Annihilation ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
Jeff Vandermeer’s science fiction novel, Annihilation (the first installment of the Southern Reach Trilogy), is about a nether place on earth known as Area X, an uninhabitable region in which nature has gone awry, a place very dangerous to humans. Several expeditions have gone to Area X to try to ascertain what is going on and, also, to try to figure out why Area X is getting bigger, with the potential of encompassing the entire earth. Is it the work of an alien intelligence or is it just nature gone crazy? Many questions remain unanswered.
The main character of Annihilation is without a name. We only know her as “the biologist.” She is telling the story in her first-person voice. Her husband, also nameless, went on the most recent expedition. He was “lost” for almost a year but one day miraculously turned up again and then died right away (or did he?). The biologist is a solitary, brooding person. She signs up to go on the twelfth expedition, realizing that it is almost certainly a decision that will result in her death. She is willing to die, one supposes, for the sake of knowledge.
All the other members of the twelfth expedition are women and they are all without names. We only know them as “the psychologist,” “the anthropologist” and “the surveyor.” They are all business with no bonding or camaraderie among them. Soon they all die freakishly and the biologist is left on her own to try to learn the secrets of Area X, starting with what she calls “the Tower,” a massive cylinder (apparently) implanted in the earth that might be, in fact, a living organism. Stairs lead downward in the Tower and along the wall on the stairs is a peculiar kind of writing that is composed of tiny, hand-shaped living organisms that write words, which the biologist comes to call “the Crawler.” What do the words mean and what intelligence is behind them? The biologist inhales a spore from the writing on the wall that changes her. After the spore, she glows from within and seems impervious to things that might otherwise kill her. Is the alien intelligence (if that’s what it is) protecting her so she might learn the secrets of Area X?
And then there is the lighthouse that is the epicenter of Area X. The biologist journeys to the lighthouse and there discovers the notebooks of all the previous expeditions, including the notebook of her (lost or dead) husband. She comes to a fundamental understanding of what Area X is about and is able to formulate some theories, but still there are many unanswered questions, which will, it is presumed, be answered in books two and three of the Southern Reach Trilogy.
Annihilation is an imaginative excursion into the unknown in just under two hundred pages. While it’s a little overly descriptive at times for my taste and the middle section seems to drag on a little too long, we can overlook those things in view of the overall fine quality of the writing and of the story itself, which is unlike anything I’ve ever seen or heard of before. We do appreciate originality wherever we can find it.
Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp