Annihilation

By Jeff VanderMeer
Published on February 4th 2014
Published by FSG Originals
Source: Purchased
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.
I bought this book at random a while ago because it sounded interesting, and wound up reading it in a mini book club with another friend.  This is pretty much what I texted my friend every time something happened in Annihilation: 

THIS BOOK IS SO WEIRD!!!

Seriously. Like, I have no other words to describe it than weird.  So weird. So very weird.

This book is kind of sci-fi, kind of mystery, kind of dystopian... it's a lot of things mashed together and it works.  None of its characters get names -- just titles.  You spend the entire book having no idea what the heck is going on. Things are only slightly more clear by the end. But only slightly.

VanderMeer excels at writing things that are weird and that kind of make you shudder. You'll think twice before brushing against a wall in the dark after reading this one.  It's not scary -- at least, it wasn't to me -- but it's definitely unsettling.  This is a story of biology and evolution run amok, with maybe some hints of the otherworldly.

Annihilation is the kind of book I want to take my time with.  The way that he writes is lyrical and packed with detail, so I didn't want to rush.  As the story goes on, we learn more and more about the biologist and what makes her not precisely a reliable narrator.  As she opened up more about herself, there was a lot there that I could identify with - she became more human as the story goes on, which, well, once you've read the book, I want you to come back here and talk with me about that, alright?

As an aside: how awesome is it that there is only one man who actually plays a role in this story? I'm not going to give away who he is, but, yeah, one dude.  Our other characters are all scientists who are women, and it makes me happy.

I am really looking forward to reading the other two books in this series and hopefully unlocking some more answers about Area X. This book -- with its weirdness and its lack of answers and its sometimes uneven pace -- isn't for everyone.  But if you're into things that are just sort of undefinably weird, this book should be right up your alley.



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