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Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer


by Jeff VanderMeer

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Southern Reach Trilogy (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
3,8212552,214 (3.69)1 / 296
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; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died 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 months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer. This is the twelfth expedition. Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist, a surveyor, a psychologist--the de facto leader--and a biologist, who is our narrator. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens, to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another and, above all, to 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.… (more)
  1. 71
    Roadside Picnic by Arkady Strugatsky (Tuirgin)
    Tuirgin: The Strugatsky Bros.' Roadside Picnic seems to be a touchstone of the Southern Reach Trilogy—and this continues with greater parallels in Authority. The styles of writing are entirely different, but the concept of Area X is a definite echo of the Zone. Roadside Picnic is a classic of European Science Fiction and well worth reading.… (more)
  2. 61
    Solaris by Stanisław Lem (ShelfMonkey)
  3. 50
    Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer (LiteraryReadaholic)
  4. 40
    The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (andomck)
    andomck: Scientists exploring an alien environment
  5. 40
    Swamplandia! by Karen Russell (andomck)
    andomck: Swamps are crazy, man
  6. 20
    The Drowned World by J. G. Ballard (ShelfMonkey)
  7. 10
    The Dream Archipelago by Christopher Priest (AlanPoulter)
    AlanPoulter: Both contain landscapes and people that play with with our sense of reality.
  8. 10
    Nova Swing by M. John Harrison (paradoxosalpha)
    paradoxosalpha: The infection/mutation of characters and their ambivalent encounters with transcendent power are in both cases oriented toward a mysterious region of putatively non-human influence.
  9. 00
    The Last Letter (Conversation Pieces, Vol 31) by Fiona Lehn (psybre)
    psybre: Also set in an odd near-future (where an environmental disaster has made an entire island dangerous and soon to become uninhabitable).
  10. 00
    Cold Skin by Albert Sánchez Piñol (FFortuna)
  11. 00
    City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer (g33kgrrl)
    g33kgrrl: VanderMeer's earlier world-building venture, full of weird-ass fungus war and other monsters. It's lovely and grotesque.
  12. 00
    Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (sturlington)
  13. 11
    Wool by Hugh Howey (thenothing)
    thenothing: dystopia, conspiracy
  14. 00
    The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway (hairball)
    hairball: Maybe it's the fuzzy cover of the one book, but they remind me of each other.
  15. 00
    Wilder Girls by Rory Power (bibliovermis)
  16. 01
    The Other Side of the Mountain by Michel Bernanos (marietherese)
  17. 01
    The Ruins by Scott Smith (BeckyJG)
  18. 24
    American Gods by Neil Gaiman (LiteraryReadaholic)

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English (247)  Italian (2)  Chinese, traditional (1)  Finnish (1)  French (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (253)
Showing 1-5 of 247 (next | show all)
So I went to the Natural History Museum in NYC and watched a wonderful IMAX film about the wonders of the ocean world, the horrors of a living coral reef, and animals that more properly resembled plant life. One life form slowly devours another, using all the myriad tricks of evolution, from symbiosis and natural selection, to rise, unerringly, to be the top of the food chain.

I felt like I just read a SF/Horror hybrid that was just narrated by Jacques Cousteau, full of even and progressive prose, leading me inexorably to a great change. I can't quite place it as either the end of a feeding or the opening sequence of a brand new symbiosis.

Either way, this was definitely an awesome Biopunk novel, and I don't see any reason why it shouldn't have won 2014's Nebula. (And it did.)

I was reminded, of course, of Ballard's Crystal World, so many of Greg Bear's novels, but especially his novel Legacy. I can't ignore Perdido Street Station either, or any of the other great bio-enhanced SF that's out there, but I'll check my nostalgia at the door right here.

I was actually very impressed at the way Ghost Bird was handled, as a character, jumping back and forth from her past to her present regularly. Mr. VanderMeer purposefully turned his characters into cyphers, placed tons of limitations on them, and then set them loose to have their own life in this horrible place, but instead of staying limited, they broke out of their bonds like little expressions of fungi and animal-like protoplasms to slither across the page in unexpected ways. Ghost Bird, herself, was like a great ocean of denial, always telling us that she was no more than her surface appearing, and yet, every step of the way, she reflected back to us a great unconscious drive that kept pounding at us until she met the lighthouse keeper, and after.

Oddly enough, I had a horrible reaction while reading this. Does anyone know the music from Clockwork Orange? The one with the ditty about "I wanna marry a lighthouse keeper and keep him company?" Well, I kept hearing that tune throughout my reading of this novel, and what a counterpoint it was. I heartily recommend finding it and listening to it a dozen times while reading or rereading the awesome trippy crawler scenes. It opened up my experience in wonderful ways. :)

Horror is absolutely not dead, and thank god for it! It's just gone underground into New Weird and SF titles. It's been a good while coming, I know, but life changes. I'm just not certain whether horror is being consumed or becoming symbiotic. Who knows? It's the same thing with me. I come away from this novel feeling a bit infested. A bit glowy. Have I jumped the fence? I don't know. Maybe I'll never know.

There is one thing that I do know, though. I have to read the two sequels. It's too good not to. ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
Honestly, I wanted to stay longer in Area X, not get relegated to an almost sterile administration building for most of the novel.

Control (the man, not the action) didn't even really begin to grow on me until well-past half-way mark. At least there were elements of spy-fiction, but in all honesty, the conflict in the novel was rather too light.

I know we're not supposed to have answers in this kind of novel. I don't really expect them. It's all about the journey and cultivating a sense of wonder as a reader, trying to figure out the rules for yourself, seeing if you can do any better than the poor characters actually having to live it. (So to speak.)

And yet, I had to wait until almost the very end to get that mere glance I was hoping for, and then it slipped beneath the water again.
Too little happened. Most of what teased me were the long conversations with Ghost Bird on the other side of an interrogation table, and I did look forward to each and every one of those, but it wasn't until Control had to leave the administration building that I started to gel with the novel, and that's a shame, because I actively started LIKING the novel at that point.

I'm partial to being thrown into the actual action, not just having a taste of squabbling coworkers making a hash of sending so many damn people into Area X.

If I were a more critical reader, not willing to give credit where credit is finally due, I might have said I didn't like this book. Most of it bored me.

Fortunately, I'm not a super critical reader. It did progress my understanding of Area X by way of the people on the outside, and even if they, also, are stumped, then at least they came by it honestly. Or dishonestly. Whatever. :)

Ghost Bird, even for being placed on a pedestal and turned into an Object Of Understanding by everyone else, still remained my favorite character in either novel.

Now, here's the tricky part: It's become painfully obvious to me that we're dealing with the themes of unconsciousness and Id (Annihilation) and consciousness and SuperEgo (Authority), both exploring the physical manifestation of the subconsciousness and how it rises out of the bog into consciousness. Annihilation was floating up, and Authority was sinking down. By extrapolation, Acceptance is going to be all about finding a workable balance, ending in EGO.

Of course, I'm already of the opinion that Ghost Bird already has a pretty good grasp on it, I'm just going to go out on a limb that the tale will be about someone else. Perhaps Control, but probably a third we haven't met.

Truly, the novel IS good if you analyze it. Too bad that it kinda fell flat in execution. Or perhaps that's my own SuperEgo being super critical because it knows, in a deeper sense, that super intellectualization is such a damn bore. :)

Am I right? ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
Annihilation was a lot more approachable than anything in the Ambergris series, while still maintaining that hint of the weird and unexplainable. ( )
  kgladfelder | May 27, 2020 |
Horror is not my genre, and this one just kind of didn't have an effect on me? Not a bad book, just book-reader-mismatch, I think. The protagonist had a good distinct voice, and Area X was weird in a good way, but it never clicked for me. ( )
  _rixx_ | May 24, 2020 |

"Annihilation" is a deeply disturbing exploration of the truly alien. It's a difficult book, not because it's hard to read but because it's hard to stop, no matter how uncomfortable reading on becomes.

From the very beginning, this story is a quiet nightmare that won't let you wake up. It's a vivid hallucination with a pervasive sense of threat, a compulsion to continue and a heightened awareness of your own helplessness.

The writing is vivid, the narrator fundamentally unreliable and the nature of the narrative is literally mind-bending.

The story is told from the point of view of a member of the twelfth expedition into Area X, an all-female, four-person team made led by a psychologist (which immediately removed my trust - who puts a psychologist in charge?), and consisting of an anthropologist, a surveyor and our narrator, the biologist. What Area X is, what the mission objectives are, even why the fifth member, a linguist, dropped out is all left not just unexplained but proactively obscured.

All we see is the landscape, unspoilt apart from the things left behind by previous expeditions.

What follows is an exploration of Area X that shows the duplicity of the people sending the expeditions and the deeply alien core that defines Area X and makes the people who send the expeditions afraid.

"Annihilation" deals with the truly alien. Not the well-they're-a-little-like-us-except-they-do-this- and they-think-that-and-they-look-funny. What we and our narrator come to understand is that the truly alien is unknowable. It is literally incomprehensible.

The more we are driven by a curiosity sharpened by scientific method and the habitual identification of patterns and the garnering of knowledge, the more painful it is to be confronted with the obviously present but incomprehensible.

That kind of contact forces us to look inwards, towards the familiar, the known, the human, so that we can tear our vision from the insanity-inducing contact with something that we cannot process.

Our narrator, The Biologist (we never learn her name but we know that she tolerates her husband calling her Ghost-Bird, a reference to her emotional distance and disengagement with the people around her) has the perfect background for encountering the alien and still having the potential to survive. She is someone with a strong, although not necessarily positive, sense of self, who has, since childhood, preferred solitude and welcomed the opportunity to slide her consciousness into a deep embrace with whatever ecosystem she is studying The Biologist is an Uber-introvert who is highly resistant to and suspicious of, outside influence.

Early in the book, in the journal she records this narrative in, she comments:

That’s how the madness of the world tries to colonize you: from the outside in, forcing you to live in its reality.
The telling thing here, I thought, was the Biologist's view that we choose the reality that we live in.

It soon becomes clear that The Psychologist and the people who sent the team on this mission have taken steps to shape the reality the team sees, even going as far as to implant strong hypnotic suggestions. That our narrator spots and resists this seems to central to her character. She is someone who naturally joins teams or shares her life. Her Ghostbird nickname was earned in part because of her inability to share herself with her husband. At one point, she writes in her journal:

It may be clear by now that I am not always good at telling people things they feel they have a right to know,

The biologist has a gift for letting her focus widen, letting her mind still and waiting for patterns to emerge. She is someone for whom imagination and knowledge are both routes to understanding. This changes the way she sees Area X and gives her a perspective previous expeditions have not been able to achieve.

When she thinks about the motivations of her superiors, who send the expeditions, she comes to the conclusion that, while they perceive Area X alien and threatening, they are unable to let themselves fully understand what that means and so have become locked in a pattern of behaviour that does not offer a way forward. She says:

our superiors seemed to fear any radical reimagining of this situation so much that they had continued to send in knowledge-strapped expeditions as if this was the only option.

I found The Biologist as fascinating as Area X. I can see that her dispassion, her tendency to obsess, her ability to be so fully present in the moment that she fades into it, and her emotional toughness would make her seem strange to many, but she is not alien, only different.

When making life or death decisions in the face of imminent personal threat, she says:

You can either waste time worrying about a death that might not come or concentrate on what’s left to you.

I admire the pragmatism of that. Yet she is not an emotion-free logician but rather is driven by an emotional connection with the world around her. Her scientific training as a biologist provides with a mother-tongue but it is her connection with her environment that turns the words into poems.

She has often failed to have her field assignments renewed because her form of focus is seen as a lack of discipline. She says:
I had gotten sidetracked, like I always did, because I melted into my surroundings, could not remain separate from, apart from, objectivity a foreign land to me.

The Biologist's up close and personal encounter with the animus of Area X is mind-bending and beautifully wrought. There are no easy answers here, only a recognition of our limited ability to know and the dangers of trying to exceed those limitations. She describes part of the encounter by saying:

But the longer I stared at it, the less comprehensible the creature became. The more it became something alien to me, the more I had a sense that I knew nothing at all—about nature, about ecosystems...
...And if I kept looking, I would have to admit that I knew less than nothing about myself as well, whether that was a lie or the truth

I particularly like the last clause. The Biologist is never in doubt that reality is more malleable than truth.

I highly recommend this book if you're in the mood for a thoughtful and sometimes challenging read, filled with strong emotion and beautiful prose. ( )
  MikeFinnFiction | May 16, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 247 (next | show all)
...strange, clever, off-putting, maddening, claustrophobic, occasionally beautiful, occasionally disturbing and altogether fantastic...Annihilation is a book meant for gulping — for going in head-first and not coming up for air until you hit the back cover.
added by zhejw | editNPR, Jason Sheehan (Feb 7, 2014)
"Annihilation," in which the educated and analytical similarly meets up with the inhuman, is a clear triumph for Vandermeer, who after numerous works of genre fiction has suddenly transcended genre with a compelling, elegant and existential story of far broader appeal.
added by zhejw | editLos Angeles Times, Lydia Millet (Jan 20, 2014)

» Add other authors (23 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jeff VanderMeerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Aula, NikoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Blomeyer, MarionCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Corral, RodrigoCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kellner, MichaelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McCormick, CarolynNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nyquist, EricCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Strick, CharlotteCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The tower, which was not supposed to be there, plunges into the earth in a place just before the black pine forest begins to give way to swamp and then the reeds and wind-gnarled trees of the marsh flats. Beyond the marsh flats and the natural canals lies the ocean and, a little farther down the coast, a derelict lighthouse. All of this part of the country had been abandoned for decades, for reasons that are not easy to relate. Our expedition was the first to enter Area X for more than two years, and much of our predecessors’ equipment had rusted, their tents and sheds little more than husks. Looking out over that untroubled landscape, I do not believe any of us could yet see the threat.
Desolation tries to colonize you.
"Annihilation!" she shrieked at me, flailing in confusion.  "Annihilation! Annihilation!" The word seemed more meaningless the more she repeated it, like the cry of a bird with a broken wing.
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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.
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