Failure to Communicate
Kaia Sønderby, author
As one of the only remaining autistics in the universe, Xandri Corelel has faced a lot of hardship, and she's earned her place as the head of Xeno-Liaisons aboard the first contact ship Carpathia. But her skill at negotiating with alien species is about to be put to the ultimate test. The Anmerilli, a notoriously reticent and xenophobic people, have invented a powerful weapon that will irrevocably change the face of space combat. Now the Starsystems Alliance has called in Xandri and the crew of the Carpathia to mediate. The Alliance won't risk the weapon falling into enemy hands, and if Xandri can't bring the Anmerilli into the fold, the consequences will be dire. Amidst sabotage, assassination attempts, and rampant cronyism, Xandri struggles to convince the doubtful and ornery Anmerilli. Worse, she's beginning to suspect that not everyone on her side is really working to make the alliance a success. As tensions rise and tempers threaten to boil over, Xandri must focus all her energy into understanding the one species that has always been beyond her: her own.
This far-future tale of interspecies diplomacy hinges on an uneven depiction of autism in a society that has genetically engineered away most neurodivergence. When the StarSystems Alliance needs a diplomat to send to the xenophobic and divided Anmerilli, autistic xeno-liaison Xandri Corelel is the best option, as she has specialized in understanding nonverbal communication across species. The prejudices she faces both personally and politically make her job difficult, and the stakes are high. Individual characterizations lack depth, particularly for the antagonists, but the diversity across the Alliance and among the Anmerilli gives the story a welcome complexity. Xandri’s personal and professional efforts to interpret body language provide insights that a neurotypical narrator would not, although her unreliable narration is not always successful, and her experience is described dryly in ways that make it hard for readers to feel her panic in crowds or fall into her hyperfocus. The conflation of autism acceptance with other social issues distracts the reader from focusing on Xandri’s significant skills. Despite these inconsistencies, the book mostly satisfies as a tale of space adventure. Sønderby (Testing Pandora) shows promise, especially with worldbuilding, that will encourage readers to pick up her future books. (BookLife)