Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer is the first installment in the Southern Reach Trilogy, and if the goal of the book was supposed to be strange and otherworldly, it certainly delivers on that point. It’s a hard book to describe, and one that will likely prove just as difficult to describe, but since IA just finished it I thought I’d give it a go.
Annihilation follows an expedition into a place known as Area X, which is a place of unexplained phenomena in which previous expeditions have either never returned from, died during, or have returned with no specific memories of what occurred during their time there. Our main character known to us only as the biologist is a member of the 12th expedition.
Each member has their own profession, and those are the only names we are given for them, the psychologist, a surveyor, and an anthropologist. Together their mission is too…well that’s a bit vague. What we do know is the psychologist is in charge, and has some sort of hypnotic influence over the group. It becomes pretty clear early on that the Psychologist knows more than she is letting on, but the full extent of that isn’t shown till the end. Well, let’s dig in and get to what works and what doesn’t.
The feeling of mystery is definitely there. VanderMeer leaves us enough clues to guess at some of the twists and turns, which helps you feel like a part of the expedition. We learn enough about the biologist through flashbacks to grow attached to her. and by the end of it, despite some circumstances that might have had you rooting against her, you end up firmly in her corner. For a character who’s name you never learn she is surprisingly deep and complex, anyone who’s a natural introvert will immediately identify with her. While most horror is usually lost on me, the creep factor is definitely quite high in this one. The book certainly makes you want to read on, if only to find out what the hell is exactly going on.
The biggest thing is that while it’s advertised as such, it is not a stand alone novel. I mean we get an end to the biologist story..sort of, but that’s it. You learn pretty much nothing about what Area X is, or what’s really causing the odd happenings within. You don’t even get a clear picture of what happened to the previous expeditions (though with the hints you get I’m not sure I want to know). All of the characters aside from the biologist are pretty hollow, and you don’t get much insight into their motivations, both for their actions or for their reasons for volunteering the the clearly dangerous expedition. Hell, they don’t really explain why anyone would volunteer for such a thing. Some of these answers may be found in further books, but judging Annihilation just by itself, it’s a little underwhelming, like the ending of Lost.
This is a hard one. To tell the truth, when I started this book, for the first part I was apprehensive, and almost put it down. About half-way through I thought, nope not my style, yet I kept reading. Then when I finished it (just a day after starting) I thought, nope didn’t really like it, and yet I immediately bought and started the sequel. There is a quality to the writing style that I can’t really put into words that threw me off while reading it, yet the story was compelling enough that I kept going. The mystery is such that I want, almost need to know what happens next, and despite reservations I can;t call a book bad if it has that kind of pull on me.
That being said I’ll give this book a 6.5 out of 10, but I have a feeling it would be higher if I had read all three books in the trilogy as one continuous story.
Agree? Disagree? Don’t care? Let me know in the comments down below, and until next time you intrepid voyagers you.