Annihilation

Annihilation_by_jeff_vandermeerBooks in the science-fiction genre are a hit or a miss with me. I find either these books are too saturated with McGuffins or stories too epic and fantastical that plot or character elements go by the wayside, which is why Annihilation pleasantly surprised me in more than one way.

We are introduced to a team of four women that make up the 12th expedition into a place known as Area X, a mysterious, uncultivated region occupied with anomalies. Previous expeditions have ended strangely with members of each expedition succumbing to different illnesses and fates such as aggression, injuries, trauma, cancer, and death. The members of the 12th expedition are designated names according to their occupation: Surveyor, Psychologist, Anthropologist, and the Biologist, who narrates the story based on her observations and occurrences in Area X, and she also reflects on her life with her husband, who was a member of the last expedition who died under mysterious circumstances as well. As the team explores more of Area X, the team’s behavior change, showing increased signs of aggression, anxiety, and paranoia. The Biologist, however, seems unaffected. As she learns more about Area X, more questions start to surface, which no one seems to want to ask despite all the previous failed missions. What’s the real reason behind coming to Area X at all?

What I found surprising about this story was its telling of a complex, unknown world in a way that doesn’t completely alienate us. There’s no question that Area X is bizarre, but it’s not like we are dropped in a place that requires a new language to understand everything. Buildings and objects resemble things in our post-modern world, which makes me speculate that Area X was once connected to our continent until such-and-such event happened, and humankind decides to wall up Area X to isolate it from the general public (since, you know, walls solve everything.)

The external environment acts as a plot agent that generates the conflict and characters’ actions. The characters’ development is contingent on Area X. I would argue that this form of plot narrative can hinder a characters’ progression only because the characters act as filters sifting through the odds and ends of the world’s landscape. Because the protagonist is a biologist though, the narration about the world coincides with the progression of her character, which works really well. In a team of four, the Biologist receives the most attention, considering she’s the protagonist narrating the story, which allows us to learn of her back story and varying thoughts. The other three members don’t receive the same attention and turn stale midway through the story (i.e. they outlive their purpose.)

Admittedly the Biologist is not a character everyone will like or relate to. She’s considerably cold and distant towards her team members. She views life through a scientific lens, even though her narration doesn’t completely reflect this. It’s surprising the way she changes, not into someone warm and gooey, but in the way she perceives the world and how she’s relearning the events from her past. Her relationship with her husband is complicated, not for martial reasons but for introspective reasons. While she continues to observe the outside world, she internalizes what she sees and tries to provide an objective view of things that sometimes differ from her responses. I grew to respect this character, and I enjoyed watching her change. She herself takes notice of this change and laments that there’s no going back. I also found that the book specifically heralds this transition in her character, having one of the characters, the Psychologist, describe her as if she was brighter or on fire.

The writing style mirrors the protagonist’s analytic mind and incorporates a lyrical narrative style that I imagine is difficult to do in a science-fiction, genre book. I was impressed at the descriptions, which is what made reading this easier than reading other science-fiction works that are meticulously concerned with accuracy and sometimes overwhelming attentive to detail—needing to tell us everything—that it interferes with the writing style.

The conclusion loosely ties everything together leaving things purposely vague to be explored in the other two books. Annihilation is a part of the Southern Reach Trilogy. I wasn’t aware it was a part of series until after I started reading it. . .

Consider this a benefit in reading reviews prior to reading a book.

With that said, Annihilation generates enough interest to want to read the second book. Annihilation ends up asking more questions instead of answering some of the mystery it’s laid out for us. I’m conflicted in some ways because Annihilation by itself is flimsy and cannot stand on its own, but I really do want to know more. Individual books in trilogies must wrap up their stories, even if the overarching story is a continuation. I don’t need a book to give me all the answers, but there’s so much said in Annihilation that very little is actually revealed.

Rating: 3.3

Lovely Book News:

The sequels for this book have been released!
Book Two: Authority
Book Three: Acceptance

Eventually I will be picking these books up to review, but this was a relief to find and odd since I usually don’t see books in a series released within in a short amount of time. This is also the first book I’ve read by Jeff VanderMeer, and if his books are published this quickly then that’s more awesomeness for everyone.

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