Monday, February 24, 2014

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer: a review

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 our narrator, a biologist. 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.

My Review:

Once in a while you come across a book that makes your brain all….

This is one such book. 

Jeff VanderMeer has accomplished something remarkable with this novel. He was able to bottle the essence of abandoned places, calling to mind everything from Silent Hill to Pripyat. It’s not a scary book—no monsters jump out from around corners, and you won’t be too freaked out to turn off the lights. But every word is infused with this incredible, uncanny vibe that becomes more and more unnerving as you read on. You feel yourself being sucked into Area X along with the narrator as it seeps into your pores and changes you from the inside out. Just like the narrator, you become obsessed with the place, and quitting is not an option until you get it to surrender its secrets.

(And when you find out the meaning of the title… *mind=blown*)

Annihilation is a quick and breathtaking read. It’s told in the format of found journal (think Cloverfield or Blair Witch Project minus the shaky camera and general… cheesiness). The journal is that of the nameless biologist who was part of the twelfth (or so we’re told) expedition to the mysterious, abandoned Area X. Throughout the entire book the tone stays detached, almost formal—even in moments when our unnamed narrator talks about her life before she volunteered for the expedition.

Things are not quite right in Area X. Everything about it defies laws of biology and physics. There’s a lighthouse with signs of a brutal massacre, an abandoned village with human-like moss shapes… and a tunnel Tower in the center that may or may not be alive.

And no one of the previous eleven expeditions has come back. Those who did return seemingly had their minds and personalities erased.

The twelfth expedition consists of four people: the narrator, an anthropologist, a supervisor, and a psychologist sent by the shady Southern Reach (corporation? Government organization? Both?) with a sinister agenda where the other expedition members are concerned.

Naturally, it doesn’t take long for things to get ugly as Area X starts to mess with everyone’s minds.

I can’t say anything else about the plot without spoilering. But Annihilation was unlike anything I have ever read. There’s nothing predictable or formulaic about it, and I kept waiting for the usual tropes to pop up but they never did. It’s an absolutely unique book, and a must-read for any SFF fan, adult or YA.

If I could give six stars on Goodreads, I would. Thankfully I won’t have to torture myself too long waiting for the sequel—it comes out in May, with the trilogy conclusion scheduled for September.

Now go read it! I’m serious. Drop what you’re doing and read it. Hypnotoad compels you.

Nicole River is a blogger, reader, reviewer and aspiring author (of YA horror and other dark, occasionally disturbing things). You can find her blog here or follow her on Twitter here.

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