2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 29 May 2014
I'm always on the search for a book that will drag me into it's plot and eventually become part of it's environment. Annihilation certainly does this smoothly right from the start. Even before researching the location that it is based on, I had a colourful (or maybe dark) vision in my mind of The Southern Reach.
The deep exploration of the characters minds and the ever deeper plunge into the depths of the protagonist, is pretty mind blowing. The skill of stopping the story and taking snapshots of the histories and memories of our hero.
I could hear the creature howling from across the land, the face in the ground and the rotting notebooks so so vivid.
Deep, dark, eerie and surreal just what the doctor ordered.
I look forward to the next.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Unsettling and atmospheric, Annihilation sets a mysterious scene for the Southern Reach trilogy. It’s a sparse, short but self-contained story set in the near future, about one expedition into a quarantined zone where something… ‘other’ has established itself. All previous investigations have ended badly. Things don’t exactly go swimmingly this time, either.
There’s precious little exposition or traditional story-telling here and we’re deliberately distanced from the expedition team. We don’t learn their names – people are defined by their roles, The Geologist or The Psychologist – and as the story is told from the perspective of just one of them we only understand her increasingly warped point of view. And what a strange perspective it is: the creepy abandoned camp, the oppressive tower, the weird writing on the walls, the paranoia and the conflicts, the… things in the depths. It’s like Lovecraft meets Lost.
I was also distinctly reminded of the mystery of the lost colony of Roanoke; there’s even echoes of the mysterious ‘croatoan’ message in the bizarre writing in Annihilation. But author VanderMeer has built a much bigger universe than one which simply reflects old legends. In Annihilation he also examines the isolation of the loner and the gulf in communication between a couple – one which is only bridged by the most extremes circumstances which they separately encounter in the Southern Reach. This isn’t just spooky speculative fantasy: it’s all about the failure to engage. The protagonist endures an instant of mismatched communication with the ‘other’… after a lifetime of failing to communicate with the people around her. It’s chilling, in so many ways.
If you expect your stories to finish with a definitive conclusion and some firm answers, then you won’t find Annihilation to be a fulfilling read. It opens to door to unsettling oddness, almost painful ambiguity and plenty of unanswered questions. The writing is precise and accomplished – at the end I was pretty sure I’d experienced exactly what the author intended. But those feelings were far from pleasant.
I don't think I could describe in any coherent way this book, it is crazy, good crazy but like the synopis above says JJ Abrams would be right at home here.
This won't be a long review as once I finished reading this book I was a bit WTF just happened. Seriously I'm still not entirely sure but I do know it scared me, it intrigued me and it creeped me out, OMG it seriously gave me the shivers.
An expedition is sent in to Area X, all women, all nameless, they are scientists and they are set to investigate this strange wilderness where eleven expeditions have been before and not all of them have come back.
To get in to Area X they have to hypnotised, on arrival they discover a lush green area, the same area they have learnt about and they set about surveying it and this when the creepy factor kicks in.
Our narrator, the biologist, and her colleagues discover what she calls a tower, it is actually a tunnel as her snarky co-workers point out. Whatever it is,it is strange and dark, and deep. What will they do? Go in to it of course!
The tunnel/tower is just plain freaky, it is described as breathing and the discovery of organic writing on the wall that seems to circle down the tower gets them intrigued (and me getting increasingly WTF'd).
Of course being scientists they need to explore further, but things get stranger still, our narrator discovers that they are being hypnotised by the psychologist and she is immune to it, things get even stranger when one by one they vanish to turn up dead.
What the hell is the place they are in?
I'm still not entirely sure, but I love crazy, weird things so this was great but strange at the same time.
You really need to read it, my review will not do it justice , it is exquisite in its craziness. A must read!
Thanks to 4th Estate for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.
on 20 June 2015
This is quite an intellectually ambitious book. To give a bit of context to that: The Goblin Emperor, for example, is very enjoyable because it is largely traditional in plot and character, and part of the enjoyment comes from recognizing the common elements underlying the 'new' world. Annihilation does not give those kind of pleasures (whether the next volumes in the trilogy do ...). Instead it works harder in making the formal elements of the novel a part of our understanding of the characters' -- mainly the protagonist's -- experience of the mysterious Area X. To keep our attention it relies on its ability to created powerful moments, often through rather lyrical passages of description; at the end of the novel, the reader is likely to remember most a series of images, which are deliberately meant to be haunting. In some ways, in fact, Annihilation is rather reminiscent of some of Tarkovsky's films (Solaris, Stalker) -- which may be to say that the common element is Lem. Like Lem it is very interested in different forms of intelligence, on how such might understand one another; into that it mixes notions of the Uncanny, of the structuring powers of binary oppositions, of the self and Other. Happily, it manages to animate (or humanize?) its intellectual concerns about the place and status of consciousness, the nature of nature etc, largely by placing the protagonist's relationship with Area X alongside her relationship with her vanished or lost husband. The novel's title is a good one; but also one that threatens many of the novel's traditional pleasures -- if your plot and characters fall apart ... So lyricism is, in one sense, all that is left VanderMeer, and in sustaining the novel around a series of lyrical passages he goes far beyond the usual workaday prose of much science-fiction and fantasy. Annihilation won the Nebula Award (2015)
A stunning psychological fantasy/sci-fi thriller, this book is almost mesmerising. Don't start reading if you need to get something else done in a hurry. It's not a long novel, but you won't want to stop reading until you get to the end. There are two sequels planned for this year and it'll be one of those rare occasions where I shell out to buy it at full price rather than wait. It is narrated by 'the biologist' (none of the characters are named more than by their job title), a member of a four woman expedition to explore the mysterious 'area X'. This is a tropical region on earth that has somehow become cut off as a result of an unnamed 'event', probably linked to a nearby military installation. Previous expeditions have come to sticky ends.
The novel describes the journey of the team through Area X and what they find there. It's one of those atmospheric novels that gets right under your skin and makes you jump at loud noises. It is very well paced and ratchets up the tension at a good rate, gradually releasing more and more information, but leaving plenty of mystery for the sequels. That said, it's not one of those frustrating books that gives you so few answers you feel cheated - whilst there are plenty of unknowns, you feel like you've been rewarded for your reading effort with some more facts. I would have described some elements - the tropical setting and the bizarre, hallucinatory episodes - as reminding me of the TV show 'Lost'. However this is a much more cohesive story than that and has a tighter narrative arc. 'Lost' did leave me frustrated when I felt that the story stopped making sense and perhaps there weren't any answers out there to begin with, but I didn't find that with 'Annihilation'. I happened to read it in the tropics, on my own in a jungle, which definitely added to its impact but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it! It made me a bit too jumpy in real life!
If you enjoy science fiction, fantasy, thrillers or action novels, this should be top of your to-read list. It's a very fine example of all four genres. It's also of such high quality that I hope more general readers will give it go too - it's a strong work of literature, so don't be put off by any 'labels' assigned to it. The most important label to read is that it's good!
on 18 February 2015
Jeff VanderMeer offers readers vivid, hallucinatory prose in "Annihilation", the first volume of his "Area X: The Southern Reach" trilogy, which promises to be a sterling example of what he has dubbed as "weird fiction". "Annihilation" reads like H. P. Lovecraft meets J. G. Ballard, in chronicling how the latest expedition into Area X has culminated into mayhem, tragedy and disaster, following the dismal fates of its predecessors. VanderMeer's prose is not merely hallucinatory, but is also unsettling in its uncanny ability into transforming the mundane into something mysterious and horrific, and as such, offers readers something so unexpectedly out of the ordinary that it will leave them spellbound. Twelve expeditions have sought to conquer the terra incognito that is "Area X", especially after the first reported it possessed an "Edenic" landscape. The second ended in mass suicide; the third in mass murder as its participants unleashed gunfire at each other, and the eleventh in the cancer deaths of its members soon after its return. Our protagonist, the biologist - whose late husband participated in the 11th expedition - is part of the 12th expedition comprising of four women; herself, an anthropologist, a surveyor and a psychologist. They venture into Area X expecting the unexpected and receive it, ensnared not only within the terrifyingly familiar, but different, wilderness of the region itself, but by their personal secrets, threatening to bestow calamity upon yet another "Area X" expedition. VanderMeer has written a psychologically intense thriller replete in horror and science fiction tropes that will remind readers of Lovecraft, Ballard and Arthur C. Clarke, and one that will dazzle readers by the somber, almost macabre, atmosphere he projects within his beautifully wrought, almost poetic, prose. Without a doubt "Annihilation" and its "Area X: Southern Reach Trilogy" sequels are among the most notable works of fiction published in 2014, and ones destined to be remembered as a major literary landmark of contemporary Anglo-American speculative fiction.
on 16 February 2015
It's not often that I get to the end of a book and don't know what to think or feel. Jeff VanderMeer's Annihilation, the first part of his Southern Reach Trilogy, achieves that, in a good way.
Annihilation is a tricky book to describe. It's probably fantasy, maybe horror, with what looks like a contemporary setting. Narratively, it's the story of an expedition into the mysterious Area X, a part of the world where the normal rules of reality don't apply. Sent to explore the area, the expedition has its own strange rules meant to combat the madness of Area X. Except those rules are themselves disorienting and dehumanising.
The story is told through the unreliable narrative of the expedition's nameless biologist, and portrays her response to the bewildering nature of Area X and the disintegration of the people around her. Or possibly her descent into madness. Or possibly both. It's hard to tell. And along the way, she gets to grips with her own identity and sense of purpose.
I'm told that H P Lovecraft's horror writing created stories in which even smart people could convincingly be over-whelmed and destroyed, because the forces arrayed against them were just too much for anyone to cope with. That's how Annihilation feels. The biologist is smart, but from the outset Area X is so strange that there's a real tension around whether she can survive the expedition, and how it will affect her.
If you watched any of the TV show Lost, you'll probably remember hitting a point where you realised that the island just didn't make sense, and probably never would. Annihilation is like that, except that it feels like the lack of coherence is a deliberate ploy by the author, not the result of a TV production throwing madness at the screen and praying that it would make sense.
To misquote a speech from one of my favourite films, feeling messed up doesn't mean that you're messed up. Feeling messed up is a sane response to a messed up situation. That's what this book portrays, and it evokes it incredibly well.
Annihilation isn't hard work in the sense of being dense or massively long. But its strange natures requires a willingness to let go of your assumptions about how a story will pan out and how a fantastical world will be presented. It's fascinating. It's dark. It's something I want more of, and I don't even know why. If you like weird things, then give it a go.
““Annihilation!”, she shrieked at me, flailing in confusion.”
This is a very unusual and intriguing little book; at fewer than 200 pages it’s not a big read, but it is the first in a trilogy called The Southern Reach Trilogy, so sets up for more action in the remaining two volumes. It reminded me of one of those old movies, where the intrepid explorers are moving through steaming tropical jungles, with strange movements in the trees just out of sight, and the sound of animals in the distance; mingled with an episode of Lost. You’re pretty sure there’s something strange going on, and the narrator thinks so too; but nobody has any real idea just what might be around the next corner.
Area X remains unexplored to any degree, even though eleven expeditions have been sent into the area. Each expedition has been made up of various specialist members, and every expedition has attempted to approach Area X differently in some respect, hoping to unlock its secrets. But so far, every expedition has failed. This is the story of the twelfth expedition. Four nameless members of the expedition are trained and moved into Area X: a biologist, a psychologist, a surveyor and an anthropologist. Their names, and their identities are left behind with their past lives; moving into Area X requires a specific mindset and they can’t afford to take emotional baggage with them. But moving into the regions of Area X is not as easy as they might have thought, even given the previous expeditions’ fates. What is in the tunnel? What has happened at the lighthouse? What are the strange noises, and what is happening to the expedition members?
Narrated by the nameless biologist, we read of growing concerns as the expedition attempt to fulfil their brief; when we leave the biologist at the end of this first part of the story, there is great anticipation as to what may happen in the second volume (due in May 2014) and the third (due in September 2014). I can’t wait to see where this trilogy is going; this is great stuff – unusual, clever, intriguing, and jolly exciting.
The first part of Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy manages to present a vaguely unsettling new spin on what amounts to a familiar SF situation where a group of explorers face unknown dangers in a hostile alien environment. Just to raise the tensions, the volunteers are aware that they are not the first explorers of Area X either. This, we are told, is the twelfth expedition (but you'll soon find that you can take nothing as written in Annihilation), the previous expeditions having ended in rather strange and inconclusive terms, with scientists and investigators wandering off, disappearing or committing suicide. What's strange about the alien environment of Area X however is that it appears to be an area of natural wilderness on Earth.
In fact, Annihilation initially bears more than a passing resemblance to Andrei Tarkovsky's remarkable and influential film Stalker, but only as a jumping off point. In contrast to Tarkovsky's poetical allegory there seems to be a more conscious attempt to tie events to a meaningful new view of reality, or perhaps to a psychological reality. That, however, is hard to determine from the first part of the trilogy alone. Like "the Zone" in Stalker, the four explorers who pass over the vague boundary into Area X don't have names, just professions, the team consisting of a biologist (the narrator), an anthropologist, a surveyor and a psychologist. We are led to believe very early on that the narrator will be the only surviving member of the team. Things evidently are going to go very wrong.
The dangers of Area X aren't immediately apparent. It has been mapped before, and resembles a regular piece of Earth coastline, one that is dominated by a lighthouse. The twelfth expedition however quickly discover an unusual structure not previously mapped, a wide tunnel that goes deep underground, which the biologist nonetheless feels compelled to describe as a "Tower". What lies within is best left for the reader to discover, but suffice to say that it would in any case be difficult to describe and that it does indeed pose a deadly threat to the explorers. Even what that threat constitutes however is difficult to pin down, since the biologist's testimony - like everything else in Area X - is somewhat compromised by the fact that nothing that happens in this strange environment can be taken at face value.
The difficulty of pinning down what Annihilation is about might present a problem for some readers. There's clearly an allegorical side to the work and distinct parallels can be drawn to the few pieces of information (facts are hard to determine) we have about the biologist's life and personality, her interest in the study of life in tide pools in particular matching up with some aspects of what is discovered in Area X. What is clear however is that Annihilation works equally well as a tense SF adventure in its own right - slight in page-count but full of incident and ideas - while also being a fascinating opening to the first part of what looks like being a compelling trilogy.
Where (or what) is Area X?
Is it a geographical region malignly altered by some unspecified disaster? Is it some sort of alternative reality, a state of mind, perhaps, or another dimension of being? The world described in Vandermeer’s novel is eerily creepy, reminiscent of a dream world where no matter what you do, you cannot escape the grip of a claustrophobic inevitability governed by unfamiliar rules. One thing seems certain – it changes those who come in contact with it, but the nature of the change remains as yet unclear.
Who is the Biologist (or what has she become by the end of the novel)? Why does she survive when few others have? Or does she survive, this un-named observer of eco-systems, known to her husband as Ghost-Bird? Why does she insist on calling a tunnel delving deep into the ground a tower, when an actual tower, the Lighthouse, is in plain view?
What (or how) is the Crawler in the ‘Tower’? How does this unfathomable creature relate to the last Keeper of the Lighthouse? And what on Area X has happened there?
What (or who) is the Southern Reach? Why do ‘they’ keep sending expeditions to research Area X? Why do ‘they’ lie about the number of expeditions and falsify information and limit the expedition’s kit and weaponry to antiquated models? Why do they use hypnotism to control the volunteers? And where (or what) is the border through which the volunteers must pass? Could the volunteers be simply a sacrificial offering, the ‘Tower’ a labyrinth, the Crawler a Minotaur?
You will not find the answers to any of the above questions in this deeply unsettling and thought-provoking short novel, which functions, I think, as a complex teaser for the two sequels to come. If you enjoy puzzles and involved leaps of fantastic imagination, you will enjoy this.