Heart of Annihilation
WiDō Publishing, 2014
Trade paperback, 330 pp.
Army Specialist Kris Rose has enough going. A long-missing father, the search for whom is finally turning up clues—most of which in the form of top-secret documents secreted among her personal effects. A tantalizing silver coin stamped with the letters RETHA, identical to ones found at the sites of disappearances similar to her father’s. A sudden spurt of hyper-aggressiveness from members of her own unit, accompanied by the sense that they not only would enjoy beating her up, but that several would clearly like to kill her. And now, the suspicion that the men are planning on slaughtering as-yet-unseen aliens, who might hold the final secret to Benjamin Rose’s disappearance.
So when, in the midst of hand-to-hand combat with several of her attackers, Rose abruptly discovers that she can send currents of living blue electricity through her body and stun—if not kill—her opponents, she realizes that nothing is quite as it has seemed and that finding her father has taken second-place to saving her own life and finding out who and what she is.
In intercut chapters, readers are introduced to a new character, Caz, a munitioner (i.e., one who designs weaponry)on Retha, a planet devoted to peace and serenity and whose people look upon munitioners with contempt. But Caz has inherited her parents’ directive from the Dimensional Congressional Council: to construct a weapon devastating enough to destroy a threat from any of the twelve alternate dimensions essentially sharing the planet—by destroying all life on that dimension.
Gradually, readers come to understand (no spoiler here, since the revelation comes early in the novel) that Rose is Caz, that for reasons that unravel as the story progresses, Rose shares a body and, to a degree a consciousness, with the most vicious murderer Retha has ever known…and Caz wants total control so that she can retrieve the mysterious ultimate weapon, the Heart of Annihilation, from its hiding place on Earth and wield it for her own purposes.
Thus Asay sets in motion a complex, carefully thought through story that balances military action-adventure aplenty, including hailstorm battles among humans and aliens alike; with strong infusions of alternate-world science fiction, complete with dimensional- and temporal-travel, aliens who are remarkably like humans except that they live on and control electricity, and the intriguing premise that one planet might house as many as thirteen planes or dimensions simultaneously, each in its own way a threat to the others.
Although not a traditional ‘horror’ novel, there is horror as well, initially in seeing the depths to which individuals will go to attain their own selfish, often unjustified ends. But the true horror evolves as Rose/Caz become aware of each other and struggle for dominance—Rose to save worlds, and Caz to destroy them. Here is a kind of monster that cannot be simply obliterated, that cannot be tamed, that can only be controlled and—at least Rose hopes so—contained.
There is even a touch of romance in Heart of Annihilation, although it is unconnected to the title’s imagery. Through much of her quest to understand and finally obtain the weapon, Rose is accompanied by the steadfast Sgt. Thurmond, who fights alongside her, takes bullets for her, sacrifices himself for her in any number of ways, and—once he realizes that she is actually two people, one he admires and one he can only hate—he begins to break down walls she has constructed through most of her life to isolate her from others.
By the end of the novel, much has been achieved. The Heart is in fact retrieved and…well, to explain more would be a spoiler. The true alien threat is recognized for what it actually is. Rose understands fully the kind of creature that inhabits her. And Rose and Thurmond share a tender moment in her hospital room. In the most important ways, the novel is a complete, self-contained story.
But much remains to be explored, primarily the tenuous relationship between Rose and Caz, both of whom want control of Rose’s body; the still-to-be-resolved riddle of Benjamin Rose’s disappearance and of his connections to the Rethans of the twelfth dimension; and the intersection of dimensions themselves, now that Rose, Thurmond, and others are aware of threats known and threats unknown from these parallel worlds
All in all, Heart of Annihilation is a strong first novel; a fast-paced read that should appeal to a wide range of readers; and the potential opening shot in what promises to be an intriguing multi-volume investigation into time and space, alternate worlds and alternate dimensions, and the fundamental questions of who and what constitutes a human being.