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review 2019-02-20 18:16
"Annihilation - Southern Reach #1" by Jeff Vandermeer - Highly Recommended
Annihilation: A Novel (The Southern Reach Trilogy) - Jeff VanderMeer

"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.

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text 2019-02-17 23:14
Reading progress update: I've read 25%.
Annihilation: A Novel (The Southern Reach Trilogy) - Jeff VanderMeer

This is a quiet nightmare. A vivid hallucination with a pervasive sense of threat, a compulsion to continue and a heightened awareness of your own helplessness. 

 

Not cheery but hard to look away from.

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review 2018-12-09 01:59
BORNE by JEFF VANDERMEER
Borne: A Novel - Jeff VanderMeer

Audiobook

Mutant giant bears - for some reason I didn't get that scared of them. The author must though. One of the book covers looks more like an ape than a bear.

Although this book is centered on a small portion of the human population trying to survive, the beginning was kind of sweet. Bahni Turpin did a great job with the narration. And it's opinion that I don't think anyone could have done a better job actually because the voices she gave, especially Borne, were so good. I was surprised at how things changed SPOILER!! [with Borne], which I thought was really sad because I just loved that character. The ending kind of scared me. What if it changed again? I loved the book. I would recommend it.

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review 2018-05-23 18:28
ANNIHILATION by JEFF VANDERMEER
Annihilation - Jeff VanderMeer

Audiobook

If there was a drinking game for every time the author wrote "perhaps" I'd be dead. Things happen but not really. Things are seen but not really. Is that a rat or something else becoming a rat? I could never really figure out whether events really happened to the characters. And there was way too much reminiscing/self-reflection going on for my taste. I way come back to the remaining books of this trilogy or I may not.

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text 2018-04-30 13:54
April Wrap-up
Russian Roulette: The Story of an Assassin - Anthony Horowitz
Scorpia Rising - Anthony Horowitz
Scorpia - Anthony Horowitz
Agent 21 - Chris Ryan
End Game - David Baldacci
Live Wire (Myron Bolitar, #10) - Harlan Coben
Annihilation - Jeff VanderMeer
Authority: A Novel - Jeff VanderMeer
Lucifer, Vol. 8: The Wolf Beneath the Tree - Ryan Kelly,Ted Naifeh,Peter Gross,Mike Carey,P. Craig Russell
The Scarecrow - Michael Connelly

14 books in a month.  All really good read of 4 to 4.5 stars read. 

 

I went to a charity second hand book sales. This charity has placed collection books near my office and asked readers to unload their books into the books. These books then be categorized by volunteers and hold in really big second hands book fair. 

 

For USD 1.5 dollars each, you could pick any book you want and brought them home. 

 

I went after work with a coworker. We got around a dozen each. A lot of them are of the Alex Rider series. I even picked up the same book twice, from different zone. My mistake is not a big deal as it is for charity. Plus I could gift this to my coworker who went with me. 

 

So... 

 

Got even more reading ahead of me. 

 

The Alex Rider series. 

 

I like it a lot. It is about a teenager, who was orphaned when young, and lost an uncle. It turned out his uncle was a spy working for MI6. So he got recruited, and used by the MI6. 

 

It is kind of interesting to see that most of the adults in the books are either the bad guys or dishonest adults with little concern for putting a teenager at risk.

 

The story is good enough. 

 

Scorpia - Anthony Horowitz  Scorpia - Anthony Horowitz  

 

The real bad guys starts with Scorpia. An international assassin group. Alex found out more about his father. He was told that he was once an assassin working for this group. And his loyalty to MI6 ended up with him being killed. 

 

Alex was briefly convinced that his father was betrayed by MI6.  One of the woman board member at Scorpia wants to turn Alex Rider to be on their team instead of the MI6. 

 

The plan work, for a short while. He was sent to an assassin assignment. To kill the leader of M16 Mrs Jones. 

 

The story is good and moving along nicely. There are some plot twists. The good thing about YA is that the bad guy usually tell you their evil plan instead of asking the readers to find a lot of clue on what's going on. 

 

The evil plan has to be spoiled and the teenager hero has to save the day. Not that much different with the adult versions. Just less bloody. 

 

A solid 4.5 stars read. 

 

Ark Angel - Anthony Horowitz  Ark Angel - Anthony Horowitz  

 

Alex was shot in the ending of the previous book. 

 

He was lucky that he was not killed. He was in a hospital.

 

The boy in his next room was there and some bad guys tried to kidnap him. Of course, Alex would try to save this boy. So he switch the room no with the boy and let the kidnappers mistook his identity and chase after him.

 

More danger ahead. 

 

The boy's father is thankful and invited Alex to take a trip with them.

 

Only to find out that the father was actually a bad guy.

 

More danger ahead. He tried to set a bomb in space and mayhem and destruction ensured. 

 

Only to have Alex soiled their plan.

 

Another 4 stars solid read. 

 

Snakehead - Anthony Horowitz  Snakehead - Anthony Horowitz  

 

Alex was in space in the end of the previous book.

 

He then fallen back on Earth and picked up by Australian intelligent agent. They tested his skills and kind of manipulated him to work for them.

 

The amount of cruelty involved is being belief. Seriously, how could adults deal with a teenager this way. Instead of wanting to protect him, they tried to use him.

 

This time, he met someone who knew his parents. 

 

He was supposed to go undercover. But his cover is brown and the bad guys already got his real identity.

 

Who rat him out? That's the more juicy part and side story. 

 

Another solid 4 stars read. 

 

Scorpia Rising - Anthony Horowitz  Scorpia Rising - Anthony Horowitz  

 

One of my favorite Alex Rider so far. A 4.5 to 5 stars read. 

 

There are new bad guys in Scorpia. In order to build up their reputation again, they are going to something big. 

 

As for Alex, he was supposed to be left out of any mission. Afterall, he is still a teenager. 

 

A terrorist threat has been made and the only clue is that it would target a school.  He seems to be a perfect guy for the part.

 

So again, there is a threat against Alex's life. This time, a sniper attack at his school. His friend got hurt in the process.

 

Alex has to leave school, and helped with MI6. Of course it is a trap. 

 

Before this book, Alex has suffered a lot. But he seems to be fine so far. 

 

Not this one. A big loss is coming. 

 

Solid 4.5 stars read. 

 

Russian Roulette: The Story of an Assassin - Anthony Horowitz  Russian Roulette: The Story of an Assassin - Anthony Horowitz  

 

A side story. The story is not about Alex but his opponent Yassen. 

 

Yassen background is horrible. He also lost his parents when he was young. He was not treated with kindness and he got involved with Scorpia much too young. 

 

A twist of events made him stayed with Scorpia. He got to know Alex's father, who tried to talk him out of being an assassin.

 

The story is good and give a bit more background of another character other than Alex.

 

Another solid 4 stars read. 

 

 

End Game - David Baldacci  End Game - David Baldacci  

 

The latest installment of Will Robie and Jessica Reel story. 

 

The Blue Man is missing. So Robie is tasked to find him. Reel joined in but was giving Robe the cold shoulder, 

 

Never Robie or Reel is good at taking about their emotion.

 

Robe is under stress. He failed his previous mission and was afraid that his PTSD would affect his performance. 

 

Blue Man went for a fishing trip and lost contact. Robie and Reel arrived at the location only to find hostile skinheads dominating the place.

 

A lot of running around and action. 

 

Also met the old flame of Blue Man.

 

Finally when the bad guys got sorted. Emotion things got sorted too. 

 

But how to deal with this is another story. 

 

A real estate plan to turn an old missile site into luxurious bunker for the rich. 

 

Some interesting plot twists later, and some interesting action at the end. 

Solid 4.5 read. 

 

Live Wire (Myron Bolitar, #10) - Harlan Coben  Live Wire (Myron Bolitar, #10) - Harlan Coben  

 

Myron is a sport agent. But he also got involved into trouble because he seems to be getting himself into trouble while trying to help others.

 

Harlan Coben is a brilliant writer, especially in developing the relation between Myron and Win.

 

Suzze is the former tennis queen. He asked Myron to help find her husband Lex.

 

While trying to find Lex, he run into his sister in law. His brother has lost contacted with Myron. 

 

So now he wants to find his brother. 

 

Quite a bit of running around. The bad guy was at the house of a rock star, keep making solid music with Lex while being hidden.

 

All is not well when Myron take a closer look under the surface. 

 

He called for help. Win stepped in.

 

Win was correctly pointed out the while Myron intention maybe good. He was the one who get into the trouble, while Win has to step in to do what he has to do to save him,

 

Win is a good friend. With a friend like Win, one could do a lot of things that one wouldn't dare on one own. 

 

Solid 4.5 read. 

 

Chris Ryan Extreme: Hard Target: Faster, Grittier, Darker, Deadlier - Chris Ryan  Chris Ryan Extreme: Hard Target: Faster, Grittier, Darker, Deadlier - Chris Ryan  

 

Bloody and action base. Read like a B action movie with a lot of loud sounds of explosions and shootings. 

 

Joe Gardner was ex-military. He lost his arm to an IED. He got a call from an ex-military John Bald saying he was in trouble.

 

Gardner got to Bald only to find that the urgency for a job. A money making illegal one. 

 

He wants out. But got interrupted by some other bad guys who found Bald's location.

 

Now he is offered by MI6 to find Bald, to protect him so that they could get to the even bigger fish.


A lot of persons shot at him. And he fired back.

 

The story left with a clip hanger. 

 

Not a lot of characters developments yet. That's why the movement seems a bit jumpy, with changing from one location to another. The plot seems a bit too complex to get notice by the intelligent agency. And the idea to have Gardner get into trouble and get something done. 

 

Not bad. Not great. But not bad. Solid 4 stars read. 

 

Agent 21 - Chris Ryan  Agent 21 - Chris Ryan  

 

Hard to believe this is from the same writer Chris Ryan. Spy story children version.

 

As I have just finished reading some Alex Rider stories. It is hard not to compare the two.  By comparison, the action is more real, but the characters not as adorable. 

 

Zachary is a teenager who parents were killed in a mass poisoning. 

 

He then recruited to be a spy. They faked his death and give him new identity. 

 

The problem is, he was supposed to be thirteen. There seems to be a lot of manipulation on the part of the adults. 

 

Thirteen can do a lot. But what motivated him to be a spy. Again, there are some secondary supporting characters. But none have developed deep relationship with Zachary yet. 

 

The action part is good. The character part is a bit underdeveloped. 

 

Still a solid 4 stars read. It read like a young Bourne. 

 

Annihilation - Jeff VanderMeer  Annihilation - Jeff VanderMeer  Authority: A Novel - Jeff VanderMeer  Authority: A Novel - Jeff VanderMeer  

 

First two books of a trilogy. 

 

Annihilation is a psycho sci-fi mystery. 

 

Four women scientists were sent into a strange alienated zone to find out what's going on. 

 

It seems to be a organic invasion but all the equipments failed after entering the zone. Previous expeditions were unsuccessful. 

 

What's at play is human psychology. The mistrust is there and the betray also. 

 

They were lost in the zone. And all of them were put into hypnotic suggestions in trying to control them.

 

There were strange writings on the wall. Instead of ink, it is some kind of moss that found the writings.  

 

Strange.  The setting of mood is really good. 

 

Solid 4.5 read. 

 

The second book was about how they survived and being interrogated by government agents. 

 

Again. Who is the liar? What do they all wants? 

 

Control is head of the project and interviewing the biologist. 

 

Everyone is lying. Is it drug or some kind of alien parasite that make people this way? 

 

Very weird. Like sci-fi on an acid trip. 

 

Solid  4 stars read. 

 

 Private: No. 1 Suspect: (Private 4) - James Patterson  Private: No. 1 Suspect: (Private 4) - James Patterson  

 

I have not read any James Patterson before. I bought two of his books and this is the first one. 

 

Seems okay at first. A detective agent head is in trouble. His girlfriend is murdered, found naked on his bed.

 

Look like a frame job.

 

He called his people. And his people is willing to lie for him if he killed someone.

 

The chapters are short and story moved along nicely. 

 

4 stars read. Not enough to motivate me to read the whole series. But good enough to spend time with in a lazy afternoon. 

 

The Scarecrow - Michael Connelly  The Scarecrow - Michael Connelly  

 

A really good read. Very enjoyable. 

 

Jack is a journalist and he was being downsided. 

 

Rachel is a FBI agent. 

 

They teamed up before in the last book Poet.

 

Now Jack is out of a job, he wanted to write book and his investigation into the trunk murder is going to lead him to it.

 

He called Rachel. Jack was in danger and Rachel came to his rescue. 

 

The killer is on to Jack and wanted to eliminate him before he go any further.

 

Another frame job.

 

The killer tried to isolate Jack to frame him for murder by putting a dead body in his house.  Fortunately, Rachel was there.  And it spoiled the killer's plan for Jack. 

 

 

The clever killer has a good plan and able to get away with killing for a long time. 

 

Rachel first made the connection that Jack was being isolated for the kill. Jack made further connection that he lead back to the data center that the law firm and the newsroom has in common.

 

All good and well.

 

Now the killer know Jack is coming closer to the truth.  More violence ensured. 

 

Jack was really brave but not really a good fighter. The action sense is good when Jack has to go into a knife fight with a wine opener. 

 

Good stuff. 

 

 

Nice and smooth. 5 stars read. 

 

Lucifer, Vol. 8: The Wolf Beneath the Tree - Ryan Kelly,Ted Naifeh,Peter Gross,Mike Carey,P. Craig Russell  Lucifer, Vol. 8: The Wolf Beneath the Tree - Ryan Kelly,Ted Naifeh,Peter Gross,Mike Carey,P. Craig Russell  

 

The only graphic novel read this month. Lucifer is a character created by Neil Gaiman and continued by Ryan Kelly, Ted Naifeh, Peter Gross, Mike Crey and P. Craig Russell. 

 

It is pretty good. Lucifer has his core value of seeking freedom. 

 

Michel teamed up with Lucifer to stop the Wolf from poisoning the tree of life.

 

Pretty nice graphic. Meant for adults. It is hard to explain. Just read it. 

 

Very enjoyable 4.5 stars read. 

 

Summary 

 

A fast read month. A lot of stories and it formed an imaginary space in my mind. Like meeting new characters that one has already familiar with. All the books are good pick. Very happy with the finds. 

 

 

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