Author: Jeff Vandermeer
What it’s about: A biologist, a surveyor, a psychologist, and an anthropologist set out on a mission to explore a mysterious region known as “Area X.” It may sound like the beginning of a joke, but in Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation the situation is real and all too dangerous. Faced with improbable situations and under the influence of hypnosis, the four women are aware that all is not as it seems. But as things progress and unease gives way to violence, the biologist begins to unravel the terrible secrets of Area X– or, at least, as much as any of it can be unraveled.
My thoughts: How would I describe Annihilation? It’s an absurdist sci-fi novel with a supremely unreliable narrator where you never know exactly what’s going on or what it true. The story is strange and there’s always an element of distance (even from the main character who is narrating), but the writing is good and it all works together to create something really unique and engaging. Basically it’s weird, but good weird.
The narrator–the biologist– is supremely unreliable, both as a byproduct of the fact that she is in a strange place and has undergone some degree of hypnosis, but also because she’s just the kind of person who will withhold facts until she feels like sharing then. There are several key facts she withholds and only mentions well into the book, and because Annihilation is essentially meant to be the field journal she is keeping, it works. I appreciate a good unreliable narrator and that unreliability plays in especially well with the sense of unease and confusion throughout the novel.
If you’re the kind of person who needs to understand everything and have every loose end tied up, this is definitely not the book for you! Not only is it the start of the series, but it’s also clearly the kind of fiction where the unknown and absurdity is a key facet. You’re never going to fully understand what’s going on here. But if you like strange science fiction and good writing then this is the book for you.
And if you get on top of it, you can read the book before the movie adaptation (which looks quite different from the book, I’ll be honest) comes out later this year:
TL;DR: A fascinating, bizarre start to a science fiction series as engaging as it is absurd.
“That’s how the madness of the world tries to colonize you: from the outside in, forcing you to live in its reality.”