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Literature / Xandri Corelel

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Xandri Corelel is a series of science fiction novels by Kaia Sønderby. The books follow Xandri, one of the last autistics in the universe. She works on the First Contact ship Carpathia as the head of Xeno-Liaisons, using her carefully honed social skills to bring new species into the Starsystems Alliance.

The books in the series so far:

  1. Testing Pandora (November 3, 2016; originally published on Wattpad)
  2. Failure to Communicate (February 14, 2017)
  3. Tone of Voice (May 1, 2018)
  4. Facial Expression (TBA)

The Xandri Corelel books contain examples of:

  • Absolute Xenophobe:
    • The Zechak, a powerful race of aliens who do their best to either wipe out or enslave every society they come into contact with.
    • The Last Hope for Humanity is a terrorist organization that tries to interfere with diplomacy and first contact missions, believing interspecies alliances "soil the purity of humanity." Xandri finds this rather hypocritical of them, as they've modified themselves almost to the point of speciation.
  • Actually, That's My Assistant: When the Xeno-Liaisons team first lands on Cochinga, one of the Anmerilli sent to greet them looks at Xandri's assistant Christa Baranka and says "So this is the young Ms. Corelel I've been told about?"
  • Air Guitar: When Xandri first sees her Love Interest Diver, he's singing along to music and occasionally pausing his work to play air guitar.
  • Arboreal Abode: The Psittacans' hatchery is in a hollowed-out tree trunk.
  • Arranged Marriage: Xandri spends six months living on Karrckchak and working as an attoaong, or matchmaker. Attoaongs create partnerships of all kinds, from lovers to friends to business associates and in groups from two to twenty, but Xandri works only with romantic couples. Every Ongkoarrat who isn't sex-repulsed is required by law to find someone to reproduce with, so attoaongs are an important part of society.
  • Artificial Gravity: The Carpathia uses this, with gravity levels varying between rooms depending on what they're used for and what species stay there.
  • Artificial Meat: The eating of animals has been banned on all Alliance planets, so people eat vat-grown meat instead.
  • Better with Non-Human Company: Xandri is great at reading aliens' body language and establishing a connection with previously uncontacted races, but she finds her own species to be by far the most confusing. She's reluctant to work with the Anmerilli partly because they look too human for her to be comfortable with them.
  • Big Guy Rodeo: In Testing Pandora, Xandri does this to a trafficker to stop him from stealing the Psittacans' eggs.
  • Bird People: The Psittacans resemble giant, flightless parrots.
  • Bite of Affection: Xandri's parrot Cake occasionally nips her. She has to blow on him whenever he does it so he doesn't develop a habit.
  • Braids of Action: Xandri usually wears her hair in one braid.
  • Brain/Computer Interface: Most people have technology that can be activated neurally. Xandri doesn't because her unusual neurology makes it hard to control her thoughts - the last time she tried using one, her wristlet started blaring out a lecture on the breeding habits of naba eels in the middle of an important debriefing.
  • Bridal Carry:
    • In Testing Pandora, Diver carries Xandri to safety when she has a concussion from having her head slammed into the wall.
    • He carries her back to her room in Failure to Communicate after she takes a powerful, fast-acting sedative.
  • The Captain: Captain Chui.
  • The Cavalry: When Xandri is kidnapped, she uses her wrist implant to broadcast everything her kidnapper says to everyone within range, allowing her friends to come to her rescue.
  • Cold Equation: During the Second Zechak War, the Zechak took over Halcyon, a mining planet in a strategic location, and filled it with slaves so they could manufacture powerful weapons. The Starsystems Alliance tried to take the planet back, but the Zechak easily defeated their armies. Fearing that the Alliance's planets might be invaded if the Zechak kept Halcyon, Admiral losTavina ordered the surface of the planet destroyed, making it worthless to the Zechak, but also wiping out millions of innocent slaves.
  • Colour-Coded Emotions: The Hands can't talk, but they have other ways of communicating, including changing color.
  • Commonality Connection: During her time as an attoaong, Xandri successfully pairs the chatty messenger Kirchak with the withdrawn engineer Prrchik because she recognizes their shared curiosity and longing for adventure. Xandri herself feels a connection with Kirchak, even though they're almost polar opposites, because they're both considered so atypical for their species.
  • Common Tongue: Alliance Trade Common.
  • Containment Field: In Tone of Voice, the Last Hope for Humanity use one of these to trap a number of Hands and Voices within an area, then drop raw meat into the water to attract the Disharmonies. They plan to wait until the field is surrounded, then deactivate it and let the Hands and Voices get eaten.
  • Cool Starship: The Carpathia is full of dubiously legal modifications. In fact, the ship has been refitted so extensively that Xandri, a starship buff who's memorized that class's layout, gets hopelessly lost during her first few days.
  • Cower Power: In Tone of Voice, Xandri's parrot Marbles greets Diver by vomiting on his shirt, then tries to hide behind her other parrot Cake. It looks pretty silly, since Marbles is twice Cake's size.
  • CPR: Clean, Pretty, Reliable: In Tone of Voice, Xandri's heart has stopped after a near drowning. Diver does gentle chest compressions, which don't do anything. Then one of the Hands whacks her on the chest, and she immediately starts coughing up water.
  • Creepy Uncle: Xandri's uncle used to fondle her when she was an adolescent. When she tried to tell her parents, her mother called her a liar, then forced her to hug the uncle.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Tone of Voice features a jungle battle between LHFH terrorists and Alliance soldiers of various species. The LHFH deliberately know as little about other planets and species as possible, while the Alliance's soldiers include the Psittacans, who can kill a man in seconds and have evolved to be very good at fighting in the jungle. As a result, the LHFH army is decimated, while the Alliance only loses eight fighters.
  • Cyborg: Cybernetics is referred to as chroming. Most people have personal nanobots and HUDs, and the protagonists all have translator and filter implants that allow them to talk to aliens and breathe on other planets. Some people have prosthetic limbs, although those have become increasingly uncommon as regeneration technology improves. Advantage chroming, or chroming not done out of necessity, includes weapon implants, bulletproof skin, limb mods for greater athleticism, and eye and finger mods that make it easier to cheat at cards.
  • Defector from Decadence: Karrckchak contains several Zechak refugee settlements. One Zechak works as a greengrocer in Trade Town.
  • Designer Babies: Most people are created in a petri dish so they can be genetically tweaked in whatever way the parents wish, from preventing disabilities to making sure the child has the same eye color as its father. Xandri herself was born during a short-lived natural conception fad.
  • Dies Wide Open: After a bodyguard in Failure to Communicate is shot in the stomach, her eyes continue to stare until her partner closes them.
  • Dire Beast: Xandri refers to a six-legged, saber-toothed animal as a dire bear.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The first story doesn't use the Idiosyncratic Episode Naming theme of communication-based terms, but it is also numbered as the 0th story. Implying some sort of Prologue-nature.
  • Electric Torture: Sometimes used on children with behavioral problems. Xandri was lucky enough to avoid it, but she wonders if it might have been used on her if she had been less compliant.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: During her time on Karrckchak, Xandri lives near a trading town called Trade Town.
  • Exhausted Eye Bags: Marco Antilles, a diplomat in Failure to Communicate, has "smudges like bruises" under his eyes the morning after he foils an assassination attempt.
  • Fantastic Slurs: Multiple:
    • The Zechak are sometimes referred to as the Orcs. It's considered a highly offensive slur, but the Zechak are hated enough that lots of people use it anyway.
    • People born without genetic modification are referred to as Pandoras.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: Or slinging, as it's called. It's so difficult and dangerous that pilots aren't allowed to do it without ten years of training, and they usually take stimulants beforehand. Xandri loves slings, since her synesthesia causes her to experience all kinds of wonderful sensations.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Xandri says early in Testing Pandora that she'd rather die than be returned to her parents.
  • The Federation: The Starsystems Alliance.
  • First Contact Faux Pas: In Failure to Communicate, Xandri's team arrives on a new planet and is promptly attacked by the inhabitants. Eventually Xandri realizes what happened - the locals fight in a crouching position and misinterpreted the team's attempts at being nonthreatening. When Xandri stands up straight and strides boldly towards them, the fighting stops, because what looks like aggressive behavior on Earth is seen as peaceful and submissive here.
  • Fixing the Game: A lot of advantage chroming is done for this purpose. Xandri has seen finger mods that make sleight-of-hand easier, skin pouches for hiding chips, and eye mods that let you see through cards or pouches. These are only used in the seedier dens, as fancier casinos have scanners that catch anyone with this kind of chroming.
  • Flying Seafood Special: Psittaca is inhabited by giant flying rays. The Psittacans strap baskets under them and use them as transportation.
  • Forgets to Eat:
    • Xandri sometimes forgets to eat. Captain Chui and the ship's AI have to order her to eat nutrient bars, even though she hates the taste.
    • Marco Antilles mentions that he has the same problem. It's a symptom of his bipolar disorder.
  • Gaia's Lament:
    • Earth's ecosystem has been almost completely destroyed. The planet is starting to recover, but it's still under strict population control, and many areas are infested with disease thanks to all the pollution.
    • The Zechak mine every planet they capture until it can no longer support life.
  • Going for the Big Scoop: In Tone of Voice, three reporters manage to sneak onto Song so they can report on what was supposed to be a classified mission. They're quickly caught and placed into custody, but they still manage to sneak off by themselves, even getting onto a boat at one point. Their boat is surrounded by Disharmonies, who bite one of them in half before backup can arrive. Later it turns out that they accidentally led both the Zechak and the Last Hope for Humanity onto Song.
  • The Grand Hunt: Xandri participates in one, despite her hatred of violence and animal cruelty, in order to avoid a diplomatic incident. She plans to hang near the back and try to avoid the action; instead, she and an injured councilor end up being cornered by the animal, and she is forced to shoot it to save the councilor's life.
  • Hates Being Touched: Xandri in general, although she doesn't mind being touched by her love interests.
  • Hates Small Talk: Xandri again.
  • Heads-Up Display: Most people have a personal HUD that provides detailed information about everything they look at and lets them communicate without anyone else overhearing. Xandri had one as a child, but she found all the information overwhelming, and her parents had it deactivated after she collapsed from overload in public.
  • Heroic BSoD: Xandri shuts down from stress and grief near the end of Failure to Communicate. Instead of attending her bodyguard Katya's funeral, she sits in her room and stares at the wall, and can't bring herself to talk or cry even when Christa comes into her room and accuses her of being unfeeling.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Happens twice in Tone of Voice:
    • A Voice named Sings In The Depths Of Darkness, aka Darksong, swims towards a bomb dropped by the Last Hope for Humanity, getting herself blown up so the other Voices can learn how close they can get to the bombs without setting them off and safely disable the others.
    • The anthropologist Hans Klee disables the Containment Field that will eventually kill all the Hands and Voices inside it, but is currently protecting him from a Sea Monster called a disharmony. He is killed as soon as the field goes down.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: With some Early-Installment Weirdness where the first story, or 0th, doesn't use the title theming of communication-based terms. The books are, in order, Testing Pandora, Failure to Communicate, Tone of Voice, Facial Expression.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: Xandri's homeworld is called Wraith because of the thick clouds that surround the planet.
  • Innocently Insensitive: From multiple people:
    • Failure to Communicate opens with Xandri being yelled at by Christa for accidentally offending her.
    • Some of the aliens fall into this, too, due to the different social norms of their species.
  • Insane Equals Violent: Part of the reason genetic modification became common. People blamed autism and mental illness for the increasing number of shootings, resulting in both genetic modification and gun control.
  • Instant Sedation: When Xandri is forced to inhale knockout gas, she passes out in seconds.
  • Knee-capping: In Failure to Communicate, The Mole taunts Xandri, saying she's too soft-hearted to shoot him. Xandri responds by shooting him in the knee.
    Xandri: Looks like my heart is still harder than your kneecap.
  • Last-Name Basis: Diver's first name is never mentioned. Everyone just calls him Diver, or occasionally Mr. Diver.
  • Longevity Treatment: The characters have genetic modifications for life extension. One character in Tone of Voice has worked as a field anthropologist for almost a century.
  • Madwoman in the Attic: Some lines seem to imply that Xandri spent part of her youth as one before being institutionalized.
  • Magic Music: The Voices have genetically engineered their coral so it responds to their song.
  • Man-Eating Plant: Diver almost gets snatched by a carnivorous vine in Testing Pandora.
  • The Metric System Is Here to Stay: All the characters use the metric system.
  • The Mole: In Failure to Communicate, Marco is secretly a member of the Last Hope for Humanity, doing his best to prevent the Anmerilli from allying with the humans.
  • Multi-Armed Multitasking: The Ongkoarrat, who resemble six-legged sloth bears, can program a computer and knit a sweater at the same time.
  • Must Have Caffeine: Xandri can't act like a functional human being until she's had some coffee.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: One of the Psittacans is named Many Kills. He was actually named for his hunting prowess, but he likes to let people draw their own conclusions.
  • Name That Unfolds Like Lotus Blossom: The Psittacans have names like Shadows Beneath Sunlight and Day Dawns Red (Sunlight and Dawn for short).
  • Nanomachines: Everyone has their own personal nanobots in their bodies, even pets. They're mostly used to quickly heal injuries, but they have other uses too, like hair styling or breast support for formal occasions.
  • Noiseless Walker: As a child, Xandri learned that she was safest if she made as little noise as possible. As a result, she has become very good at walking silently, even in boots.
  • No Medication for Me: In Failure to Communicate, Marco Antilles says the medication he was forced to take for his bipolar disorder rotted his brain.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Xandri's real first name is Alexandria, but virtually nobody has used it since she cut off contact with her parents, and she seems to dislike it.
  • Organic Technology: Tone of Voice involves two species, the Hands and the Voices, that have developed a technology that allows them to grow buildings out of coral.
  • Overly Long Name: The Voices all have extremely long names. Even the abbreviations are long, like Sings Brightly Beneath the Waves.
  • Parental Abandonment: Diver grew up on the streets after his parents abandoned him when he was a young child.
  • Parenthetical Swearing: This seems to be an important part of Anmerilli diplomacy.
    "Councilor oar'Saran," Kalemi Ashil interrupted. "Councilor Sendil and I understand how important this is to you." And never had I heard so clearly the unspoken sentiment "and we have no fucks to give about it." But politely.
  • The Peeping Tom: At one point, Xandri catches a reporter trying to watch her change. She shoots him with her stun gun.
  • Picky Eater: Xandri is easily overwhelmed by strong tastes and rough textures, leaving her unable to eat most of the food at parties.
  • Polly Wants a Microphone: By the time the series takes place, parrots have been selectively bred and genetically modified to be even smarter than they are now, so Xandri's parrots Marbles and Cake both have very impressive vocabularies. Marbles in particular is said to be intelligent even for her kind - she knows 1128 words, can utter relatively complicated sentences like "Millet now for smart birdie," and can even participate in conversations to a limited extent.
  • Post-Victory Collapse: During the climax of Failure to Communicate, Xandri is kidnapped, witnesses a battle, and gives a speech to the World Council of Cochinga. Afterwards, she collapses from exhaustion in the hallway.
  • Professional Gambler: Xandri spent years as one. She would study the other gamblers until she learned all their tells, then win as much money from them as possible. She only barely made enough to survive, but it was excellent training for her job communicating with aliens.
  • Pummeling the Corpse: In Failure to Communicate, Marco beats a would-be assassin to death with his gun and keeps pummeling the man's face even after he's already smashed it to a pulp.
  • Put Their Heads Together: Diver does this to two mooks using a small mecha he calls the gorilla.
  • Rubber-Forehead Aliens: Averted with every species except the Anmerilli, who look almost exactly like humans except for their cheek ridges, bulbous foreheads, longer ears, and tails. Xandri refers to them as "one of Mother Universe's practical jokes."
  • Sapient Ship: Xandri strikes up a friendship with the Carpathia's AI, which enjoys gossiping with other ships and will share information with people who ask politely.
  • Sea Monster: Tone of Voice has giant predators known as Disharmonies. They attack in packs and can easily take down Voices or ships.
  • Sensory Overload: Xandri has a hard time dealing with crowds for this reason.
  • Shell Game: Xandri used to play these during her years as a Professional Gambler. Usually the guy running it would let people win a few times, trick them into betting all their money, and then start cheating. Xandri could usually tell when it was time to quit, but the game was risky enough that she only played it if she really needed a quick buck.
  • Shower of Angst: After surviving an assassination attempt, Xandri spends an hour in the shower, but she still feels dirty from the assassin's blood.
  • Significant Green-Eyed Redhead: Diver is a male example.
  • Single-Biome Planet: Psittaca appears to be entirely covered in jungle.
  • Space "X": The Naftas, a race of borderline-sapient aliens that resemble large weasels, are referred to as space pigeons because they get into everything and tend to irritate everyone else.
  • Spiteful Spit: A captured mercenary in Testing Pandora tries to spit on Captain Chui, but he misses, and the spit lands at her feet.
  • Superhuman Trafficking: The villains of Testing Pandora are trying to steal Psittacan eggs for a rich human's petting zoo.
  • Switching P.O.V.: Tone of Voice alternates between Xandri and Diver's viewpoints.
  • The Symbiote: The planet Song is home to enormous, sapient sea creatures called the Voices. Each Voice has between two and a dozen Hands, smaller cephalopod-like creatures that follow them around their whole lives.
  • Technically a Smile: A prominent LHFH terrorist is described as having "the sort of oily smile that clung to your skin, but never reached his eyes."
  • This Is Reality: When Xandri asks The Mole in Failure to Communicate "Why are you doing this?" he responds, "What, do you think I'm going to spill my guts like some villain in a cheesy vid? Give me some credit, Xandri."
  • Tranquil Fury: Xandri feels two kinds of anger: the hot kind that makes her so frustrated and upset she can't express herself at all, and the cool kind that makes everything seem sharper and clearer.
  • Translator Microbes: Everyone uses translator implants, although they won't translate words that don't have Alliance Trade Common equivalents.
  • Tree Top Town: The Psittacans live on platforms near the jungle canopy.
  • Two of Your Earth Minutes: Two examples from Tone of Voice:
    • One of the Voices says, "We have talked it over for many of what you call hours."
    • Later, another character mentions being "ten Sanavin years" older than another.
  • Universal Universe Time: Everyone seems to measure time in hours. The standard day used by starships is twenty-six hours long; Cochinga's days are twenty-seven hours. Standard months and standard years are mentioned as well.
  • The Un-Smile: Xandri once caused a diplomatic incident with the Kowari by trying to smile.
  • Vertebrate with Extra Limbs: Every vertebrate on Karrckchak follows a hexapodal body plan, resulting in four-winged birds, six-legged land animals, and a creature that resembles a deer, except that its "antlers" can function as tentacles.
  • Vine Swing: During a jungle battle in Tone of Voice, Xandri notices an enemy soldier under her tree with a grenade. She swings down on a vine so she can kick him over and throw his grenade away.
  • War Is Hell: The battle in Tone of Voice between the Last Hope for Humanity and the Alliance takes place on two fronts, in the ocean and in the jungle. The ocean battle sees massive casualties on both sides, with many humans and Voices killed and mangled. The jungle battle goes a lot better for the Alliance, but Xandri is still traumatized from seeing her allies dead or wounded.
    All the gunfire filled the air with smoke and vile smell, and as the sun began to climb above the horizon, shedding reddish-orange light beneath the canopy, I began to grasp the Christian image of Hell.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: In Failure to Communicate, Marco seems to sincerely think that the LHFH are on his side, and that helping them is the best way to help neurodivergent people like himself.
  • Why Couldn't You Be Different?: Xandri's parents subjected her to abusive "therapies" in an attempt to cure her autism.
  • Would Hurt a Child: In Testing Pandora, the Psittacans are horrified that anyone would try to steal their eggs.
    Completes the Whole: It had not occurred to me that anyone would sink so low as to attack eggs.
  • Wretched Hive: Before she was recruited by the Carpathia, Xandri lived in a miserable, crime-ridden slum where she was at a daily risk of being stabbed to death by her drunken neighbor or recruited by the local brothel.
  • You Killed My Father: In Tone of Voice, the reporter Ashley Betancourt is the daughter of two well-regarded journalists who were murdered by LHFH terrorists. To get revenge, Betancourt faked evidence against the LHFH and was caught, ruining her career.