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review 2018-03-20 18:17
Annihilation - Jeff VanderMeer

I loved this book. Could not put it down. It was a very quick read but the suspense and tension made it even faster. I could not wait to find out what the hell was going on and what would happen. And although after reading this book there were definitely more questions than answers, I absolutely loved the book. It is so creepy and strange and I loved Area X. The rest of the trilogy is great as well.

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review 2018-02-05 00:49
Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
Annihilation - Jeff VanderMeer

I'm pretty sure I bought my copy of Annihilation sometime late last year. I probably wouldn't have read it until months or even years later, except I saw a preview of the movie and was intrigued. I wanted to read the book before the movie came out.

The book begins with the start of the latest expedition into the mysterious Area X. The twelfth expedition is made entirely up of women: a psychologist (their leader), a biologist (the book's narrator), a surveyor, and an anthropologist. There was also supposed to be a linguist, but she opted not to go the Area X, or was prevented from going.

Unexpected things happen right at the very start of the expedition. Prior to going into Area X, everyone was rigorously trained in topics relating to their field of study, as well as the known geography of Area X. However, one of the first things they come across is a tower that was most definitely not on the map they were shown. They have a choice: they can either explore the tower, or they can forge ahead and check out whatever the previous expedition left behind at the lighthouse (which was on the map) and the surrounding area. They opt to go to the tower, which turns out to have writing on its walls, made out of some kind of plants. After their first trip into the tower, the expedition begins to rapidly fall apart.

I'm not sure what to make of Annihilation. It was a compelling read, but fairly early on I realized it reminded me strongly of a book that I disliked and that, on the surface at least, was completely different. In Kobo Abe's The Box Man, a man (or multiple men - it's unclear) decides to exist inside a box that covers him from his head to his hips. Abe starts off by describing everything in excruciating detail, from the way in which the Box Man constructed his box to what it's like to live as a Box Man. As the Box Man encounters other people, the story becomes increasingly surreal, to the point that it's difficult to tell which of the things he describes have any connection at all to reality.

I could see the Box Man in the way the biologist described the world around her. The first half of the book was devoted to the tower, which, due to an accident, the biologist was able to see in ways that others in her expedition, except maybe the psychologist, couldn't. It was tough to tell whether the text written on the walls and the other things she saw would ever actually mean something, but I was intrigued enough to keep reading. As the expedition began to fall apart, I wanted to know what the psychologist knew that the others didn't, and what the expedition's goal was.

I could also see the Box Man in the things the biologist discovered in the tower and later, during her trip to the lighthouse. Thankfully, Annihilation was less surreal than The Box Man, but I still wasn't happy when it turned out to have almost as ambiguous an ending.

I don't want to say too much for fear of including major spoilers, but a few things popped into my head as I was reading. First, considering what the biologist's husband was like after he came back from Area X (he was part of the eleventh expedition - not too much of a spoiler, I think) and what eventually happened to him, I don't understand why the biologist never asked what the little black boxes the expedition members had been given were measuring. You'd think someone would have demanded to know, unless anyone with a healthy level of concern about things that could kill them was rejected from becoming part of an expedition.

Second, cross-disciplinary knowledge would have been helpful, and yet the members of the expedition seemed to know very little that wasn't directly related to their fields of study. It was a frustrating. I could believe that the biologist was that hyper-focused, but I'd have thought one of the others would have branched out a bit more. The closest we got was the surveyor, who had a bit of military knowledge.

Third, the biologist tended to spin elaborate theories out of very little. For example, her observation of a slime trail that led downward into the tower, plus evidence that the writing in the tower was fresher further down, prompted her to come up with elaborate theories about the creature she believed was doing the writing. To be fair, even she eventually realized that she was ignoring the possibility that the creature was intelligent and that there might be meaning behind the words. Of course, even that theory assumed that the creature, which she hadn't even seen yet, was writing those words.

In the end, this book left me feeling underwhelmed, and just a little annoyed that the ending held almost no answers. Area X intrigued me, so I might continue on, but I'm a little worried that the next two books will be just as ambiguous as the first. There are quite a few questions I'd like some answers to (like why a couple different beings could have killed the biologist and yet were somehow forced not to), but I'm not sure I trust the rest of the trilogy to give me those answers.


(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2018-02-04 23:54
Review: Annihilation, by Jeff Vandermeer
Annihilation - Jeff VanderMeer
Annihilation is a beautiful mindfuck of a book. Told in evocative, meticulous prose, it describes an expedition into an uncharted and sinister terrain. Four women, referred to only by their titles - biologist, psychologist, anthropologist, surveyor - are recruited by the Southern Reach, a shadowy government agency, to venture into a region of south Florida known as Area X. Once a lightly-populated coastal wilderness adjoining a military base, an incomprehensible Event some thirty years ago transformed the landscape into an ominous grotesque, a deadly but ineffable biological menace. Like a cancer, the tainted biosphere seems to have arisen from its own rotted DNA. And, like a cancer, Area X is growing.
Theirs is the twelfth expedition. During their training, the members were not told much about the fate of their predecessors - only that the first expedition reported nothing unusual, "just pristine, empty wilderness". But the second expedition ended in mass suicide, and the third slaughtered each other. The Southern Reach no longer permits expedition members to bring weapons.
The biologist, our narrator, has a more personal connection to the program than her compatriots do: Her husband had been a member of the eleventh expedition. He returned, or his body did, but he had been reduced to some kind of shell or facsimile. He evinced a blank and dreamlike demeanor, and spoke seldom. Within six months of his return, he died from an aggressive, mysterious cancer. The seven other members of his expedition, she later learned, had all met the same fate.
The biologist's expertise in transitional environments qualifies her for the expedition, but her motives for joining are personal. It's not so much that she aches to learn what really happened to her husband, but that she covets the serenity he had apparently found on his journey: "At the time, I was seeking oblivion, and I sought in those blank, anonymous faces, even the most painfully familiar, a kind of benign escape. A death that would not mean being dead."
In this book, Vandermeer juxtaposes those heartbreakingly human desires against the unknowable, alien intelligence of Area X - this sinister, inexorable force that reads, remakes, infects, transforms. The region teems with tortured beings: turgid monsters with human eyes, crumbling villages full of strangely anthropoid vegetation, a distant moaning at twilight. And a tower buried in the ground, with walls that seem to sweat, and breathe, inscribed with ominous words made of insects and mold.
It is the tower that dominates the narrative from the very beginning. Annihilation has one of the best opening paragraphs I have ever read, which perfectly sets the tone:
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.
As the biologist descends into the tower, the words that spiral down its walls begin to infect her frame of mind. Formed of living mold, she inhales their spores, and she starts to grasp their terrible meaning: "Where lies the strangling fruit that came from the hand of the sinner I shall bring forth the seeds of the dead..."
Contaminated by the tissue and the mind of Area X, the biologist's consciousness starts to mutate and the boundaries between herself and the landscape begin to blur. Exploring further into the wilderness, toward the foreboding lighthouse at its center, the unraveling expedition strays farther and farther from its ostensible purpose, as one by one its members succumb to the terrifying reality warping the heart of Area X.
In some ways, this book is pure horror. In others, an exquisitely described biological dreamscape. It works as both hard science fiction and as philosophical fantasy. But what particularly fascinates and disturbs me about this incredible novel is how the biologist's transformation, though harrowing and unfathomable, is an utterly natural progression, a plausible, even inevitable evolution. We are all creatures of our environment, after all.
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text 2018-02-04 19:35
Reading progress update: I've read 195 out of 195 pages.
Annihilation - Jeff VanderMeer

Hmm. Well, I finished it. My rating will likely be 2.5 or 3 stars. It was a fairly compelling read, but the way my brain kept connecting it to Kobo Abe's The Box Man made me suspect that it would likely end without giving readers many (or any) answers, and I was right.


I might continue on with this trilogy, if only to see whether things become less ambiguous later on, but there are lots of other books on my TBR.

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text 2018-02-03 16:41
Reading progress update: I've read 93 out of 195 pages.
Annihilation - Jeff VanderMeer

The biologist is making a whole boatload of assumptions here.

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