Published by Macmillan on February 4th 2014
Genres: Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic, Dystopian, Fantasy, Fiction, General, Literary, Science Fiction
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; the second expedition ended in mass suicide, the third expedition 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 weeks, all had died of cancer. In Annihilation, the first volume of Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy, we join the twelfth expedition. The 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, record all observations of their surroundings and of one anotioner, and, above all, 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 a great horror novel for people who don’t like horror novels. By that I mean that this novel is delightfully atmospheric without a lot of blood or killer clowns jumping out at you. Some readers may find the story to be a bit slow – but I thought that Vandermeer did a great job in creating a slow burn, but be warned Reader – this is the first of a trilogy (Southern Reach trilogy) and honestly that’s the downside.
As a Tournament of Books selection – this doesn’t stand alone very well (the good news is that all three books in the trilogy were published in quick succession and therefore are all available). There is a slow building to a climax and then … more mystery. Which is fine – just go get the other two books (or have them on hand before you start). I liked the fact that the expedition was made up completely of women, which enabled Vandermeer to avoid the common sci-fi/horror trope of women being there solely for the men to rescue.
The characters are interesting and compelling. What’s the biologist’s deal? What the hell is the psychologist’s problem?
Overall, this is an incredibly readable book, but it can’t be read as a standalone – there are just too many questions left open. Area X is described in detail so that the reader can almost feel it closing in around her.
Added bonus, each book in the trilogy is also short enough (no more than 350 pages) that they can be read in just a few sittings so ideally a reader can get through the whole thing in about a week or so.
As far as The Tournament of Books goes – I don’t see this one lasting long because it simply can’t stand on its own.
Also, here’s a great tell all from Vandermeer in the Atlantic on his writing of The Southern Reach Trilogy. (Spoilers)
Finally, Michael at Literary Exploration has an excellent review on Annihilation here.
What about you, Reader? How do you feel about atmospheric novels? Read any good ones lately?