145 of 162 people found the following review helpful
Where lies the strangling fruit,
This review is from: Annihilation: A Novel (The Southern Reach Trilogy) (Paperback)
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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. Think "Lost" if it were condensed down to a 200-page book, with all the strangeness intact.
But that isn't what "Annihilation" is meant to do. It is meant to slowly suck you in, drowning you in the murky, shadowy world that may be another dimension, another time, or simply a strange anomaly in our own. And once you're submerged in Area X, Vandermeer slowly pours in a sense of creeping horror that clings to you even when the book is over. It gets under your skin.
Perhaps the creepiest part is how we see everything through the biologist's eyes, watching as the edges of her story crumble into hints of possible madness.
And that is both the book's weakness and its strength. Vandermeer is unsurpassed at creating an atmosphere -- while his dense writing style takes a little while to get into, once you do, it will pull you in as few authors can. But it often feels like a nugget of pure, intense atmosphere rather than a true story -- shapeless but terrifying, unfocused yet fascinating.
And that makes it hard to judge, because it's genuinely hard to tell what kind of story Vandermeer meant to tell. Is this story meant to invoke emotions and atmosphere alone? Or, since it is only the first part of a trilogy, is it meant to be merely the first part of a larger story that will give you more narrative meat later on?
"Annihilation" is a novel like few others -- an experience rather than a narrative story, full of terror and unanswered questions. Only time -- and Vandermeer -- will tell if it is more than that.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 15, 2014 7:53:38 AM PST
Francis L Fitzpatrick says:
Please put Spoilers in quotes in the review heading. Thanks, I haven't read this yset.
Posted on Feb 17, 2014 7:22:57 PM PST
Conrad von Metzke says:
I appreciate your review, both its depth and its specificity. But I must add that I question your statement "it's...hard to tell what kind of story Vandermeer meant to tell." Perhaps it is in fact impossible to tell, but I submit that it makes no difference: What matters is what story he DID tell, from a given reader's perspective. If it grabbed you, no matter in what way, then it has done its job.
Which is why, from your thorough discussion, I ask why you graded it down to three stars. Review some of your statements: "It is meant to slowly suck you in...clings to you even when the book is over. It gets under your skin." If I take you to mean what you say then this book has strongly captured you, and your final "Only time...will tell...." says only that this is the first of a trilogy and full judgment has to wait until the entirety is there to be taken as a whole. I'm reading at least a 4-star here. Your review, for all its ifs and buts, slowly sucked me in.... So I'll go buy and read this thing, and if I lose sleep then I'll get the other two parts when they're available and see if my sanity remains intact. If not, I fear it may be your review's fault, for insufficient three-star-ism....
In reply to an earlier post on Jul 11, 2014 8:07:22 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 11, 2014 8:11:50 PM PDT
I met Vandemeer at a book signing last night. He said something interesting. The fact that this book is receiving 1-2 star reviews on Amazon just means he's reaching a wider audience; i.e. he's developed a hardcore audience of devoted readers and knows it ain't everybody's cup of tea. I found that kind of humility refreshing; esp. since he's received and been nominated for several awards and this book is slated to be made into a movie.
I enjoyed the Sci-Fi elements of the novel. The prose is a bit awkward and heavy handed, but I'm really into the classics so when I read Jeff is unfairly competing with Conrad and Lawrence and Fowles.
Posted on Jul 27, 2014 2:04:45 AM PDT
"Think "Lost" if it were condensed down to a 200-page book, with all the strangeness intact." That is an excellent description, especially since no real answers were given at the end of the book and the tv show.
Posted on Aug 29, 2014 5:22:38 PM PDT
Amazon Customer says:
Yes. Rendezvous with Rama meets At the Mountains of Madness. That's exactly what I felt reading it. But I thought, that is exactly the point he was trying to make.
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