Annex by Rich Larson
Release date: July 2018
The end of the world arrives in a spaceship.
All adults are now mindless, smiling zombies, clamped on the back of their heads with an alien technology. Anyone under the age of fifteen, however, faces a different fate. Scooped up by flying pods and dropped into warehouses, the surviving children are each injected with a parasite in their bellies, with whirling machines as their jailors. Bo was one of those children — but he manages to escape the warehouse and into the city outside, where he finds that he’s not alone.
On one of her routine scavenging missions for the female hormone supplements that will help her maintain her transition, Violet discovers and brings Bo back to her new family: the Lost Boys. Led by a charismatic handsome teenager named Wyatt, the Lost Boys survive by sneaking around, stealing food, and killing their Othermothers — alien hybrid creatures that look like their own mothers, but whose real purpose is to snatch the children (and their parasites) back to the warehouses. Neither Violet nor Bo really know why any of this is happening, or why they have parasites in the first place — but they do know that parasites can grant them some special, supernatural abilities. Bo’s parasite is particularly strong — and Wyatt will stop at nothing to to exploit that strength, to get back at the aliens who have torn their world to shreds.
It’s not every day you get to read an alien invasion science fiction novel with young, marginalized protagonists — especially not ones the caliber of Annex. Rich Larson’s debut, Annex, is a powerful addition to the post-apocalyptic canon. Certain aspects of this book reminded me very much of Michael Grant’s superb Gone series, which has a similar type of premise — everyone over a certain age vanishes outside of the FAYZ, every other teenager and child remains trapped underneath an impenetrable dome and are left to fend from themselves against a stirring darkness. While Annex treads familiar ground as far as SFF apocalyptic/locked-story premises go, it shines because of its two protagonists.
I loved the novel’s dual narrators — both marginalized voices struggling with their own secrets and dreams. Bo, Boniface, is desperate to find his older sister and immediately bonds with Violet — who he calls his other sister. Violet is a trans woman, who for the first time can be who she always knew herself to be without fear of judgement or pain from her parents. But Violet’s role is precarious — especially because she knows that estrogen and other hormones will eventually run out, and especially because she isn’t sure how others will truly accept her when that day comes. Bo and Violet’s paths converge in Annex as they grapple not only with the external threat of alien invaders, othermothers, and the growing power of their parasites, but more intimately with their own doubts, fears, and interactions with other kids in their group.
Of course, the sci-fi elements to the novel are pretty cool, too. (I mean, anytime you’ve got kids as biological hosts for alien parasites you know you’re in for a ride.) While the alien invasion itself is only in its first stage in Annex, as the novel progresses we see that there are larger, more terrifying forces at work. Violet and Bo must fight together to stop the world from ending and to save what they can of their world — even if that means siding with certain enemies. Deftly plotted and packing a few interesting twists, Annex delivers — and there’s lots of room for more in the series.
In Book Smugglerish, eight wriggling parasites out of ten.