I’m very excited about this! I’m going to be reviewing all three books in the Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, starting with book one, Annihilation.
In Annihilation we meet the main character, known through most of the book only as “the biologist”. The biologist and the team of scientists she’s joined are on a journey to Area X, a potentially dangerous environmental phenomenon that appeared 30 years ago. Expeditions to Area X have, for the most part, failed, with team members returning mentally and physically scarred, if they come back at all. Very little useful research returns with those who make it back. The biologist is on the twelfth expedition. And she has a secret motive for joining the team, one which I will not reveal here.
The entire book is written in the style of journal entries, a style which you don’t necessarily pick up on until towards the end. I think Mr. VanderMeer did a fantastic job of making what could have been a very passively told story something very intriguing and fun. The characters, as clinical as they are, are people you want to see succeed or fail, both of these feelings especially pronounced, at least for me, towards the biologist. I liked her because she’s strong, but she also irritated me in ways I can’t really explain. Regardless, a good character provokes you, and that’s precisely what she did.
Mr. VanderMeer is also exquisitely talented at setting the scene. Area X is quite different from what we know as the world, in that it is completely devoid of pollution and toxins that we are exposed to on a daily basis. The dichotomy between what we know and what Area X presents is so vividly portrayed that the setting becomes a character in and of itself. And, not to spoil anything, but a dangerous, intriguing one at that.
What I found difficult with this book, though, is that at the end, there are no answers. Granted, it’s the first in a trilogy, so of course there are no answers. But I like closure. I want to know what comes next. Which is why next week I’ll be reviewing book two in the trilogy.
If you enjoyed Solaris by Stanislaw Lem then I think you’ll like Mr. VanderMeer’s brand of science fiction.
Official Kristine’s BRF rating:
PS: a quick side note. If you are reading the book because you watched the movie, or are going to watch the movie after reading the book, be aware that the movie is more inspired by the book rather than based on the book. Both are very entertaining, but if you are expecting one to tell the same story as the other, you will be disappointed. Consider each on their own merits.