Author: Jeff Vandermeer
Cover Artist: Abby Kagan
Release Date: February 4th 2014
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (FSG) Originals
Series: Southern Reach # 1
Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation, as told through the lens of a female biologist protagonist, is one of the most beautifully nightmarish books I’ve ever read.
The devil is in the details in book one of the Southern Reach Trilogy, and what better way to discover the flora and fauna of a mysterious land than from the observations of an expert in this field of study. At first, things go more or less according to plan. The biologist spends most of her time jotting down notes in her journal and collecting biological specimens for study.
“I leaned in closer, like a fool, like someone who had not had months of survival training or ever studied biology. Someone tricked into thinking that words should be read.” – Jeff Vandermeer, Annihilation
When the protagonist herself begins to doubt her understanding of Area X: of the monstrous groaning every dusk; of the creature slithering through the reeds at night; of the mysterious tower burrowing inexplicably underground, of the living words on the wall formed by some unknown moss or fungus, her building terror is palpable.
Adding paranoia to what the video above describes as a “the more they learn, the less they really know” situation is the biologist’s distrusting her companions. She believes someone in the group is hiding the truth, and this deception may have dangerous, even fatal consequences for the group. Unfortunately, she isn’t as paranoid as she thinks. Some truths, more half-truths, and even more questions with no answers—a barrage of inexplicable phenomena begins overwhelming her.
“The effect of this cannot be understood without being there. 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.” – Jeff Vandermeer, Annihilation
By the second half of the novel, the biologist’s narrative turns so bizarre and otherworldly. I felt like I was immersing myself in her living nightmare, and could feel her losing grip on reality. There were whole sections of text where I had absolutely no idea what was happening anymore, even after several rereads. I didn’t know whether to stop and try making sense of things, or just move on and finish the novel. Unfortunately, the biologist had no time to stop and reflect on her situation.
Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer has readers divided. Some readers praise the novel for immersing them in this nightmarish, detached, psychological reading experience, while others dismiss it for being deceptively deceiving and alienating gobbledygook.
“Nothing that lived and breathed was truly objective—even in a vacuum, even if all that possessed the brain was a self-immolating desire for the truth.” – Jeff Vandermeer, Annihilation
I agree with the first group of readers and look forward to reading the whole Southern Reach Trilogy. But readers who belong to the second group might want to avoid the second and third novels as they are much thicker and presumably even weirder than the first. Cheers to the new weird in science fiction!