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Annihilation: A Novel (The Southern Reach Trilogy (1)) Paperback – February 4, 2014
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This book is a surprise and mystery if you have never read metaphysical horror before. To see what Annihilation would look like if executed flawlessly, read House of Leaves. The now-commonplace horror elements of humans encountering the utterly foreign and unknowable make up the backbone of the narrative. But whereas it is on glorious and staggering display in Lovecraft, King, amd other giants, here it is reduced to a bizarre oddity that induces head-scratching instead of spine-tingling.
The primary reason for this is the clashing styles. The first 160 pages of the book are so sterile and cold that even the strangest things are as interesting as unfinished jigsaw puzzles. The main character, The Biologist, states that this is to provide an objective account of events which necessotate a subjective experience in order to terrify. The last 30 pages are forced to give up the objective description, and only then does Annihilation actually become interesting.
The Biologist herself is done great injustice by the first 160 pages. In providing nothing but objective descriptions of events, the author fails to establish her as anything resembling a human being. She is nothing more than a camera lens that requires occasional flashbacks by the author to establish that she has Emotions and these are often at odds with the character as portrayed. The Biologist is a heavy introvert. She eschews people for her work. This is mentioned often and in bold fashion. Yet this person married, for reasons that are never explained beyond "he offsets my introversion". The Biologist is not portrayed as a person interested in the feelings or experiences of others. Why marry?
At the end of the book the semblance of a person begins to emerge from the Biologist, but by then the narrative has established her so firmly as a non-presence that her character feels like something the author shoved in when he realized there was no point to which the audience could attach. She is a walking fight between a detached third-person objective lens and a woman who wants to tell her own story. It does not end well for either party.
Finally, the book simply starts. No world-building or character history or any point of reference that would be helpful for an audience seeking a way into the story. In theory this plays along with the idea that the characters themselves know little, and are themselves poorly informed. In practice it is disorienting and dull. We know nothing about the state of the world. No baseline is established. Even the characters know more than we do, as is revealed later in the book - well past halfway in. The effect is like waking up to find yourself weightless inside an empty sphere. There is no point of reference and you can only make guesses until someone pops in and tells you what is happening.
There are many more small details that add up into a large pile of errors - debunked pop psychology from 1950 paired with hard science, characters that serve no purpose and go nowhere, jarring switches between clinical observation and surrealist prose, a world that is somehow both tantalizingly alien and horribly mundane - but describing those would take much longer.
Read a summary on Wikipedia. I guarantee it will be much more cohesive, interesting, and above all much less time-consuming than reading this book.
This is not a series by Michael Crichton. Although at times I was reminded of various Crichton works such as the Andromeda Strain, Sphere, and even Jurassic Park, Crichton takes painstaking efforts to ground the seemingly fantastical experiences in his stories with a semblance of fictional science. Crichton essentially is a magician who shows you afterwards how the trick was performed. There is no such reveal in this book (or really the series at large). Any sort of explanation (rational or irrational) is left entirely up to the reader. This can be frustrating for many people (including myself) who become engrossed in the plot and would like a finite resolution.
This is also not the book Arrival which also deals with potentially extraterrestrial beings, semiotics, and language. Whereas a linguist is the protagonist and narrator of Arrival, the linguist in Annihilation pointedly drops out of the expedition before the novel even begins.
What this book is, as many others have pointed out, is similar to Lost or (in my opinion) Prometheus. The writing, especially at the start, is both exciting and compelling. However, each mystery only leads to more mysteries. The main character is interesting if not rather obtuse (as many characters in sci-fi stories are -- if the crew of the Nostromo could follow simple quarantine procedures then the film Alien may have only been 15 minutes long -- but that's beside the point).
As a story, it's well written and the plot is intriguing. It borders on sci-fi horror and raises many interesting questions about the human condition. Hence the 3 stars. But the lack of exposition holds it back.
Top international reviews
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.
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.
We meet four women, only known by their titles; the biologist, the psychologist, the anthropologist and the surveyor, all on an expedition into Area X. They are expedition nr. 12 and they're there to figure out what's exactly going on or just not die (all the other expeditions have failed). I don't want to say anything else about the plot, because even though the plot has a timeline of about a week, so much happens and unravels at such a good pace that it's worth just not really knowing what's going to happen.
What really drew me to this book was the narrative, I love the clinical, biological approach to writing, how the world around us can be viewed in these cold hard facts and theories. It's really wonderful. What we're reading are the biologist's journal of her time in Area X and this very focused kind of writing makes for some very creepy passages. This books keeps you on your toes.
I bought this based on the film trailer and the premise started off great but quickly just went downhill to the point where nothing really happened. It's not that the ending was bad... there just wasn't really one; it just fizzled out.
Perhaps this is ploy to get you to buy the next book... but if so then if definitely feels like a money-grab, especially as the book is so short. I won't be bothering with the others. Hopefully the film is better!
While heading towards the known - a lighthouse on the abandoned shore - the four come across the unknown - an uncharted tunnel or, as our Biologist prefers, an inverted tower. Both fascinated and repulsed, the Biologist feels its walls pulse with life, its organic surface etched by letters forming an endless sentence. From this moment, the expedition begins to lose its grip on what may or may not be real, further compromised by the mindgames played by its team members.
Annihilation is a short novel but it is packed full of atmosphere, mystery and dark wonders. As an introduction to the Southern Reach trilogy, it works perfectly, opening up to us this sinister, uncertain world, containing the unknown and the familiar, but all distorted and strange. Intensifying the mystery and mood is the fact that none of the characters are named. Also, the reliability of our narrator is a mystery in itself.
Annihilation is an engrossing, beautifully written and imagined read, often feeling as thick with atmosphere and foreboding as the reeds through which the Biologist struggles. At times it is very frightening and I thoroughly enjoyed the puzzle of what might lie in the inverted tower as well as the significance of the lighthouse and its lost inhabitants. The descriptions of the environment are deliciously creepy. And what caused Area X in the first place and why have so many expeditions ended in inexplicable disaster?!
Alongside this story of the twelfth expedition are clues to the fate of the previous mission, an expedition that holds a special fascination for our Biologist. Many questions are raised about Area X, its explorers and the society that sends these expeditions in, one after another, and when Annihilation ends it left me desperate for Authority, the second part of the series. While I would have much preferred the story to have been self-contained in one large volume, at least there is the satisfaction of knowing that all three books are released in 2014. I can't wait.
I've slacked off reading for the past few years but reading this got me right back to where I was as a teenager, sat up late at night listening to music and blazing through any book I could find.
This novel does a fantastic job of painting a picture, one that is creepy, surreal and uncanny - if you are a fan of web content like the SCP Wiki or creepypasta greentexts and the like, this feels like a much more polished version of that.
This book is quite short, and I would suggest that if you have a passing interest, you try it out; you'll likely know within the first 25 or so pages if you enjoy it - the intrigue had me hooked within the first couple chapters.
I really recommend listening to ambient music to build the mood around this book, personally I used Biosphere's Substrata as my music of choice and the mood it created was just perfect.
Something else I would recommend - please for gods sake read this before watching the godawful Annihilation movie; that film is so far removed and off point from the book that it frankly shouldn't share the title, and I feel that some people may get the wrong impression of the novel if they see the film first.
Seriously, the film is trash in comparison.
(Photos taken after reading)
I'm intrigued as to where book 2 will lead, as I've come to quite like the Biologist and would like to know more about her story.
Certainly read this book if you like a bit of sci-fi, reading about the unknown, odd characters and behaviours, thrillers and a teeny touch of horror.
I'll certainly be looking into book 2.
I guess also, that this is part of the new weird genre so beautifully mastered by China Mieville, but once again, not as weird or as masterful as Mieville.
So, yeah I liked it. But it was way too influenced by RP/Stalker for my liking, and it didn't need to be. The business of not using names, but titles came straight from Stalker and there are many other too-coincidental coincidences for me to feel that this is purely an original work and not a derivative.