The Annunciate

by Severna Park

Cover image

Publisher: Eos
Copyright: November 1999
Printing: December 2001
ISBN: 0-380-80502-2
Format: Mass market
Pages: 294

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Eve is one of the Meshed, humans who were rich enough to afford nanite implants that gave them full access to all the information collected by nanites seeded through the local system. The Meshed were the highest of the three castes, above the Jacked and Jackless and in control of the worlds. That was before the rebellion.

Now, Eve, Corey, and Annmarie are three of the few surviving Meshed, hiding from hunters with their nanite-killing countermeasures, avoiding the endless system wars, and spreading peace of a sort. Peace through addiction to a blissful narcotic. But then they run into an enclave of other Meshed, discover that the first settled world in the system still exists, and on it discover something entirely outside their experience.

The book is told in first person narration from Eve's perspective, which is compelling and frustrating by turns. Eve was one of the young students at an exclusive school for the Meshed, rescued by the overpowering and manipulative Annmarie when the school was overrun. Since then, she's been bullied, controlled, insulted, belittled, and manipulated by Corey and Annmarie, treated essentially like an adopted and disobedient child despite the fact that she's adult (or very near — the book is never quite clear). It's easy to be sympathetic towards her. But she's also frustratingly passive, showing hallmarks of abused submissiveness to Annmarie, always afraid of Corey, and only rarely taking much initiative. She feels like a believable character, but that didn't stop me from wanting to shake her and tell her to get a backbone and set some boundaries.

It's not obvious at the start, but The Annunciate is really a first contact novel of sorts, one where the contact is made as much through virtual reality as through physical biological contact. Since the contact is so much through an environment of whim, dream, and personal fantasy, the alien starts out seeming more human than it actually is. Much of the book is devoted to tracing and revealing the ways in which that illusion falls short and the ideas and motives of the alien are vastly different. (It also has an excellent explanation built into the background for why the alien is so comprehensible to humans.)

It's also a first contact story that's messy, biological, physical, and intimate, not the clean scientific reasoning and discovery of classic space opera scenarios. On an intellectual level, I appreciate seeing this sort of exploration of first contact. It feels more realistic, and it allows exploration of different archetypes and different sides of humanity. The Annunciate opens with a lesbian love scene and maintains an edge of the erotic and a lewd physicality throughout, including through the contact.

However, that same physicality and creepy otherness meant that it verged close to horror for me at times. However intellectually appealing, I found parts of the last half of the book too gross and disgusting to really enjoy. I expect this will vary a great deal between readers, and I have a low tolerance for closely described biological messiness in fiction.

This is also a story about addictive drugs, which again is both realistic and didn't help my appreciation. Annmarie's plans and the effectiveness of Staze are realistically nasty, but I have such a strong revulsion to the idea of people trapped in the constant desire for the next fix that I have a hard time reading close descriptions of them. Eve spends much of the book in the company of junkies, and Staze plays a significant role in the climax. I liked its interactions with Mesh and with the alien contact, but it was still a few too many descriptions of addiction for my personal taste.

This is a well-written book that happened to hit several areas that aren't to my personal liking. If you don't have the same turn-offs, it's worth looking for: Eve can be frustrating, but the plot is satisfying, with multiple payoffs, and the first-contact process resonates psychologically and helps develop Eve as a person independent of her abusive "parents." (It also has a beautiful cover, unfortunately not attributed so far as I could find.)

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2007-11-03

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21