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.
My husband's take:
I am a huge fan of Sci-Fi and fantasy books, and I have been for as long as I can remember. But even I must admit that sometimes they can be a bit cookie cutter. The hero finds him/herself in space/a distant land and must conquer the aliens/dragons and save the love interest. Occasionally you get something different, but that really doesn’t happen too often.
Now don’t get me wrong – I still love reading these types of books even if it is the same basic story over and over. I’m a fan, and there is something to be said for the familiar.
However, Annihilation is something different. Very different. So different that it is hard for me to put it into a category or even decide if I liked it or not.
The story is of an expedition in Area X. Actually, this is the story of the 12th expedition in the strange area that has been cut off from the rest of America. Each of the previous expeditions all died in very strange ways, so this expedition is treated differently. Four women with varying skill sets enter the zone, completely alienated from the history of the area and each other. They don’t even know each other’s names. With tensions already high, they start to become affected by Area X and slowly descend into madness.
This book is written from the perspective of one of the four women’s journal entries. The author does a fantastic job of painting a picture of the surroundings and giving you a real grasp of the tension among the four women. One of the women is a psychologist who has given them hypnotic suggestions to try to control them without their knowledge. When the narrator figures this out, she immediately tries to figure out why. Each of the women’s mental state decays throughout the novel, which is actually pretty cool. Our main character sees them all start to lose it but can’t figure out if she is going crazy or not. The descriptions of Area X were amazing, and trying to figure out what happened to the area and the previous expeditions was appealing, too.
But even though parts of this story were interesting, I still felt as if it was missing…something. I’m not sure if “missing” is the right word to use here, but it was definitely lacking in story lines and progressions. There didn’t seem to be much of a story arc – just a slow descent into more questions. And each question that was raised seemed to just lead to more questions. There were no answers – none at all. There were lots of little storylines that looked like they might be promising, but they went no further than a few steps and then veered right back onto the path to nowhere.
It doesn’t help that I didn’t realize this was the first book in a trilogy (I should have known. Is it possible for someone to write a book that isn’t part of a trilogy these days?), so the ending was completely unsatisfying. Maybe there would be more of a story arc over the entire trilogy and maybe those questions would get answers eventually. When I did learn it was a trilogy, the biggest question that came to mind was – is this book good enough for me to want to read two more? And like all of the other questions raised in this novel, I really don’t know the answer to that one, either.
I will give Annihilation ... 3 BookWorms.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from HarperCollins UK/4th Estate Publishing through NetGalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."