What Beautiful Eyes!: Cora is entranced by Ampersand's eyes, even before she starts to bond with him. She notes that none of the other amygdalines have eyes quite as lovely as his.

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