Saturday, April 5, 2014

Staff Review: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

I don't read a lot of speculative fiction, I usually go for more urban fiction or fantasy.  I saw a plug for Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer on some review site I was reading (I honestly can't tell you which one at this point) and thought "hey, that looks interesting".  When I checked out the book I was excited to see that it is only 195 pages long.  From what I could tell this book takes place is some sort of dystopian future.  As with most dystopian stories, something happened that isn't really explained, causing weird things to occur. In this book, the weird thing is actually an area.

Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the land and human civilization in Area X has disappeared. Expeditions have been sent to try and figure out what happened, and is continuing to happen. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Eden like landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition members turned on one another and died in a hail of gunfire; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.

Annihilation is the story of the twelfth expedition.  This group is made up of four women, a psychologist, a surveyor, an anthropologist, and our narrator, a biologist.  Their mission is to the map the terrain, collect samples, and record all of their observations in journals. They are dispatched with what amounts to primitive tools, a camera, and a few guns for protection.  They have no way of communicating with anyone outside of Area X.  Even though they arrive expecting the unexpected, nothing could prepare them for the reality of Area X. 

This novel is based on the biologist first person account of the expedition.  Vandermeer never gives you the names of the expedition members. They are just referred to by their job titles.  Initially that was a little disconcerting,  I really wanted to know names.   By the end of the book, I didn't care.  Names weren't important.  The writing style is vivid with descriptions of colors and sounds.  But everything that happens seems so other-worldly, almost dream-like.  I couldn't put this book down!  I wanted to know what was going on.  What happened to to create Area X?  What happened to the other expeditions?  Why would people still volunteer to go on these expeditions when they all seem to end badly?  What is Southern Reach?  Some of these questions were answered, many more were not.  Be warned, this book is creepy.  Not bump-in-the-night creepy, but unsettling creepy. 

Annihilation is the first in the Southern Reach trilogy.  The second book, Authority, is due out in May, the third, Acceptance, in September.  I can't wait to read them both. If you want to dip your toe into speculative fiction give Annihilation a shot.  It is short, suspenseful, intriguing, and leaves you wanting more. 

~ Amy, Adult Services

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