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Annihilation: A Novel (The Southern Reach Trilogy) Paperback – February 4, 2014

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Editorial Reviews Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, February 2014: There is a comfort in familiarity, a foundation from which to definitively identify and label. But Jeff VanderMeer is not interested in putting his readers at ease. With Annihilation--the first volume of The Southern Reach Trilogy--he carefully creates a yearning for answers, then boldly denies them, reminding us that being too eager to know too much can be dangerous. The story follows an expedition of four women who are known only by their professions: the Psychologist, the Surveyor, the Anthropologist, and the Biologist--nameless pawns tasked with exploring, discovering, and (hopefully) delivering data about a portentous coastal territory called Area X. We are a bit like fifth members of that team (perhaps "the Reader"), learning at the same pace, guided by the observations of our narrator, the Biologist. Still the context remains blurry as VanderMeer twists each discovery into a deeper mystery. Through potent description and unrelenting tension, he achieves a level of emotional manipulation that should appeal to anyone who embraced the paranormal phenomena and maddening uncertainties of Lost. --Robin A. Rothman

From Booklist

*Starred Review* An expedition of four women is sent into an unknown region called Area X, beyond the borders of humanity: a psychologist, a surveyor, an anthropologist, and our narrator, a biologist. The purpose of the mission is to collect data about Area X and report back to the government, the Southern Reach, but circumstances begin to change when the group discovers a tower (or tunnel) that was previously unmarked on the map. Inside the structure, strange writing scrawls across the walls, and a spiral staircase descends downward, beckoning the members to follow. Previous expeditions ended badly, with group members disappearing or returning as shells of their former selves, but little is known about what actually occurred on those trips to Area X. A gripping fantasy thriller, Annihilation is thoroughly suspenseful. In a manner similar to H. G. Wells’ in The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), VanderMeer weaves together an otherworldly tale of the supernatural and the half-human. Delightfully, this page-turner is the first in a trilogy. --Heather Paulson

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Product Details

  • Series: The Southern Reach Trilogy (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: FSG Originals; First Edition edition (February 4, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374104093
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374104092
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (673 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #13,060 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

145 of 162 people found the following review helpful By EA Solinas HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 23, 2014
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Jeff Vandermeer has always specialized in "weird," often stories centering on fantasy cities and/or steampunk. He's a chameleon who can shift into whatever genre he slips into.

And yet, I was still mildly surprised when I heard that he was writing a trilogy of science fiction books. Sci-fi has less scope for the weird. But Vandermeer brings his own darkly fantastical touch to "Annihilation," the first novel of the Southern Reach Trilogy -- it's a sort of a cross between Arthur C. Clarke and H.P. Lovecraft.

Area X is a place that has somehow been cut off from the rest of the world, and has changed completely. Eleven expeditions have been sent there, but they all die in bizarre ways -- cancer, suicide, attacking each other, and so on.

In defiance of logic, The Powers Wot Is decide to send a twelfth expedition, four women including an anthropologist, a shrink, a surveyor, and a biologist. They are alienated from each other, not even knowing each other's names, or anything except their jobs. So unsurprisingly, tensions are running high as they investigate both a lighthouse and an inverted Tower that goes DOWN.

The biologist (our protagonist of sorts) soon discovers that the psychologist is messing with their heads, even as the world around them becomes more and more disorienting. And as more strange things arise in Area X, the four women are slowly warped by the place, and the longer they stay in Area X, the further they descend into the maelstrom.

By standard definitions, "Annihilation" is not a very good book. It doesn't have a very definite beginning or end, it leaves large chunks of it backstory and characters unknown, the threat is unspecified, and it produces no solid answers or conclusions at the end.
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201 of 232 people found the following review helpful By NathanT@AWS on November 2, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
God, I wish I had the hours back that I spent reading this series. You will get no more answers over the course of reading all three books than you do in the first chapter. If you love the first chapter, and want that sense of confusion and hopelessness to recur over and over again chapter after chapter, by all means proceed through the whole series. If you would rather read a book with a progressive plot, with characters who have some sort of future, or where you occasionally laugh or smile, read something else. I took one for the team and finished the whole thing so you won't have to waste your time finding out if just maybe it will all be worth it to get the brilliant insight at the ending- there is no such insight.
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99 of 113 people found the following review helpful By Ian K. VINE VOICE on December 20, 2013
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I tried to read Jeff Vandermeer's Finch, which I checked out of the library. I gave up after a few tens of pages.

Jeff Vandermeer's stories are like dreams. They have elements of reality, but they don't completely make sense. Dreams abstract reality and facts are inconsistent. For me this style didn't work in Finch. At least not then. After Annihilation I may give Vandermeer's work another try.

Annihilation also has a dreamscape property to it. But unlike Finch, the suspense of the novel grabbed me in the first pages. The force of the plot was enough to get me through the dream like quality of the story that I found frustrating in Finch.

The problems that some may encounter with Vandermeer's writing have to do with the structure of the story, not the quality of the writing. Vandermeer's writing is vivid in his descriptions of place and scene. This can make the nightmare quality of he writing more difficult to deal with, because of it's haunting immediacy.

Annihilation is an account of a twelfth expedition into Area X. The other expeditions have come to bad ends. The four members of the expedition are all women, who are known only by their profession: the psychologist, the anthropologist, the surveyor and the narrator of the story, the biologist (there was a linguist who either dropped out). The intimate nature of first person narration gives the reader a window into the biologist and her past, resulting in a deeply drawn character.

Considering that the previous eleven expeditions have come to bad, sometimes violent ends, it is unclear why anyone would volunteer for such an expedition.
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68 of 84 people found the following review helpful By M. C. on February 11, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This story is challenging to read. It's told from the first person POV of a member of the 12th expedition sent into a mysterious Area X, located (probably) somewhere on the southern seacoast of North America. The location is not exactly specified, and none of the characters have names. (This includes the POV character, her 4--no, 3--companions, and various people from her past or previous expeditions). As a result, there is a certain distancing between the reader and the POV character.

This story is challenging also because it has a strongly literary flavor. Lots of allusions and exposition, not a lot of dialogue or action. That's not necessarily bad--it certainly develops a mood. But it does make the story a harder slog than it needs to be.

For a story that is barely 200 print pages long, I found that it took an extraordinary amount of time to read. The prose reads like a dreamlike meditation with occasional flashbacks to pre-expedition memories. Furthermore, this is the first of a trilogy, and my sense is that the complete story will only be told with the full three books. I'm not sure I care enough to read the other two parts, quite honestly.

Probably the closest book I can compare this to is THE RUINS by Scott Smith, a story I ultimately disliked (I had truly loved his earlier A SIMPLE PLAN). There are no answers to be found in ANNIHILATION. What is Area X? What is the meaning of the odd events and encounters the narrator has there? Were those even real? Or were they hallucinations? Ideally, the author (and probably the publisher) wanted the reader to be intrigued enough to justify buying two more books about this. (I believe these will be released this year, one in summer, one next fall.
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