A team of four women are are set out to explore a mysterious region known as Area X. By all accounts, they are the twelfth group to journey into the bizarre amazon-like territory. All of the previous expeditions have ended badly, marked by murders, suicides, disappearances, and, in the case of the eleventh, the inexplicable return of its members, sickened and psychologically broken by their experience. Our narrator, a biologist, apprises us of her team’s progress as they venture deep into Area X, making strange discoveries and unearthing hidden agendas, all the while dogged by a creeping suspicion that all is not right…
This book is admittedly weird but, surprisingly, actually the most grounded of author Jeff VanderMeer’s considerably weirder body of work. It’s a seemingly straightforward tale rooted in science and exploration that, slowly but surely, veers into the dreaded unknown. No mushroom people or squid-like creatures plague the pages of this book which, nevertheless, possesses an undercurrent of simmering horror reminiscent of Lovecraft. It also reminded me of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves with its slow burn mounting sense of foreboding. Or, for more t.v.-centered readers, it feels like a deeper, more nuanced, intellectually-provocative version of Lost.
As we bounce back and forth between the present and the past, gaining insight through our protagonist’s journal entries – a narrative device that, unlike most first person accounts, offers no assurances regarding the fate of our narrator – the secrets of Area X open up to us, offering glimpses but no real answers. Though if the answers ultimately do come, one can’t help but wonder: Will we be able to understand them or will we, like our narrator in one of the book’s most brilliant passages, be so overcome by its otherworldly nature that we’ll be incapable of processing the truth?
Regardless of where we end up, Annihilation is a hell of a ride. VanderMeer does a masterful job of gradually immersing us in this uncanny environment, every eerie encounter and bewildering find drawing us in ever further until, by the time our protagonist makes her final descent into “the tower”, we find ourselves equally ensnared, unable to turn back and unsee what we have witnessed, unlearn what we’ve been told. With the reminder that the tiny microcosms that thrive under our noses, taken for granted and largely ignored, may hold the key to some vaster enigma far beyond our imaginings, can we ever look at them the same way again? Our reality is teeming with potential alien incursions and the Devil may well be in the details.
I’m a big fan of Jeff VanderMeer and liked this book a lot. What kept me from loving this book is the fact that, despite being a self-contained chapter of a larger work, it’s incomplete. Granted, the second and third volumes of the Southern Reach Trilogy will follow in fairly quick succession (book #2 comes out in May and book #3 in September), but I don’t understand why all three weren’t simply released as a single volume. Okay, scratch that. I understand why. It’s more lucrative for the publisher. Still, it’s annoying, especially given that I’m in the process of reading another book, The Weird, edited by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer, that clocks in at a hefty 1100 pages. And those oversized pages hold twice the print of a regular page so the final tally is closer to 2200! And yet HarperCollins felt the need to make this a trilogy?
Overall, an engaging and enjoyable read. I look forward to the second book, Authority, with equal measures eagerness, curiosity, and annoyance.
Let the discussion begin!
Yes, this one was mine and, upon review, I think it takes a while to get going. But, once they’re in the wraith lab – What fun!
Akemi liked the episode – less for the story itself and more for the surprise highlights like…the shocking reveal of actor Mark Dacascos in the tease: “Wha! Chairman!” And she was downright delighted with his performance: “I’ve never heard the Chairman talk so much.” In truth, Mark is a lot more soft-spoken the chatty Tyre. Also a lot more laid-back. And much less likely to ambush you in deserted forest.
Another highlight for Akemi was dog-related = Woolsey’s emotional reflection on his beloved yorkie, lost in the divorce.
And, of course, the sword fight at episode’s end (compliments of longtime Atlantis stunt coordinator James “Bam Bam” Bamford) mightily impressed.
On the flipside, she was saddened by Tyre’s death (“Very sad because I liked the chairman”), found some of the dim lighting in certain scenes annoying (“I couldn’t see very well the getting old getting young parts!”), and had a difficult time understanding what was going on at first (“Chotto confusing because I skipped so many episodes. My fault.”).
Ultimately, Tyre reminded Akemi of another character in another Stargate series: “Chairman remind me of Chef’s [Lou Diamond Phillip’s] character a bit. Gets brainwashed, now clear but pretending to be brainwashed. Chef stole idea from Chairman.” Doubtful, but an interesting take nevertheless.
Plug in your top-loading VCR’s and put your video cassette on standby. Tonight, we watch: The Daedalus Variations!