& Review: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer.  Publisher: FSG Originals

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer.
Publisher: FSG Originals

“That’s how the madness of the world tries to colonize you: from the outside in, forcing you to live in its reality.”

The Book Itself: It’s eye-catching, but this cover actually makes the cover kind of hard to read! A couple of friends asked “What are you reading” when I pulled this out and I showed them…and they still couldn’t tell 😛 It’s appropriately moody and dramatic, all while being simple, graphic, awesome!

My Review: “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”

This is the arc of this book: weird, weirder, weirdest…end. And I’m going to say it now: don’t expect the answers you’re looking for. Why are their freaky animals everywhere? What the hell is with the spores? Why does she feel like she’s glowing all the time? What the hell is happening here?! At best, you get speculations about it all. Hopefully the rest of the series gets us more than guesswork.

The story does have one thing, and that is mood. It is eerie up to its gills, and the tension you feel and the trepidation that winds you up towards the end is well crafted. I do have a more than small-ish issue with why on Earth someone would sign up for a mission like this when every single other person in eleven previous missions has died. But who am I to point out blatant absurdism. Suspend my belief, right? Alright.

You never get names for these women trapped in the jungle, which oddly I liked. It ramped up the eerie-ness. They are nameless, without identity. The situation, the setting wipes the characters clean of identifying features. It swallows them whole.

But there is a flipside to this. All characters here are scientific and analytical. They discuss things. They bring their fields into the conversation, not their personal backgrounds. Which means we don’t get to know them too personally. Not even our protagonist. Even she is too aloof. Even the several glimpses into her past don’t get us too close to her. You do get the sense that there is great pain there, and her work is one great big mask for that. But her main character flaw is the need and deep-rooted desire to be alone with her own thoughts. Which makes for a sometimes standoffish narrator.

I’m going to continue the series for the sheer head-scratchery that is this mysterious Area X. Why any more expeditions would want to get in there baffles me, but hey, there are two more books so…someone’s gotta do it.

My Grade: C

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