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Annihilation: A Novel (The Southern Reach Trilogy Book 1) Kindle Edition
A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE FROM ALEX GARLAND, STARRING NATALIE PORTMAN AND OSCAR ISAAC
The Southern Reach Trilogy begins with Annihilation, the Nebula Award-winning novel that "reads as if Verne or Wellsian adventurers exploring a mysterious island had warped through into a Kafkaesque nightmare world" (Kim Stanley Robinson).
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 another, 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 text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
- ASIN : B00EGJ32A6
- Publisher : FSG Originals (February 4, 2014)
- Publication date : February 4, 2014
- Language : English
- File size : 1730 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 210 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #25,418 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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Reviewed in the United States on September 13, 2021
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I will add a few other pieces of information before moving on to the substance of the review. This won a Nebula award. I am not always a fan of award-winning books (absolutely could not stand "Among Others" by Jo Walton, for example). But if you are looking for books with critical acclaim, this has it. Also, I am utterly unfamiliar with the television show "Lost" (other than knowing it exists) and other media references from some of the other reviews for this book.
I am not sure how to describe this book. It is part ecological monograph, part travel/adventure novel, part personal diary, part character study, even part mystery (not in the traditional sense of solving a murder or some such, but in a sense of people being thrown into an environment they're totally unprepared for and trying to get to the root of some strange phenomena).
There are four characters at the start of the novel but we really only get to know one of them, the biologist of an expedition into an anomalous area called the Southern Reach. This book is written from her perspective, in the manner of a personal diary or journal. (One could argue that her dead husband is a fifth character due to flashbacks and the like. We learn more about him than about the mission's anthropologist, at any rate.) Expeditions keep getting sent into this area and things keep going dreadfully wrong -- everyone murdered, or lots of suicides, or people returning completely changed (in terms of personality). We learn a few details of the early expeditions and of the 11th (this book is an account of the 12th), but say 4-10 are still unknown to us. I think I don't mind this. It probably would've been clutter for the author to develop and include seven additional specific outcomes, especially if they weren't directly relevant to the story of this expedition.
Early on, the biologist begins to suspect something is not as she has been led to believe. (The members of the expedition received extensive training before leaving on their trip, but serious gaps in the training come to light as the story moves along.) It seems that other members of the expedition are feeling the same, and it causes cracks in the cohesiveness of their unit (which was never super cohesive in the first place -- how can it be if you are not even sharing your names with each other?).
But, I don't want to get into too much plot summary. Anyway, this book doesn't have a plot in a traditional sense. There is a lot of exploration through a fascinating environment and I honestly just enjoyed reading the descriptions here, which is not often the case for me. There's not much dialogue though there is a fair amount of introspection and some flashbacks, of a sort. (The flashbacks are well done and serve to further the plot!) There is a climax but it's not the sort of confrontation you might expect at the end of a work of speculative fiction (where there are usually battles and such).
The atmosphere created was wonderful. In a creepy sort of way. I also really did like the focus on a single character. This book is a good character study (albeit in weird circumstances). What might cause a person to go on an expedition from which few return? And, the biologist is a good proxy for the reader. She doesn't have all the answers (or really any of them), she is discovering them along with the rest of us. What is it that the higher-ups back home want to know about the Southern Reach? Why are they so adamant that people don't remember how they got into Area X? At the end of this book, we have started forming the questions, and hopefully in future novels we will start getting answers.
Minor quibble, but at one point the biologist looks at some cells taken from a non-human mammal (a fox, I think) carcass and looks at them under a light microscope and says they are human. I don't think you could tell one mammal's cells from another using only a light microscope. You could tell cell types (neurons or smooth muscle or skin or whatever) if you were able to properly stain them. You could tell, say, a frog from a mammal (nucleated red blood cells in the frog but not in the mammal). But that is a minor point, and if there was some type of madness or neurodegenerative condition or residual effect of hypnosis affecting the biologist, it is possible she was reporting things that weren't true.
Overall, I enjoyed this book very much and am looking forward to starting the sequel, Authority, this weekend!
In Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation, an all-women expedition of four is tasked by a secret organization— the Southern Reach—to explore a mysterious region known as Area X, which has been abandoned/cut off from civilization for decades. They are the 12th such expedition, the last one occurring two years earlier, and it’s made clear very early that those earlier ones had some tragic and/or horrific endings. Not long after arriving, they discover a mysterious underground structure (a “tunnel” to everyone save the biologist, who insists on calling it a “tower”) that, unlike the lighthouse and the abandoned village, is not on their map. Her recording of subsequent events is interspersed with flashbacks to her early professional life and to her marriage. And really, even though all that comes out in just the first few pages, this is all I want to mention about the plot, because much of the pleasure—and it really is a pleasure—is the slow reveal of all that ensues, not merely the plot points but the slow reveal of character as well. And equally, or perhaps even more pleasurable, is what is not revealed. Or maybe more precisely, what is not explained. Suffice to say, this is not a novel for those who like clear-cut answers. Or even, you know, just answers, clear or no (though it is possible, this being the first in a trilogy, that some of the mystery will be made more clear by the end of the entire story).
Nor is Annihilation a novel for those who do not care much for unreliable narrators, since the biologist is constantly calling into question not only her own conclusions/speculations, but even her own observations. If she can’t trust her eyes, how are we the readers supposed to? Or whatever theories she comes up with based on whatever it is her eyes see?
Now, I happen to be a fan, generally, of unreliable narrators. So I’m already predisposed to like what VanderMeer does here with this character. But beyond that, I just really liked this character herself. If one ignores the whole can’t-trust-what-she-sees part, she has a startlingly sharp vision. This is true when she is looking at the world around her, whether that world is the transitional and partially alien landscape of Area X or the more “mundane” worlds of her youthful backyard, or an empty lot near her house, which are allegedly “comprehensible” to us but have their own inexplicable nature, are themselves part of the fantastical (and as old stories tell us, fantasy is not always benign). And so Annihilation is filled with lots of nature imagery, all of which VanderMeer, who is clearly a sharp observer himself, conveys in vividly precise fashion. Beyond the natural world, though, the biologist also has a clarity of vision with regard to herself, say in terms of her love of solitude, or with regard to her relationship with her husband, that is hard not to like and respond to.
Besides the descriptive imagery and the sharp characterization, there is a wonderful sense of dread and suspense, of horror, that builds and builds throughout the novel. It’s that great kind of creepiness that feels so good even as you feel the shadow stretching out over you inch by inch and you know you should run like hell. That kind of hurts-but-feels-good pain of picking at a scab.
Between the high level of weirdness that I don’t want to say anything much about, the engaging nature of the narrator and the steadily increasing level of suspense, the book is truly compelling. Not quite in the page-turning fashion of a good mystery or action novel (and then what happens? And then what?) but in the way you just can’t help but look at that flash of movement in the darkness you saw in the corner of your eye, you can’t help but go down that hall, then around that corner. Maybe “fascinating” is a better word than “compelling.”
I also was captivated by the questions raised in Annihilation, such as how we view nature, what is our place in this world, how do we respond when we encounter the ineffable? Questions of agency, of influence, of what lies beneath the surface, of how or even if one can remain “alone” in a world that constantly presses upon us and also impresses upon us the requirement to share, to interact, to “connect.” And other ones as well.
Craft-wise, I think this is one of Vandermeer’s best novels (and I say that as a fan). The pacing is spot on, the prose shifts gears as needed but generally has a great sense of spare rhythm to it, and shifts between flashback and present time are handled smoothly—he seems to know exactly when to interrupt and when not to, as well as when to return. Finally, it’s exactly as long as it should be and no longer.
But the whole is larger than the parts here—yes, I like this book for its craft elements—the prose, the characterization, the tone—and yes, I like it because it tells a compelling story about a likable engaging character. But at the core of Annihilation is something ungraspable, and so it’s also nicely appropriate that I can’t quite nail down exactly what it is I love about this book (as opposed to being able to say what I like about it). But boy, did I love it.
Despite being the first in a trilogy, the book ends in such a fashion that I’d be quite happy if this were it. That’s not to say I don’t care what comes next, but despite, or perhaps because of, the enigmatic nature of the climax and the many mysteries left hanging, it’s pretty near a perfect ending in my mind. And pretty much a perfect read. Highly recommended.
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The first third of the book really did grab me. I was impressed by the concept of the book. I was beguiled by the mystery, and I felt compelled to keep reading so that I could gain answers and discover the secrets of Area X. The book is also nicely written. Very vivid, too.
I read this book quickly. (Let’s be fair, it is pretty short!) Unfortunately by the halfway point, I felt my interest in the book waning. There was just something missing. Instead of progressing, the story became rather stagnant. I even felt like I was also trapped in Area X, feeling very clueless about it all. Perhaps that’s the author’s purpose? I don’t know. I also felt a lack of empathy for any of the characters to the point where the biologist (narrator) was the only necessary character. For me, the book had no resolution. It provided me with none of the answers I sought and that was extremely unsatisfactory.
With that said, the book wasn’t all bad. The science and the world of Area X is breathtakingly beautiful. I am hoping that the film deviates from the book and provides the audience with a much clearer plot, and also, those all-important answers.
I’m really not sure whether or not to read the next instalment in this trilogy. Part of me wants to, because I actually still yearn for answers. But the other part of me thinks that the next two books might be as disappointing and confusing as this one.
The book is written from the perspective of one of a team going to explore a quarantined area. They will be the twelve party to be sent into Area X to document their thoughts and findings during the expedition. It soon becomes apparent that Area X is not what it seems. But it seems that no one can make sense of what is happening to the party. All they know is that something is going on in the tower/tunnel, and what is the drawer to the lighthouse? Will they find out before the group collapses?
I liked this book no wiser than when I started really. I think to get the full enjoyment from the book it is probably best to read the whole series back to back. I would hope that by carrying on the series you get more answers than you have at the end of this book. But leaving it here makes me sceptical of whether I will come back to the series or not.
It was written well, with good tension. Its one of those stories that you would find yourself craning your head round corners in a film to find out what is there before the director wants you to as you just want answers! Full of suspense but not a lot of loose ends get tied up if any.
If you liked the TV series Lost, I think this book is perfect for you.
I managed to slot into the journalistic style within a couple pages. It is cleverly pitched, being personal but remaining strictly objective, a balance difficult to make up, so credit to the author. Also due credit is how rapidly the tension between the characters begins - no preamble required (perhaps knowledge of the movie helped?). Further genius of the writing is how the author established convincing mistrust, and a certain dislike, between the characters so early on without context or basis; bit like entering a room with four people already there where your senses are immediately triggered that something isn't right but you don't know why.
Without giving too much away the book continues on this track keeping you hooked on wanting to see around the next page like the protagonist wants to see around the next corner - the reader and character are paralleled - are you her? Is she you? Then add in some personal dilemmas and game theory to boot - would you tell the team that you depend on your survival, but don't trust, about that thing? Timing becomes everything but is difficult to know when the right time is in a rapidly developing situation. Things that really matter one minute become opaque in the fog of time and escalating situation.
Skin crawling stuff of paranoia and fear; like siting in a room shivering away wondering what just happened, what's in store and if you're still human... basically like coming down after a 3 day drinking session!
For me the only shortfall of the book was the lack of any conclusion, and I feel like I am about to be mugged by buying the next two books in pursuit of some truth that doesn't exist.
Imagine, if you will, that you are lost within an alien landscape. You do not know whether you have left this earth or crossed through an alternative dimension, or whether you yet remain in a strange forgotten corner of the world. The only thing which connects you to the rest of humanity is a journal. A journal of a woman whose name you do not know, whose life is slowly unfolding as you turn the cracked and brittle pages, and whose fate will yet remain a mystery at its close.
Annihilation is a strange, disquieting and eerily beautiful novel which takes the reader on an expedition into Area X; where those who enter leave changed, if they leave at all. This is a tale of discovery and quiet observation, a preternatural mystery which should be slowly savoured until you are nothing but lost in the wilds of VanderMeer’s imagination.
Annihilation follows the expedition of an unnamed protagonist, the biologist, as she journeys into Area X, a mysterious and extensive partition of land under an apparent imposed quarantine. Previous expeditions have entered but all have returned altered, if they returned at all.
Together with a psychologist, an anthropologist and a surveyor, the twelfth expedition makes its way into this strange and mystifying land only to find that danger is as likely to come from within as without; no one remains the same in Area X. With towers that spiral into the earth, strange cries in the night and creatures straight out of a fever dream, finding a way home might be the least of their problems.
Annihilation is a quiet flight of (science) fantasy across uncharted territory; a novel which slowly draws you into a world of sinister discovery. Area X is a vast and mysterious zone which takes on an almost alien appearance; its utter unfamiliarity creating a heady and foreboding atmosphere which weighs heavily throughout. VanderMeer’s writing is effortlessly engaging, leading the reader one step at a time into this strange, hypnotic and almost hallucinogenic world which, whilst not overtly involved, rides a line of tension from beginning to end.
Throughout the novel Area X appears overwhelmingly large, but despite this impression the narrative remains confined to a comparatively small zone which the expedition is reticent to leave. Whilst the necessity for staging the narrative in this relatively small area is somewhat apparent, my own imagination was straining at these invisible borders, desperate to discover more of the land and its utterly strange inhabitants. But if it was a ploy to make me want to read book two, it worked! VanderMeer has set me on a voyage of discovery which I am determined to see through.
Our unnamed protagonist is a thoughtful, analytical woman whose perspective of quiet observation and discovery make her an engaging character. Whilst this works in the favour of the biologist, we gain little perspective on the supplementary characters beyond her observations. Her tendency to watch rather than communicate means we never establish any meaningful connection to the other members of the expedition and care little for them when events conspire against them. This does, however, add to the air of mystery and tension; anyone is capable of anything, everyone is disposable and no one is safe.
VanderMeer’s first foray into Area X is a beautiful, subtle and incredibly atmospheric read which resonates with a sense of the unknown and the unknowable. His lyrical writing is saturated with the strange, forming a sinister and other-worldly tale which becomes increasingly difficult to put down. Whilst I would have preferred a little more action throughout the narrative and a more climactic, defined conclusion, the story remained absorbing throughout and the beauty of VanderMeer’s writing more than made up for it. This is a tale of quiet enjoyment. Of the strange. Of dreams and of nightmares.
If you like your science fantasy subtle and eerie, and wish to venture into the unknown, then Annihilation might just be the book for you. This is a novel which diverted all of my expectations and still managed to impress. Jeff VandeerMeer may be a new addition to my bookshelves but I imagine he’ll be there to stay.
This book has clearly been influenced by (the superior) Roadside Picnic by the Strugatskys but, where that was subtle and artful in its delivery, Annihilation feels much more staged.
And yet, I do really like Annihilation. The prose is easy to read, and the ideas that are conveyed are huge and thought provoking. The biggest problem here is that Vandermeer’s vision is not matched by his skill as a writer. He resorts to having the narrator state the various possibilities for the odd goings on throughout the book, rather than allowing you, the reader, to reach those conclusions yourself. The reasons for the existence of Area X, and the position of the expedition within it, could be any number of things, or a combination of all those things. The nebulous state of the area within the invisible border (if that border even exists) demands your input as the reader, and the points at which the narrator lays those possibilities out (could be aliens, or angels, or maybe the narrator is a ghost, or crazy, or straight-up lying) detract from the otherwise excellent world-building and atmospheric story telling.
That you come away from things at the end no wiser about the true nature of Area X, never mind the state of the world outside the border and the real reasons for sending expeditions in the first place, this is the true strength of the book. It’s a shame the author wasn’t brave enough to allow you to reach that point without the narrator providing glaring neon roadsigns along the way.
As an afterthought, please do not watch the movie before reading the book. It’s almost unrecognisable, and it is also far weaker. That a film maker with the skills of Alex Garland couldn’t produce a worthy watch with the source material here is testament to the complexity of Vandermeer’s ideas. The movie is hardly a reflection of the book. Garland was forced to reduce it to a simplistic sci-fi with cheesy special effects. In fact, please don’t watch the movie after reading the book either. It is dreadful (although I love Natalie Portman in anything).