annihilation

Annihilation – Jeff Vandermeer

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“So we just stood there, and although I could feel the heat and weight of him beside me, the steady sound of his breathing, we were living apart.”

” ‘I hope it’s only about six feet deep so we can continue mapping,’ the surveyor said, trying to be lighthearted but then she, and we, all recognized the term ‘six feet under’ ghosting through her syntax and a silence settled over us.”

“… some questions will ruin you if you are denied the answer long enough.”

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer is the first book in The Southern Reach Trilogy, and is set to have all three installments published this year. While it’s kind of nice not to have to wait years and years between books, (cough George R. R. Martin cough) I’m not entirely sure I will read the sequel that is scheduled to come out next month. I was really disappointed that I didn’t like this book as much as it seems everyone else has… I mean, check out the publisher’s synopsis and tell me this doesn’t sound like one of the coolest books ever:

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 LOVED the idea that the entire expedition was being handled by women, and was very excited to sit down and enjoy a magical and mysterious escape for a few hours. Unfortunately I found this book so hard to get through that a few hours turned into many, many hours, and it was hard for me to finish. While the story is intriguing, and the writing is beautiful, I found it difficult to become invested in the characters, and their outcome; in fact I just didn’t really care. This is probably because it is written as more of a factual scientific report than a character driven novel, which I’m sure has an overall purpose to the trilogy, but was difficult to enjoy when I’m not yet sure what the larger picture is.

Actually, as I reflect on the story, characters, and writing style more, it really feels as though this would make an excellent script. I could very easily see this being adapted and doing well as a film. Think of an all female cast version of Alien, meets The Beach, meets… The Road. Yeah, try and wrap your head around that one. You have to admit it sounds pretty cool when it’s pitched as that.

With so many positive reviews of this one, I can’t help but feel like I missed something. You know what? Maybe I will give the sequel a chance to win me over. But until I’ve finished that and can, ideally, recommend the series, I would say to hold off on this one. Time is a very precious commodity, (as is discussed in this story) and I would much prefer any of my readers to become invested in something I can truly stand behind.

Until next time,

The OMPP