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Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer Book Review | SFReader.com
Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer Genre: Dark Fantasy Publisher: Farrar Straus and Giroux Published: 2014 Review Posted: 3/25/2015 Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: Not Rated
Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer
Book Review by Ray Wallace
Have you read this book?
Stop me if you've heard this one:
An anthropologist, a surveyor, a psychologist, and a biologist walk into a place called Area X which has been cut off from the rest of human civilization for decades. The four comprise an investigative team recruited and sent by a shadowy government agency known as the Southern Reach. Their mission? Much the same as the previous eleven expeditions that have gone before them: Find out what they can about the strange, isolated land to which they've been sent and report back on those findings.
The story is told from the perspective of "the biologist," the only name by which our protagonist is addressed throughout the story's telling. The action picks up mere days after the four women--yes, the entire expedition is comprised of female--initially make their way into Area X. They've decided to set up base camp near what at first appears to be nothing but a wide, circular platform made of stone raised a foot or so above the ground. When an entrance way is discovered, the platform reveals itself as the top of a tunnel or "tower"--as the biologist can't help but think of it--descending an unknown distance into the earth. An investigation of the tower reveals a winding staircase granting ever further access to its depths. Along the way, a rambling, seemingly nonsensical passage written along one of the walls is found, put there by someone--or something--the biologist and the other team members can only guess at. And this is only the first of many odd and often unsettling discoveries the expedition makes during its stay in Area X.
Annihilation is one of those books where to say too much about it would ruin the fun. It is a tale of discovery, after all, of unfolding revelations about a land both familiar and unknowable. As the story progresses, not only do we find out more about the enigmatic Area X but also the biologist. Why, exactly, did she decide to volunteer for such an undertaking, one she knew going in would be fraught with peril? What sort of person leaves behind the safe and the familiar for the inherent danger of the place in which she finds herself? By the time the last page is turned, here is one mystery, at least, that seems fairly well resolved.
While reading this book, I found the plot, insofar as it deals with a group of people wandering through a world claimed by hostile and seemingly alien forces, reminiscent of William Hope Hodgson's classic The Night Land, its theme of human civilization surrendering to nature's patient and inexorable will to that of Ballard's The Drowned World. What Mr. VanderMeer has done here, though--as he has done before with such offerings as City of Saints and Madmen, Finch, and Veniss Underground--is offer a fresh take on the idea that the world and the universe are ultimately stranger than we can ever even hope to fully comprehend. And for that, he is to be commended.
I opened this review by saying, "Stop me if you've heard this one," because I was fairly confident you hadn't. There's plenty in Annihilation to keep even the most avid reader of dark and weird fiction turning the pages and guessing as to what will happen next. And also plenty to entice said reader into continuing the story with Authority and Acceptance the two books that complete The Southern Reach Trilogy.
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