Annihilation

Jeff VanderMeer
Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; the second expedition ended in mass suicide, the third expedition in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another. The members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within weeks, all had died of cancer. In Annihilation, the first volume of Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy, we join the twelfth expedition. The group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain, record all observations of their surroundings and of one anotioner, and, above all, avoid being contaminated by Area X itself. They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another that change everything.

Reviews

Reviewed: 2019-05-08
Like much of VanderMeer's work, there is a good bit of weird in this book. But, the weird serves at the behest of a greater calling and that's to create a chillingly familiar environment that teems at the edges with danger and tension. As he's done before, VanderMeer gives us an unreliable narrator delivering a first-person perspective that vacillates between the personal, subjective view and the objective, scientific exploration of the increasingly fraught Area X into which she's been sent. We feel at once a great sense of wonder at what happens to these characters but a frustrating sense of limitation and lack of will that the narrator necessitates. Ultimately, this tale is a part of a longer trilogy so it serves ably in that capacity. I am struck that the novel seems to be as much about the nature of artistic endeavor as it is about any science fiction or supernatural goings-on. There is some wonderfully lyrical writing about the natural world here that enthralls even if the fuzziness of plot points doesn't. You should be in it for the immersive experience of it's enveloping, almost cloying setting and not for the whodunit plot that underpins the novel.
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@antiquarianjack completed #annihilation... on 2021-02-10