Series: Southern Reach Trilogy #1
Published: 2014 by Macmillan
Genres: Horror/Gothic, Science Fiction
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Annihilation, the first book in Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, is a horror/survival story in which mankind explores the site of a world-changing catastrophe.
The premise reminds me a bit of Roadside Picnic in that there’s this zone where something seriously weird happened, and it changes the people who interact with it in mysterious ways. The difference is that Roadside Picnic explores the way the fabric of society hangs together using the idea of the zone as a focal point, whereas Annihilation focuses much more heavily on the individual.
Many years ago, an unknown but devastating environmental catastrophe created Area X, a wild no-man’s land that becomes uninhabitable by civilization. Multiple expeditions have been sent to study Area X, but none of them have been able to unravel it’s secrets–or even return in one piece, for that matter.
This is the twelfth expedition. Four women, a biologist (the narrator), an anthropologist, a surveyor, and a psychologist, are sent into Area X. They bring with them very little from the modern world, and are stripped even of their names when they enter. Almost immediately after crossing the border, tensions and mistrust erupt among the group. Area X is uncanny, and nothing is as simple as it appears.
As the biologist delves deeper into the mysteries of Area X, readers learn more about her husband, who was a participant on an earlier mission. We discover the biologist’s need for solitude and the way that her own perception of her husband kept her from forming as deep a relationship with him as she could have, even though it’s obvious that the two loved each other very much and complemented each other well. The biologist explores her own motivations for entering Area X, tangling out how much of it was a desire to be closer to her former husband and how much was just that she has always found her center while pondering the natural world and observing ecosystems. This strand of the story grounds the work that’s going on in Area X within the context of the world that still exists outside it and serves as a constant reminder that everything is interconnected and that nothing happens in a vacuum.
I don’t want to say much more about Annihilation in order to avoid spoiling the story and its pacing for you, suffice to say that it is phenomenal and that if you haven’t read it, you should. Area X creates a feeling of tension that permeates throughout the entire narrative, and you can’t escape the knowledge that the expedition is almost certainly doomed. And yet that feeling of the inevitable is part of what makes you want to keep finding out more about Area X and what secrets it holds.