Science fiction is one of my favorite genres. It provides us, as readers and writers, with an opportunity to take stock of our material reality and push our minds beyond what we assume to be humanly possible. In Truth of the Divine (book 2 of the Noumena Series, Axiom’s End was book 1) Lindsay Ellis writes a story that exemplifies the power of science fiction. Encouraging readers to utilize our imaginations and interrogate our internalized presuppositions about what it even means to be “human” in the first place.
Truth of the Divine explores what happens after the new public discovery of — and first interactions with — the intelligent extraterrestrial life form known as The Amygdaline. Ellis creates a world parallel to our own, borrowing elements from our reality such as our political institutions and media outlets. The author does so in such a way that it allows us to relate to the main characters and imagine ourselves in this version of the world.
In order to investigate the true meaning of humanity, readers are taken on an unpredictable adventure alongside characters Cora, Kaveh, and Ampersand, which forces us to confront and question some of the very things that are central to what makes us people. Love, pain and suffering, mental health, the manner that we (Americans/The West) treat those viewed as “other,” the fungibility of social constructs, and more. The book is written in a way that displays the dichotomous, interconnectedness of life and our universe. As the aliens are held captive by the United States government, Cora is increasingly held hostage by her trauma and debilitating PTSD. As Americans become hysterical with fear of the aliens — viscously debating if they should be viewed as people and granted rights — those who are undeniably human beings in the face of American law are not being treated like people in the first place. It’s showing that our struggles are always connected and none of us are free until we are all free, both in the novel and in reality.
The tribulations faced by our characters can all be traced back to the central dilemma of defining personhood — but Ellis writes in a way that encourages us to interrogate the definitions we often accept from our leaders too. For example, we see that the United States is heavily militaristically armed and ready to display its power to extraterrestrial (and terrestrial) “threats.” Even here, we’ve accepted that a threat is one that can challenge western hegemony and way of life. What would it be like for Cora to live in a world that defines threat not along hegemonic lines, but instead in ways that address the actual dangers to human well-being, like violence and trauma?
In real life, what would it look like to have a stockpile of mental health resources and therapists, as opposed to guns and bombs? There are life forces around us that fall outside the definition of a person such as plants — but what if we removed the hierarchy that exists between humans and nature, and treated the Earth and its ecosystems with respect and autonomy instead? Just as our main characters do not like nor accept what human civilization (described as “bellicose, competitive, consumptive, dangerous and xenophobic..”) has become —we do not have to either.
In the final pages, Kaveh writes “Are these truly traits of our shared human nature? Is this an exorable, inescapable state of our being? Or is this all the result of a shared construct that we have erroneously agreed is a necessary evil of civilization, a fiction agreed upon, one that might be changed?”
Truth of the Divine shows us that the answer to these questions lies within the latter; society as we know it is merely science fiction in and of itself. An amalgamation of material histories and legacies that have aligned in such a way that creates our present moment. In acknowledging that we live in a constructed world, we must also acknowledge that we can reconstruct it. The oppressive society we face today is not the same as those faced in the past. In fact, there are thousands of years of proof that humans did not always live with these systems.
We may not be facing extraterrestrial life forms (at the moment), but we still must utilize our imaginations and expand our definitions of life and humanity to create a better world for us all.