Genre: Science Fiction
Release date: February 14th 2017
LGBTQAI+: Bisexual polyamorous female main character, and at least one sapphic side character/potential LI.
Sex on page: No
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.
I have seen several people recommend this book on Twitter as an amazing indie book with an #ownvoices autistic protagonist, and I was not disappointed. Failure to Communicate was absolutely amazing and I can’t wait to read the sequel (not to mention the beautiful covers for both books).
Xandri was a detailed, three-dimensional protagonist who was easy to get attached to. I loved reading about the way she perceived patterns, people and the world, and I also loved the ways in which she was unique – for example, that nobody else thought to make friends with the ship’s AI. I also loved the many, many different alien species that were hard to keep track of at first, but once I got used to it I appreciated the thought and worldbuilding that went into making many unique species.
One of my favourite tropes in sci-fi on spaceships is the crew as family, and that really shone through here. While they had their disagreements and tension, Xandri’s crew held together, and they were especially ride-or-die for her. I loved the way most of them kept her needs in mind and helped her cope without making her feel like a burden, and how they (especially Diver) went out of their way to defend her.
This book also had mention of polyamorous communities, as well as a budding polyamorous relationship between central characters, although it didn’t become official in this book. Still, I absolutely loved the dynamic between the three of them and I’m eager to see more.
Failure to Communicate also had themes that went much deeper than fluff between crew members. The blurb starts with naming Xandri as one of the only remaining autistics in the universe, and pretty early on the book explains the way people now engineer their children before birth to get rid of any irregularities or neurodivergency. In a way, autistic and mentally ill people were wiped out – not by killing them outright, but by not letting them be born at all. While the crew knows Xandri and supports her, there is much ableism from strangers and the society in general – some of it unintended. Since there are only a few autistic people are left, all most people have to go on are inaccurate, generalised texts that show them as cold and without emotions. The level of ableism in this society was often sickening, especially towards the end (and yes, I was disappointed by Christa reverting to ableist comments even at 96% in the ebook).
The book also addresses gun violence and gun control, not only through the Anmerilli but also by directly referencing 21st century “Ancient Earth”, which was surprising but not unwelcome to see.
While these parts may have been difficult to read, I loved the way the book handled and addressed the deeper issues while also keeping them balanced with funny or heartwarming scenes.
Note: I do want to explain why I didn’t rate this book 5 stars, so I’d like to talk a little about my conflicted feelings towards the ending. Since this part is full of spoilers, I left it to the end.
First of all, I kind of felt Marco would end up betraying them pretty early on, and I also started suspecting that he was neurodivergent before it was revealed. I have to admit that when it was revealed, I felt really conflicted about making the traitor/villain be the only other neurodivergent person in the universe. I understood that the book was trying to subvert the trope of the mentally ill villain, but (at least originally) I didn’t feel like it did a convincing job. Still, later Xandri outright says that it wasn’t really his mental illness, but the torture he suffered because of it that lead him to be exploited. I still have some conflicting feelings about this, but I ended up accepting it.
I also understand that Xandri getting fired was necessary both to set up the sequel and to show the horrible ableism of this world, but – I still didn’t like it. The ableism was already clear, and more importantly, why the hell is mar’Odera still on the Council? He was nearly exposed as a saboteur, the other Council members grew distrustful of him, and then– the next time we see the Council, he’s still there, and a deciding person in the vote? It honestly just felt strange.
My rating: 🌿🌿🌿🌿🌿/5.