Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
Series: Southern Reach #1
Published: 4 February 2014 by FSG Originals
Genres: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Source: Publisher for review
Find it: Goodreads ~ Amazon
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; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died 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 months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.
This is the twelfth expedition.
Their 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 and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to 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.
How to talk about this book? It’s a little bit of crazy, a lot of WTF and a whole bunch of confusion is probably the most accurate way I can begin. Basically, Annihilation is the journey of the unnamed biologist who is part of the twelfth expedition to Area X – an isolated, mysterious area that Southern Reach (which I understand to be some type of government agency) sends expeditions to on a regular basis to learn its secrets. In theory this all sounds pretty straightforward, but reading it is anything but.
The narrator isn’t named, but her life is so consumed by her job, that it doesn’t feel particularly strange not to know her name. However, there is a lot of information about her life before the expedition, her relationship with her husband, her fascination with other worlds around her, and some rather candid introspection into her own character. She’s particularly comfortable with herself, which is rather refreshing for a main character.
And then there’s the crazy, WTF and confusion. At first introduction, Area X seems quite straightforward, but quickly escalates into some seriously weird stuff. I’ve always struggled with the super-strange in fiction, but I really enjoyed what Vandermeer does with Annihilation – it’s all a bit strange and I won’t even pretend that I understood, nor spent large chunks of time trying to decipher exactly what was going on, but nevertheless I found it strangely addictive.
I have absolutely no clue who I’d recommend this book to, because really it’s quite hard for me to put it in a nice little box and say ‘yes, this person would LOVE it’ or ‘this person would HATE it’. It’s one of those books that’s very hard to predict who it would appeal to, and why. And I’m keeping this all rather short and quite generic, but I was totally sucked in…even whilst I was scratching my head and trying to figure out exactly what was happening.