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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 31 May 2016
Four women, a biologist, anthropologist, surveyor and psychologist, are sent to investigate a mysterious island. Area X. An island of an apparently beautiful nature, which has unusual effects on adventurers. Scientists before our four ladies have ventured into the depths of Area X before. They are all dead. Some turned on each other and murdered their team, some committed suicide and others died of aggressive cancers shortly after their return. The mystery of Area X still manages to intrigue scientists willing to take a risk and investigate and so we follow them, through the eyes of the biologist, as they trek across the island.

This author world builds fantastically. I was sucked into the story straight away and immediately I became as curious as the scientists about the nature of X and the crazy things happening there.

I also think the concept is brilliant. A mysterious island, crazy changes to the environment, unknown creatures and nature within and some potential for unusual personality changes in the group - it's easy to sell to a curious reader.

Sadly, the things I liked stopped there. The characters are so superficial. The main character is conveyed as a very clinical thinker, and the writing translates as such. Rather than having a quirky nature or way of speaking this makes for a systematic, boring read without any emotional depth. I'm not looking for a book full of feelings, not at all, but the narrating biologist has no personality or opinions whatsoever that aren't fact based. Very dull.

The author tries to combat the one dimensional characters by providing a possible villain. But this character was equally unexciting to read about because she was so transparent - this is meant to be a mysterious island, it would have been better if the characters were complex enough to carry this off and keep the reader hooked.

This could have been a fantastic novel; the concept is so exciting. But a dull execution through boring characters with no connection for me just made it fall flat; this definitely became one of those difficult reads whereby you find yourself measuring how far you have left to get through because you're too stubborn to quit!
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 15 September 2014
`Annihilation' is the tantalising, ambiguous curtain-raiser to Jeff VanderMeer's 'Southern Reach' trilogy. It functions - almost - as a stand-alone novel in its own right. However, it's really just the appetiser in a much larger three-course-meal. It certainly left this reader hungry for the main course.

`Annihilation' introduces us to the trilogy's topographic core: the mysterious, menacing Area X. What exactly Area X is, and how it got there, never becomes fully clear. The only thing we know for certain about it is that for thirty years, all eleven of the previous sorties into this pristine wilderness have gone catastrophically awry. We soon begin to see why, as we find ourselves from the get-go inside Area X alongside the newly arrived twelfth mission.

The four-woman team quickly realises that, inside Area X, their own perceptions can't be trusted. Not only is 'something' they can't quite apprehend somehow warping their senses, but it also becomes evident that they have all been hypnotically conditioned by the Southern Reach to allow them to cope with the Class-A levels of weirdness that prevail inside Area X's invisible boundaries. The mission rapidly descends into horror and madness, although our narrator by the end of the novel has become so compromised and unreliable that it's impossible to fathom from her narrative exactly what has happened to them all.

On one level, `Annihiliation' works well as a creepy, `Alien'-style action adventure, with the uncanny eeriness of Area X convincingly realised. And some of the surreal, logic-defying phenomena the mission encounters reminded me of a darker, more threatening take on `Alice in Wonderland' - complete with transformative rabbit-hole! But the real literary touchstone here is Stanislaw Lem's `Solaris'. Like `Solaris', `Annihilation' uses an encounter with an obscure alien Other as a launch-pad for a metaphysical exploration of our own sense of selfhood, and how easily this can be dissolved. Dislocation, disorientation, isolation and transformation are all recurrent themes. Once the limits of our perception are bent and breached and remade, how can we be sure who we really are? In which case, who were we in the first place, and where did that identity come from? By confronting us with our existential helplessness against the implacable, indifferent unknown of Area X, `Annihilation' is as uncomfortable and unsettling a book as you could possibly wish for.

Not quite the full five stars, though. It's such an open-ended book that I found it ultimately rather frustrating in leaving so many of its questions unanswered. I dare say volumes two and three will either scratch that itch or aggravate it all the more. It's also a book that's much more ambitious than genre science fiction, but which nevertheless sometimes reads like it, thanks to VanderMeer's occasionally clumsy, thrillerish style. All in all, though, 'Annihilation' is an entertaining first volume, with the promise of much more to come.
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on 18 December 2017
This is not science fiction, this is on a par with the feelings I get reading Edgar Allen Poe. Wow.

This is another extraordinary, brilliant tale from Jeff VanderMeer. What a mind! What a brilliant and strange museum of dystopian artefacts he has there, and this tale assembled via outstanding prose, assured pacing, exquisite timing, all leading you slowly from science-suspense into a horror most profound. I was impressed from page one, and before page 3 I was completely enthralled and helplessly captured. Thereafter, I was possessed.

The mere fact that anyone would choose to enter Area-X after so many deaths, so much insanity and horror, speaks to our mindset and culture today. VanderMeer immerses us in this travesty we call modern life and watches as we drown. I recognise about halfway through that what I'm feeling reminds me of how I felt as a teen, reading Edgar Allen Poe.

- images from the upcoming (and very different) movie "Annihilation" (2018)
trailer here

There are so many aspects of how VanderMeer has constructed this tale, from the intentionally unnamed characters, the unreliable history of previous expeditions, the imposition of hypnotic distortions of perception, the almost biblical poetry of The Biologist's progressing insanity, the surreal sounds and images, the tension and mistrust of the team, and the growing realisation that all will go terrifyingly wrong, trapped with no way out. Incredible.

The Biologist's past makes her both the perfect narrator, relating her experiences and her past with scientific rigour, yet so personally and intimately entangled in the present and the past that we feel ourselves in a fever-dream along with her. Wow!

There is no way to review this book in one, or ten, or a hundred pages. This book must be lived, this book must be absorbed, this book must be allowed to colonise you.

Impressions, quotes and notes as I read:

12% - from the living words on the walls of the "tower" -
“Where lies the strangling fruit that came from the hand of the sinner I shall bring forth the seeds of the dead to share with the worms that gather in the darkness and surround the world with the power of their lives while from the dim-lit halls of other places forms that never could be writhe for the impatience of the few who have never seen or been seen …”

17% - quotations -
Looking for hidden meaning in these papers was the same as looking for hidden meaning in the natural world around us. If it existed, it could be activated only by the eye of the beholder.
At the time, I was seeking oblivion, and I sought in those blank, anonymous faces, even the most painfully familiar, a kind of benign escape. A death that would not mean being dead.
There are certain kinds of deaths that one should not be expected to relive, certain kinds of connections so deep that when they are broken you feel the snap of the link inside you.

24% - my note -
Seriously brilliant and weird. Through the lines of text on the walls, VanderMeer induces an unfocused foreboding in our minds...

- from the living words on the walls of the "tower" -
... in the black water with the sun shining at midnight, those fruit shall come ripe and in the darkness of that which is golden shall split open to reveal the revelation of the fatal softness in the earth …

67% - from the living words on the walls of the "tower" -
... but whether it decays under the earth or above on green fields, or out to sea or in the very air, all shall come to revelation, and to revel, in the knowledge of the strangling fruit and the hand of the sinner shall rejoice, for there is no sin in shadow or in light that the seeds of the dead cannot forgive …
There shall be a fire that knows your name, and in the presence of the strangling fruit, its dark flame shall acquire every part of you.
There shall be in the planting in the shadows a grace and a mercy that shall bloom dark flowers, and their teeth shall devour and sustain and herald the passing of an age …

That which dies shall still know life in death for all that decays is not forgotten and reanimated shall walk the world in a bliss of not-knowing …
Assimilator and assimilated interact through the catalyst of a script of words, which powers the engine of transformation.

"imaginary bad place," 1868, apparently coined by J.S. Mill ("Hansard Commons"), from Greek dys- "bad, abnormal, difficult" (see dys- ) + utopia. Related: Dystopian.

Reader "Ali" asks this question of VanderMeer -
The collapse of the anthropocene is a theme in your works, but they also hold out potential for a transformed human agency. Grotesque shifts still leave behind a residue of the human. Annihilation is on this track with the biologist's contamination. Do these transformations relate to your sense of human (d)evolution? What is gained or lost by leaving behind individual consciousness for something more rhizomatic?

Jeff VanderMeer replies
Thank you for the truly great question, Ali. To me, this is the essential theme of our time, and it's not about giving in or checking out. It's about adaptation to what's coming. Of course, I'm coming at it from a kind of fantastical point of view. No matter how I deploy science or specific detail about our real world, I'm still somewhere between the real and the metaphorical in these explorations. In part to get the distance to explore modes of thoughts, and in the absence of being able to imagine being truly not-human, to get as close to that as possible without marginalizing that state of being as horrific.

I suppose I don't see it as leaving behind individual consciousness as being in greater harmony and collusion with the contamination we already experience but that is invisible to us, and to also thereby better understand that we do not in fact stick out from our landscape, but are part of it. This is something we've forgotten over the last centuries, and the farther we get away from understanding this, the farther we get from long-term solutions to questions like...What do we contribute to our biosphere? Why do we privilege human-style intelligence to the exclusion of all else? Why do we see as strengths those things that are actually now weaknesses in ourselves as a sustainable species on Earth?

This doesn't even get to the question of being able to see our environment with a fresh eye--so that we no longer think in terms of being stewards or despoilers but some other philosophy altogether. And this in the context, too, of not bringing with us the old "culture creatures" as Schama puts it in his book Landscape and Memory. That we might see with clear vision but also perhaps with a hint of awe just how thoroughly we live on an alien planet that is full of wonders we're only now beginning to understand. And of which we are at times the most mundane
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 26 February 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!
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on 13 March 2018
I really enjoyed this book, but it's certainly not a read that I would recommend to everyone. I think the cover-quote from Stephen King in particular is a bit misleading. It is a horror story, in a way, but probably not in the way you would expect. There are no real scares in the novel - no gore or savage beasts. It's more about the atmosphere and slow sense of creeping death. The horror in the story is purely existential. It's the terror of nihilism more than the terror of what lurks in the darkness.

The story is slow burning and takes the form of a journal kept by a scientist - known only as the Biologist - as she ventures into the strange and mysterious Area X. It serves as a recording of her very strange experiences as she gradually learns that reality is not what it seems and that the people who sent her there may not have been entirely honest. While there is not much in way of a plot, there doesn't really need to be.

The novel is very open-ended and does not give anything more than the Biologist's interpretation of what "could" be going on. It's a story that's likely to appeal more to the philosophically minded than those who like action and drama. More than anything, it reminded me of the H.P. Lovecraft short story "The Colour Out Of Space", as whatever is happening in Area X can be observed but is really beyond true human understanding.

However, I did really like the cast. Although no characters in the novel are actually named, the novel does present a core cast that is entirely female and they are all very strong characters. From the little that the Biologist interacts with them, it's clear that each possesses a massively different personality which range from the anxious Anthropologist to the no-nonsense Surveyor. The Biologist particularly stands out as a protagonist because she is so introverted. I've never read such an accurate portrayal of what it feels like to be an introvert - and how other people can't understand this - which did speak to me as I am an introverted person myself.

Anyhow, on the whole this is not a novel that will speak to everyone but it certainly speaks to me. I really am looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy. Not because I think I'll necessarily learn more about what is going on, but because I'm eager to witness Area X from new perspectives.
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on 5 March 2018
This is a review of the audiobook.
Thank goodness it was only 6 hours and I got to listen to it while cooking and cleaning and I didn't actually waste my time reading this.
I too decided to read this due to the trailer and before I got to see the movie. I wanted to love this.
I enjoy SF books a lot and the premise for this is great - however it's terrible in execution.
I love books in 1st person narrative, but I'm not sure this was the best choice for this particular book. As so many others said in reviews here, I wanted some answers about "Area X" , I wanted some cohesion between events, some logic. But no - when the events happen, they just do and you're not getting any answers as to why. It's like going from point A to point B without actually travelling there - you just end up at point B, not knowing how the tript was, what was the reason, why, how things unfolded, nothing.
There are no explanations, no reasons for this trip . We learn little insight and history throughout the book, but it lacks cohesion and ultimately it doesn't bring any answers.
The whole time listening to this all I could think about was the TV show "Lost", a whole bunch of enigmas and mysteries, with random events happening that left me incredibly frustrated and stopped watching.
It bothered and annoyed the heck outta me that I had to listen to the endless, oh Jesus, endlesssssss inner rambles of a woman that is this 100% opaque, 1000% introverted biologist, mentally and emotionally cut off from the rest of the world, as it seemed to me ( just her and her ponds and frogs and snails and whatever) whose decisions throughout this book make no sense whatsoever. I'm baffled as to why this woman got married and how, she seemed so damn uninterested in the whole thing and her apparent lack in emotion towards her husband makes for a poor excuse as per her reason to come to Area X.
A woman that I found annoying to the tilt, a character that I could not sympathise with and I could not connect.
Apart from the biologist, whose inner monologue we keep hearing throughout the book, there are 3 other characters that the author makes no attempt to describe, present or introduce in any way to the reader. They are just there and that's that.
And then the books ends in a tide of confusion, hyperbole, and vivid descriptions of what? Wish I knew.
I don't think a book needs to be this complicated in order to be interesting. It left me frustrated and annoyed, hungry for answers and completely unattached with the characters.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 5 November 2014
Blimey this was a creepy read! Really really good – after I finished it late last night it played on my mind for quite a while and sleep didnt come easy.. the sign of a good book as far as I am concerned.

We follow a group of women on an expedition to explore “Area X” – told from the point of view of one of them, the Biologist, the story creeps up on you, slowly building the tension as she tries to unravel the mystery that is this beautiful and yet dangerous place.

This is so cleverly constructed – for a start none of the characters have names, they are known simply from their job title within the group and for some reason this sets you on edge immediately – like the place they are investigating they have no anchor. You may think this makes it hard to relate to them, but strangely it makes them very very real, even if it is hard to get a sense of any of them bar the narrator. Seen solely through the eyes of one, the others take on an almost mystical quality, very much like Area X itself, where both everything and nothing could be real.

Speculative fiction at its best for sure – it is very hard to review to be honest, I would hate to give anything away, it is almost impossible to put down once you start. Another reviewer (writer J Lindoln Fenn) called it “So addictive the FDA should investigate” and that covers it nicely. Add to that Stephen King calling it “creepy and fascinating” and there you go. I would agree with both of those sentiments and add my own – Beware reading this one in the depths of night, you will almost certainly start jumping at shadows.

The descriptive prose is beautiful and deadly, setting the reader up for some genuinely scary moments and also some thought provoking ones. The Biologist herself is an appealing yet often unlikeable character and by the time I got to the end of it I was covered in goosebumps. That probably says it all.

Never have I been so pleased to have the next two books in the “Southern Reach” trilogy to hand already – I have started Authority, in fact did so first thing this morning and so far it is absolutely living up to the promise of Annihilation. Can I hope that the author will eventually answer all my burning questions about the nature of Area X? We’ll see – watch this space (although I’m not going to tell you!)

Highly Highly Recommended for fans of creepy, clever and addictive stories.

**source Purchased Copy**
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on 13 May 2016
This is a short novel, its only 195 pages long, and you could easily get through it in one sitting if you wanted to.
This novel follows a group of 4 women; a psychologist who is the leader, a biologist, an anthropologist, and a surveyor. They are sent to Area X, an area cut off from the rest of civilisation, to take samples, and see what the area is like. This sounds like an intriguing idea, and as a big sci-fi fan, I thought this sounded right up my street. The reasons it didn't get that good a rating was for a number of aspects of the novel.
Firstly, the interestingly described plot made very little sense to me once I had finished the novel. I realise this novel is the first in a trilogy, but I also think that the first novel should be able to stand up on its own to some extent, and this one really doesn't. I'm sure my questions about the plot will be answered by the end of the trilogy, but I found this extremely frustrating and I spent most of the time while reading very confused.
The second thing that let this book down for me was the boring narrator. The biologist is the narrator in this novel, and thank goodness it was a short novel as I don't think I could have suffered her for much longer. Even the instances where she or the others were in any danger were made boring by her overly long and detailed descriptions, and her constant mentioning of her husband and their boring relationship. We knew all about her, she was a well developed and rounded character, but all the descriptions and flashbacks were extremely boring too, she didn't come across as a solitary woman who liked to spend time by herself, but instead as a really boring and square character, with very little layers or interests!
Another annoying aspect of this novel which relates to both of my previous problems was the unreliable narrator that the biologist made. I can enjoy a novel which has an unreliable narrator, The Great Gatsby has a very unreliable narrator, but is one of my favourite novels, but in this case, the unreliable narrator just made the plot even more confusing and difficult to follow. I spent parts of the novel wondering if what I was reading was true within the novel, and whether the ideas I had about the novel were completely off track!!
The characters were also a bit of a let down, none of them were well developed apart from the biologist. Due to the style of narration you didn't get any insight into the other characters, which meant that I had no real feelings about them and I didn't care what happened to any of them.
However, I did enjoy the way the author created a tense and claustrophobic atmosphere, this is definitely one of the most tense novels I've read, definitely this year. I spent the majority of the novel (thank goodness it was short) on the edge of my seat, I had no idea what was really going on, but whatever it was, it was tense!!!
Overall I think I would describe this novel as "frustrating". It could have been a lot better if only the plot and overarching ideas of the novel were a little clearer to understand, and the narrator had had some sort of spark to interest me as a reader. For these reasons I gave the novel 3.5/5 stars, and I may check out the rest of the trilogy at some point, but I won't rush to pick them up.
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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.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 March 2014
Annihilation is the first in a series of three science-fiction novels by Jeff VanderMeer, with the other two due to be published later this year. I'm glad there are two more books to come, because Annihilation is one of those novels that raises more questions than it answers - although it remains to be seen whether the next two books in the series actually offer any solutions or simply deepen the mystery.

Annihilation tells the story - in a sense - of a group of unnamed researchers entering Area X, a large stretch of coastal landscape rendered uninhabitable by 'the Event' some years previously. They have been recruited by Southern Reach, an agency that appears to monitor the border - if there really is one - between Area X and the rest of the world.

None of the expedition party knows what the Event was. None of them knows what it is about Area X that might be dangerous or why nobody can live there. They are led by 'the psychologist' who has trained them for the expedition and by whom they are constantly manipulated by hypnotic suggestion. Their equipment is inexplicably low-tech and their entry into Area X is something none of them can properly recall. They are known to one another only by their roles in the team - the biologist, the surveyor, the anthropologist and so on.

In short, everything in Area X is unknown, and as a result the group exists in a constant and debilitating state of unease and dread. There are vague hints on almost every page that something terrible, something sinister and watchful, lurks within the landscape, and yet nobody is ever quite sure what it might be. It's only a matter of days before the group begins to behave oddly, as if they are somehow absorbing the indefinable oddness of the environment. It's also clear that their perceptions of what they encounter vary considerably. A structure they discover is a 'tower' to our narrator but a 'tunnel' to the others. What is real and what isn't? And what does 'real' mean in Area X anyway?

There is a strong sense of Lovecraftian horror that runs throughout Annihilation, combined with a skilled, calculated matter-of-factness - the narrator is a biologist well known for her observant detachment - that reminds me of John Wyndham (high praise from me: Wyndham is probably my favourite science-fiction writer of all time).

It's fair to say that there are certainly moments when the narrative becomes more elaborate and descriptive, almost hallucinatory, as events take their psychological and physical toll on the biologist, but for me these are much less effective in building atmosphere than the subtler, more ambiguous allusions in the earlier chapters.
The nature of the story also means that character development is mostly secondary, and the biologist's expedition team mates are little more than an aid to driving the plot, but the biologist herself is, while clearly an unreliable and selective storyteller, reasonably well-drawn with enough back-story to induce me to care what happened to her.

If, like me, you enjoy books that question and confuse the reader, full of ambiguities and unspecified, unsettling suggestions that things are Just Not Quite Right, and you're open to the 'New Weird', Annihilation is definitely one for you.

The second novel in the trilogy, Authority, is due out in May.
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