Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
(Southern Reach Trilogy #1)
Publisher: FSG Originals. February 4, 2014
Genre: Science Fiction
First Line: The tower, which was not supposed to be there, plunges into the earth in a place just before the black pine forest begins to give way to swamp and them the reeds and wind-gnarled trees of the marsh flats.
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I have been telling everyone I know to read this book for the past two months. Oh my god. This is my kind of book. Basically, it fills the hole LOST left in my heart. Minus the ending, yeah yeah, everyone likes to complain about that. But Annihilation is only the first in the Southern Reach Trilogy, so it can only really be compared to the beginning of LOST anyway. What I'm trying to say is this book is that brand of weird inexplicable discovery adventure. And it is just as thrilling.
Maybe I should slow down. What is this book even about? An excellent, hard to answer question. It's about a place called Area X. There's not a lot known about this place, but it's this crazy jungle that's cut off from the rest of civilization. Nobody really seems to know what goes on there and the only way to get in is through a government agency's (the Southern Reach) mysterious "border." Eleven expeditions had previously been sent in to explore the mysteries of Area X, but they all either killed themselves, killed each other, or somehow crossed the border and returned to their homes only to die of cancer shortly after. Strange things are clearly going on in this area, as the menacing name would suggest.
This is a story about the twelfth expedition. It is a group of four women who only go by the names the Biologist (she might as well be called the Main Character), the Anthropologist, the Surveyor, and the Psychologist. They all basically know nothing about the area or what they're really supposed to be doing there. The Psychologist has to put them under hypnosis so they don't like die of fright or something when they go over the weird border. They get there and everything's pretty jungle-y and typical until they find a big stone mound with stairs tunneling into the earth. They were given maps, but that wasn't on there. So they go down these stairs, a great idea, and they find words on the wall. Growing in fungus. THAT'S WEIRD. The Biologist gets a little too close and sniffs a fungus spore. But that makes her immune to hypnosis, which apparently the Psychologist continues to use on them.
The Psychologist says some hypnosis trigger word and the rest get knocked out, so the Biologist has to fake it. She lists a bunch of commands and in them is something along the lines of "you will continue to believe the mound is made of stone." WHAT? WHAT EVEN? That is only in the first 20 pages or so. It gets weirder. More inexplicable things happen. It gets scarier. And you get more and more engrossed in the story. It flips between Area X and occasionally the Biologist before her expedition. I won't say any more.
I raced through this book. My own apartment was suddenly very scary at night. This book created a subtle, intense atmosphere that stayed with me and left me hyper-aware of my surroundings. I really love when stories or movies focus on environments. I feel like they can really set the tone for a plot like very little else can. Sometimes the writing felt a little dry, or vaguely scientific (not in vocabulary or content, but in style) perhaps because the narrator was a biologist. But other than that, I really loved this book. It keeps you wondering what's really going on. What is the Tower? What is the Southern Reach? What the hell is going on in Area X? And how much do these expedition members really know?
I'm pretty confident this won't be a trilogy that disappoints. I can't wait to get my hands on that last book.
I think I'm in love.
"The beauty of it cannot be understood, either, and when you see beauty in desolation it changes something inside you. Desolation tries to colonize you"
"If funding for a project ran out, or the area we studied was suddenly bought for development, I never returned. There are certain kinds of deaths that one should not be expected to relive, certain kinds of connections so deep that when they are broken you feel the snap of the link inside you."
"I walked as quietly as possible through the ruined village under just a sliver of moon, unwilling to risk my flashlight. The shapes in the exposed remains of rooms had gathered a darkness about them that stood out against the night and in their utter stillness I sensed an unnerving suggestion of movement."
Outlandishness Rating: 9/10
Need I explain myself? So much weird. It is almost a constant barrage of strange new things that they are finding or learning. And rarely does any of it get explained (in this book at least). I would say more, but I can't! If you're looking for the outlandish, here it is. Read this book already!