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Q. After graduating from college, you spend five years in Europe studying literature and preparing to teach meditation. What does that preparation involve? How do you know when you’re ready to actually teach someone how to meditate?
A. I studied under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who had a structured teacher-training program lasting 9 months. Once I graduated from that program, I was ready and able to teach meditation.
Q. You’ve dedicated a substantial portion of your life to the search for permanent happiness and the goal of attaining human enlightenment. When did that shift in focus occur, and what prompted it? How far have you come in your personal journey to achieve permanent happiness?
A. The primary shift occurred in college, when I began to question whether the outward-oriented, societal-success model for life made sense. I began to turn toward studies in religion, psychology, philosophy, and anthropology for answers. I realized that I had a soul, not simply a body. The biggest change was getting initiated into meditation just after graduation from college.
Q. This needs to be a question unto its own: What do humans have to do in order to achieve permanent happiness?
A. Meditate regularly. While there are other avenues for spiritual evolution, meditation is the fastest. One should also practice kindness to others, eat healthy foods, sleep sufficiently, and exercise well. It is useful to spend time with the most evolved people you can find and to read spiritual literature.
Q. On the lines of spirituality, you recently released an ebook entitled “The Whisper of a Saint.” It is about a person’s path to enlightenment, from the perspective of a Western man. How does spirituality differ in the West versus somewhere like India, where some of the most important historical spirituality has derived from?
A. Maharishi's goal was to bring the wisdom of the East to the lifestyles of the West. We are busy, so he suggested short, 20-minute periods of meditation twice daily, morning and evening. We don't like a lot of ceremony, so he kept the practice simply. Ultimately, spirituality is the same wherever one goes. Finding one's true Self, Pure Consciousness, is easily done by anyone, anywhere. It is, after all, what we truly Are.
Q. If you could distill the message of “The Whisper of a Saint” to three bullet-points intended to draw people in to read more, what would those points be?
A. 1) The purpose of human life is to evolve toward Enlightenment.
2) Meditation and association with wise souls accelerates the pace of evolution.
3) The miraculous is actually quite ordinary as a soul evolves toward Enlightenment.
Q. Before “The Whisper of a Saint” you wrote “Remembering Eternity.” The series also addresses an attempt to achieve enlightenment, but it comes when the main character has hit rock bottom. He is recently divorced, has lost his family, his wealth and his reputation. He decides to seek lasting happiness instead of anything else. Do you think a stripping of all material things, whether voluntary or not, is necessary to achieve lasting happiness? Do you think that’s even a feasible goal in Western society?
A. No, it is not necessary. But so long as one views "happiness" as being something external to oneself, something to be gotten in the world of material objects or egoic success, then one will not make rapid progress toward permanent happiness. Everything external can disappear: lovers can leave, children can die, careers can end, money can be lost. Obviously, none of them is permanent. Establishing Pure Consciousness, realizing that one Is PC, means finding bliss that no one can ever take away. It is your essence as a human Being.
Q. A topic you broach in “Remembering Eternity” is the “American Elite.” Specifically, the issue of how those American Elite don’t like to discuss “hidden aids” that put the odds of the game in their favor. How did that topic overlap with the path to enlightenment?
A. While at Princeton, I came across the American elite and came to understand how the success game in this country is often rigged in their favor. Early on, I felt inferior to these wealthy, well-dressed aristocrats. But I came to realize that true wealth is something that rises from within oneself. "Remembering Eternity" functions not only on the level of an enlightenment story, but also on that of an analysis of the baby-boomer generation in America.
Q. If you were to create a spirituality/meditation to-read list, a curriculum if you will, what would be on that list?
A. 1) "The Science of Being and the Art of Living"
2) The "Bhagavad Gita"
3) "Yoga Vashistha"
Q. How much closer to enlightenment are you now than 10 years ago? 20 years ago? What is the most important change you’ve made in your life to get there?
A. One can never estimate degrees of distance from Enlightenment. Suffice it to say that I am happy with my progress. Establishing a twice-daily meditation practice, from which I never varied, was key to that progress.
Q. As you continue on your own spiritual path, what else do you think you will produce for the benefit of others?
A. My goal at this stage of my life is to be of service to others. My books were written not for money or reputation, but to help spread the word of Masters of Enlightenment. I try to pass their knowledge on every day, however I can. I will also release more books in the near future.
About the book:
A perfect village. A perfect crime.
When two young girls disappear from their primary school, the village of Heighington is put on high alert—and not for the first time. Called in to investigate, Detective Karen Hart is sure that parallels with a previous disappearance are anything but coincidental.
DS Hart is still reeling from a case she tried and failed to solve eighteen months ago, when a young woman vanished without a trace. She’s no nearer to the truth of what happened to Amy Fisher, but with two children missing now too, the stakes have never been higher. As she looks to the past for clues, she must confront her own haunting loss, a nightmare she is determined to spare other families.
Hart soon realises that nothing in this close-knit Lincolnshire community is what it seems. Pursuing the investigation with personal vengeance, she finds herself in conflict with her scrupulous new boss, but playing by the rules will have to wait. Because while there’s no shortage of suspects, the missing girls are running out of time…
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International bestselling author Liz Gavin’s books have made to #1 in countries as diverse as Japan, the UK, the US, Canada, Australia and her home country Brazil, collecting 5 and 4-star reviews. Nominated for a Summer Indie Book Award in 2016, and again in 2017, this RWA member constantly seeks new opportunities to improve her craft. This thirst for knowledge propelled Liz to leave the comforts of family and friends in Brazil and move to California to pursue a Master’s degree in late 2015. She lives in sunny SoCal, where she’s researching the writing process, for her thesis, in hopes to figure out why she creates in English instead of her native Portuguese.
Liz Gavin writes in contemporary, paranormal, and historical genres. In her sexy stories, one finds smart, independent women, who don’t need rescuing by knights in shining armor, but indulge in steamy action with swoony Alpha males with big hearts. She also writes about women discovering their sexuality and finding happiness in unconventional setups.
Prospective ARC participants should contact Liz via email at firstname.lastname@example.org to apply.
Cold. God, he couldn’t remember ever before being this cold, never ever in his life. Only one day and he was already beginning to regret his decision. His jaw was numb from the cold and his shoulders ached from hunching against it. The wind was blowing out of the northwest, sweeping snow under the brim of his hat, the beautiful new Montana peak he’d bought just two days before. It swept in, no matter how he tucked his chin or turned away from the blast, blinding him and taking his breath away.
Hell, it was April. It wasn’t supposed to be doing this in April.
His name was Ray Turner, seventeen on his last birthday, and he was bone weary from his first day working the line, his first day of fence duty. No one had told him what a pain in the butt working the fence would be. Where was the glamour? The lariat on the straying calf, the long gallop over the plain to turn the errant steer, the fact-to-face encounter (oh god yes, the encounter) with some angry Sioux warrior come to plague the herd? Where the hell was the romance?
He and Curly were walking their horses back through the snow toward the line shack where they’d stowed their gear after riding out from the main ranch. That morning the Montana sunrise had been beautiful, the prairie grass glistening with dew in the slanting sunlight, nearly blinding him as it glanced off the ground. April in Montana, the huge sky above, the buttes in dark silhouette against the western horizon, the rounded hills leading down to the Yellowstone. What more could a young man ask for?
Well, how about some glamour? A little romance? He knew they were there somewhere.
But first the reality of a long day riding the fence, re-stapling sagging wire, straightening posts, re-attaching supports to the “deadmen.” Curly had thus identified for him the glacial boulders to which the tension wires were strung. By noon his fingers were numb from too many misdirected blows, his hands bloody from handling, mishandling, the barbed wire. By three his back was screaming from all the bending, lifting, pulling—using muscles he hadn’t used before, at least not in the way he was using them then.
And now the reality of a late spring blizzard as only Montana could know it, the Canadian low sweeping out of the north to turn the blush of April back to January scowl.
So much for glamour and romance.
With visibility near zero, they were following the fence back to the line shack. Finally, topping one last rise, there it was, barely visible below them. The slope leading down to the Yellowstone was irregular, with low hills and hollows north and south along the river, and the line shack was built into the side of one such hollow.
It was a sorry affair the color of Montana mud, almost indistinguishable from the rest of the landscape. The back wall and half the two side walls were earthen with cottonwood poles for the front, sides, and roof, the roof then covered with cowhides and sod. But it looked like a palace to the boy.
They dismounted at the shed on the north side, unsaddled their horses and turned them into the fenced enclosure. Then they hauled their gear into the shack.
The line shack was primitive in construction, but it had everything they would need while they were there on fence patrol. One room facing east, fifteen feet square with a plank floor, a window in each side wall, and a door that opened outward and was covered with cowhide to keep out the drafts. There was a pot-belly stove in the middle of the room with a wooden table and four chairs in the south half, then two sets of bunk beds along the north wall with the window in between. Near the door, hanging from a nail, was a water bag, and hanging from nails in the south wall were the sacks of provisions they’d brought with them.
Curly lit the lamps and turned to Ray. “Chips outside,” he said pointing north. Curly was not one to waste words.
Ray came back with an armload of cow chips, deposited them, the put some in the stove. On the chips Curly poured oil from one of the lamps and then dropped in a match. Soon the room was warmer as well as smokier, most of the smoke going up the stovepipe, but not all. And the air was pungent with the mixed aromas of coal oil, steaming saddle blankets, and burning cow chips. Ray didn’t care. He could hear the wind outside but he no longer felt its cutting edge, and the odors were a small price to pay for being warm again.
Curly took off his coat and hat and placed them on one of the upper bunks along the north wall. His head, shining dully in the lamplight, gave the lie to his name. Ray assumed he’d acquired it years before, in the days of his youth and curly locks. Or maybe it was the same mentality that called circus elephants Tiny. Using that logic, the boy thought, Curly should be Gabby. Curly McCoy, Ray guessed, was somewhere in this late forties or early fifties, one of the old-timers in Montana cattle ranching, and a man from whom Ray could learn much. And even though Curly seemed a bit slow with anything other than cows, horses, and fences. Ray could learn by example rather than word. Could learn from him, that is, if Ray was going to continue to pursue his career as a cowboy. After today, he wasn’t as sure of that as he’d been the day before.
He followed Curly’s move, putting his coat on the other bunk, then carefully placing the new hat on top. He’d paid too much for it, he knew, about half a month’s wages he hadn’t yet earned. But it was worth it. He loved the way he looked in it when he stood before the bureau mirror in his hotel room in Miles City where he’d bought it just after signing with the Bow and Arrow. It had taken too much of his meager savings but he didn’t care. No self-respecting cowpoke would be without a proper hat. And that raggedy old cap he’d worn there from home just wouldn’t do.
“You scrounge up some grub ‘n I’ll go tend the horses”, Curly instructed, putting his coat and hat on again.
In the gunnysacks they had provisions for a week: four loaves of bread, coffee, a half-gallon of baked beans, potatoes, carrots, onions, a slab of bacon, a ham, and two chickens. Though Ray had never before done any kind of cooking, he’d watched his mother do it often enough at the Ismay Hotel to believe he could pull it off. After all, a stew’s a stew. How tough could it be? He’d show Curly he was no greenhorn. At least not when it came to cooking.
He found a kettle big enough for more stew than the two of them would need, rinsed out the dust, filled it halfway with water from the water bag, and set it on top of the stove.
That morning, at Curly’s instructions—Curly wordlessly handed him the bag and pointed—Ray had gone down to the river, filled the bag, brought it back and hung it on the wall to be ready for them when they returned that evening.
He got out three potatoes, a half dozen carrots, and an onion. With his jackknife he peeled the potatoes and carrots, then cut them in chunks and dropped them in the water, which was by this time beginning to steam. Next the onion, in generous slabs. He took out one of the chickens from the other sack. It was already plucked and gutted so all he had to do was cut it up and put it in with the vegetables. Legs, thighs, wings, then the carcass in four chunks.
It was all bubbling nicely by the time Curly came back. He sniffed once and nodded. Ray took that to mean it smelled good. Curly brushed snow from his shoulders and beat his hat on an arm. “Nasty un,” he said. “Probly no work tomorrow.” He put coat and hat on the bunk, then sat in a chair with a long sigh. Then, “Thet’s probly okay with you, huh, Ray?” he said, smiling, already knowing Ray’s answer.
Ray assured him it would be better than okay—would Curly believe great, wonderful, heavenly? Even being cooped up for a day or two with Curly, no great conversationalist, beat having to go out to work the fence again. They sat with legs outstretched toward the stove and waited for the chicken to get done.
When Ray awakened, at first he didn’t know where he was, thinking he was back in Ismay still dreaming of being a cowboy. Then he remembered, and looked to see if Curly was laughing at him for falling asleep, like some kid exhausted from men’s work. He was relieved to see Curly slumped in his chair, hands folded over his belly, chin tucked in his chest, snoring vigorously. He looked older now in the lamplight, his features sleep-loose with deep creases in chin and cheeks, lines raying out from eyes that had squinted for too many years into too many Montana suns, his forehead and scalp a smooth white contrast to the heavily weathered face. Then Ray noticed the jagged flesh bunched and puckered from just above the left eye and running across the temple to a point above his ear. When Curly was a young man just learning the trade, he’d been bucked off a frisky mustang and then kicked into a three-day coma. Some of the Bow and Arrow cowboys unkindly suggested that was the reason Curly said so little: the kick had addled his brain and he just didn’t know what to say. But Ray hadn’t been around long enough to have heard the story of the mustang and the kick. Sometime, he promised himself, when he knew Curly better, he would ask him about the scar.
He got up to check the stew. He spooned out a potato chunk, blew on it, and popped it in his mouth. Oh yes, just like his mother’s—no, he decided, better than his mother’s.
He gently shook Curly awake, and they scooped out stew in their cups and ate together in silence. The vegetables were delicious, the chicken the best Ray had ever tasted. They ate it all, sopping up even the last drops with chunks of bread.
“Oooooeee,” Curly cooed contentedly, “mighty fine, boy. I cain’t remember any better.” For Curly, that was a speech, and Ray glowed with the praise.
Curly took out a sack of tobacco and a paper and rolled a smoke, licking the edge, twisting the ends and lighting it, then blowing out a stream of smoke. He extended the bag to Ray, who declined, not so much because he wouldn’t have liked to try it, but because he was certain he’d never be able to get the tobacco in the paper without scattering it all over the shack. While Curly smoked, Ray cleaned the pot out with some water and then hung it on a nail by the vegetable sack.
Just then, even over the moaning wind, they heard the sound of an approaching rider, then a horse’s snort and an answering whinny from one of the horses in the corral. Curly got up and went to the north window. He shrugged and sat down again.
“What is it, Curly? Who’s out there?” Ray asked.
“Too dark,” Curly answered.
Moments later the door opened and a man entered in a swirl of snow and wind, saddle in one hand, bridle and blanket over his arm. He pulled the door shut, threw his gear down in the corner, took off his hat and slapped it against a leg.
“Howdy do, boys,” he said. “We got us a good un out there.”
He took off his coat and put it and his hat on a bunk. Then he pulled a chair up to the stove, holding his hands out and rubbing them together. “Nice to hear yer sweet voice again, Curly. Who’s this young feller? Don’t believe we met before. Name’s Bob Atkins, Texas Bob to my friends. So what’ll it be, young feller—Bob Atkins or Texas Bob?”
Curly snorted his amusement.
Ray wasn’t sure who the man was or why he was there or how he should respond to him. “I’m Ray, Ray Turner,” he said, extending his hand. “I signed on just a couple days ago.” The man took his hand and they shook. “You work for the Bow and Arrow, Bob?” Ray asked. “Texas Bob,” he corrected himself.
“Me ‘n Curly been workin’ fer the Bow fer more years’n I’d keer to say. How many now, Curly? Gotta be . . . damn near thirty. Right, Curly? Just nod, Curly. I know how it pains ya to open yer mouth.”
“I was out checkin’ fence to the north, ‘n when the damn storm blew up. I figgered to come here ‘n spend the night with you boys. This un looks like that blue norther we had in, what, ’92, right, Curly? You ‘member that un, Curl?”
Curly was in the middle of rolling a cigarette, but he nodded as he licked the paper shut. He remembered. He wasn’t simple, after all. He knew what the others said about him, but he chose to ignore them.
“So, Ray, how’s ol’ Curly been treatin’ ya? He talkin’ yer ears raggedy?” He laughed. Then he frowned, having thought of something else. “Ya like ridin’ fence?”
Before Ray could respond, he went on. “Gol dern bob wire anyways. Curly ‘n me remember the days when this country was open—no fences, just God ‘n buffla grass ‘n cows ‘n open range.” He produced a corncob pipe and a pouch of tobacco and proceeded to fill it, tamp the tobacco in, and light it, puffing mightily with blue smoke billowing around him. He sighed when he got it going to his satisfaction, and slumped in his chair remembering the old days, the good days.
Ray considered him in the yellow light from the oil lamps. He was about the same age as Curly, medium height, but lean and tough as old cowhide. His hair was black streaked with gray, and his cheeks and chin were black with a day’s growth of beard. Another one he could learn from, he decided. And this one loved to talk.
“You boys already et, I spose. Yeah, I was afeared I’d get here too late. Well, I kin always rustle up somethin’ in a bit.” He punched down the tobacco with a blunt thumb, then struck a match and sucked the flame down into the pipe bowl.
“How old er ya, Ray? Look a little green to me.”
Before Ray could tell him he was twenty-one and no greenhorn, Bob went on.
“But then I ‘member Luke Sweetman, outta Texas, back in ’86. He’s only eighteen on the big spring roundup that year ‘n he’s headin’ up one of the big outfits in District Eight, Circle Dot, it was. Or mebbe N-Bar-N. I dunno. Which was it, Curly? You ‘member?”
“Yeah, well anyways, don’t much matter how old ya are, long’s ya know what yer doin’.”
The fire in the stove was down, so Ray added several more chips. He was happy to be sitting there, listening to the talk, even though only one of them was doing any talking.
“Them were the days, all right,” Texas Bob went on. “I ‘member when the XIT drove herds all the way from Texas to Montana range. Now we got ‘steaders all over the dern place. Everthin’s fenced now. Short-horn Herefords now ‘steada them mean-eyed, stringy, pisshead longhorns. Probly short-peckered men ‘n boys now too.” He looked at Ray and smiled. Curly was nodding off by the fire, Bob’s patter like an old, often-heard serenade.
Texas Bob got up and stretched. “I’m gonna find me some grub ‘fore I hit the sack. What’s left over here?’
He went to the south wall to the provisions. When he saw the pot hanging nearby, he turned to the others and said with hands on hips, “Gol dernit, Curly! What in sam hill’s the pisspot doin’ hangin’ over here?”
Ray never cooked chicken after that. Ray never ate chicken after that.
Reblogged from "The Friendly Fig," as written by Bianca, which can be found by clicking HERE.
#1. One Day in December by Josie Silver: My favorite romance of all time. A beautiful slow-burn that makes your heart ache and burst all at once.
#2: Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren: This is my favorite Christina Lauren novel. It is heartbreakingly beautiful. It goes back and forth from past to present and it kept me up late wanting to understand the two main characters’ whole story.
#3: Well Met by Jen DeLuca: I was iffy on this book for some reason but I am so glad I picked it up. It is a renaissance faire love story and I swoooooned so hard. I really fell in love with the dude. LOL
#4: Beach Read by Emily Henry: Two rival writers in a romantic setting… swoon-worthy romance ensues. One of the best books I read last year.
#5: The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren: This is just a really fun one. If you are looking for a fun and flirty romance in the sun, this is the one.
#6: The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker: This romance takes place in Alaska and has a whole lot of heart in more ways than one. I fell in love with these characters and the setting. It made me want to move to Alaska and fall in love with a handsome, gruff, and guarded pilot. It is also a series, so if you love the story, it doesn’t have to end right away!
#7: Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin: I was late to the parade on this love triangle but better late than never because this one kept me wanting more and more and more. It is popular for good reason.
#8: The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy E. Reichert: The name of this book caught my eye initially but the story was equally as sweet as coconut cake. And gives you a bit of anxiety (in a good way).
#9: Josh & Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren: Another fun and flirty book that gave me New Girl vibes. I really enjoyed the characters.
#10: The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary: Interesting concept – these two main characters have a housing arrangement where he gets the flat during the day and she gets the flat for the night. They leave post-it notes around for each other, despite having never met. Really cute.
#11: Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen: Oh, I am including this classic because it is just a gem and as romantic as it gets when it comes to historical fiction. Mr. Darcy. Enough said.
#12: The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany by Julie James and Lori Nelson Spielman: What a gorgeous and unique love story that combines family drama, travel, and romance. This one was dreamy.
#13: November 9 by Colleen Hoover: This one hurt in the best way. Two people meet up on the same date every single year without any contact at any other time and fall in love. OOOOOOH my heart is bursting just rethinking about this story.
#14: Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuinston. The First Son of the United States falls for his long-time rival, the Prince of Wales. Hilarity, steam, and so much heart.
Reblogged from "Tor.com," whose blog can be found by clicking HERE.
About the book:
The alternate history first contact adventure Axiom's End is an extraordinary debut from Hugo finalist and video essayist Lindsay Ellis.
Truth is a human right.
It’s fall 2007. A well-timed leak has revealed that the US government might have engaged in first contact. Cora Sabino is doing everything she can to avoid the whole mess, since the force driving the controversy is her whistleblower father. Even though Cora hasn’t spoken to him in years, his celebrity has caught the attention of the press, the Internet, the paparazzi, and the government—and with him in hiding, that attention is on her. She neither knows nor cares whether her father’s leaks are a hoax, and wants nothing to do with him—until she learns just how deeply entrenched her family is in the cover-up, and that an extraterrestrial presence has been on Earth for decades.
Realizing the extent to which both she and the public have been lied to, she sets out to gather as much information as she can, and finds that the best way for her to uncover the truth is not as a whistleblower, but as an intermediary. The alien presence has been completely uncommunicative until she convinces one of them that she can act as their interpreter, becoming the first and only human vessel of communication. Their otherworldly connection will change everything she thought she knew about being human—and could unleash a force more sinister than she ever imagined.
Cora Sabino is already at her wit’s end when the second meteor hits. Freshly dropped out of college and with nothing but a broken-down car and a bad dye-job to her name, she’s living every twenty-something’s dream: moving back in with her mom and losing a battle with her own self-loathing. So when Nils Ortega—Cora’s estranged father and infamous whistleblower—publishes proof that the US government has been covering up contact with extraterrestrials, Cora’s like, this might as well happen. What she doesn’t expect is to get drawn into the fray. What she doesn’t expect is to make discoveries that her father could only dream of.
Video essayist Lindsay Ellis’ first novel, Axiom’s End, is every bit as cinematic and action-packed as her viewers and fans might expect. Set in 2007, it follows Cora as she grapples with her own first contact—an alien she calls Ampersand—and with what it means to not be alone in the universe. As Ampersand’s only translator, Cora is poised to learn more about alien life and history than any other human before her. With her father’s conspiracies breathing down her neck, however, she has to face the question: who among humanity can she trust with this dangerous new knowledge? Certainly not the government—or her loved ones—that have been lying all along.
When I say Axiom’s End is cinematic, it’s not just because I associate the first contact genre more with film than I do novels (though that’s certainly part of it)—it’s also fast-paced, visual, and satisfyingly trope-y. Ellis knows how to make tropes—from protagonists befriending their alien counterparts to dogs (almost) dying to raise stakes in the first real action scene—effective without ever feeling cold or methodical. Besides being thrilling and readable, there’s real heart to the novel, and that more than anything is its sticking point. You can’t help but be invested in Cora and Ampersand’s awkward, blossoming relationship. In fact, rooting for them in all their strangeness and prickliness (even if you don’t relate to them very much) gets to the center of the whole project.
The novel is, after all, about estrangement—not just between humanity and alien races, but between humans and other humans. Cora’s relationship with her father is present in every moment of the novel, even when Nils isn’t directly named. Excerpts from his blog even intersperse the chapters—the reader can’t forget about him and neither can Cora. Their goals are in conflict despite them never interacting and even (presumably) without Nils ever knowing. There’s a real sense of loss and grief that comes from this, of what might-have-been and what might-be-impossible. Ampersand acts a stand-in for Nils—providing comfort and companionship for Cora where before she had been alone, and even grappling with the questions of transparency and responsibility that Nils constantly elides. It’s lovely to witness, even when you’re not sure you can trust Ampersand—and isn’t that just a fundamental truth about building any kind of relationship?
Because of this relationship, I thought often while reading Axiom’s End of Leah Thomas’ YA novel When Light Left Us. Thomas’ novel—about a family dealing with the aftermath of an alien encounter—harkens from the same sub-genre, though its sub-sub-genre (child contact versus thriller) makes for a very different tone. That said, the books are fascinating to hold side-by-side. They both deal with recovering from the loss of a father and with learning how to form trusting relationships in his absence. They both look specifically at the role of language—its imperfections, its limitations—in making those connections. Their similarities made me wonder: what is inherent to this sub-genre that would attract this kind of reading of loss, loneliness, and connection? The inherent barriers of language and culture are certainly part of it, though I think it gets to something more fundamental than that: the sense that the universe is so much bigger than us pervades first contact stories, so where better to explore our own personal estrangement? What does it mean to be alone or together in a world so vast?
Despite what I found to be quite deft and graceful themes like the ones I’ve discussed here, the novel is clumsy in places. I experienced many instances of “well, that’s convenient”—such as Cora constantly happening upon key events, or her being able to crawl through a building’s vent system on a dime (yes, I know it’s a trope, don’t @ me). It’s easy most of the time to suspend disbelief due to the intense pace of the action and narrative (for instance, I didn’t bat an eye at characters delivering exposition—and boy are they forthcoming!), but every once in a while, my incredulity conflicted with what is otherwise a pretty emotionally real tone.
Overall, though, Axiom’s End is a delight—insightful, humane and engaging, even in its imperfections. Its setting alone—pre-Obama and pre-Tea Party, a moment when hope and cynicism were basically mud-wrestling—sets a mood of distrust and malaise, and invites readers to reflect on alternative aftermaths to recent history. I will happily pick up another of her novels, sequel or otherwise.