**spoiler alert** After the last few duds I read, I wasn't expecting much from "Annihilation." Is that fair? No. But, do you start expecting less when**spoiler alert** After the last few duds I read, I wasn't expecting much from "Annihilation." Is that fair? No. But, do you start expecting less when a pattern of garbage (to be fair, a pattern of two stinky, waste-of-paper/time, garbage books) has been developed? Sure. Which brings me back to "Annihilation." What do you see in the patterns of writing, of human speech, of nighttime sounds? Are you always able to recognize changes in patterns, or does your brain fill in the omissions or changes so it keeps finding the same pattern? Can you make sense of the pattern even if it is unchanging? Can you extract the building blocks of the pattern to understand why? And are your memories or the memories of others truthful? Is evidence really evidence and of what?
Jeff VanderMeer creates a dreamy, nightmarish Area X, which I can still see when I close my eyes. In under 200 pages, he captures not only the shifting environment, so similar and yet so different from our own, as well as the shifting emotions of the main character in such a way that you can practically feel the sun on your skin or see the wall words of the Tower/tunnel, as well as a compulsion to find out WHAT THE F is going on and what is with your cohorts.
The biologist, whose name we never learn, is an introverted character, who needed to experience a significant loss and embark on an adventure few in the post-Area X world experience to get her shit together. Her flashbacks to episodes during her childhood, first job, and married life brought her to life so much so that I felt as though I knew her. In many ways, I could relate to her interest in being a keen observer and sense of detachment in social situations, which has lessened for me the longer I've climbed the accounting ladder. However, if I had selected a career observing and documenting tidepools, I might be more insulated like the biologist. This introversion and strong sense of self are some of the reasons that the biologist is able to survive without the pack and find answers more quickly to questions previous expeditions had taken weeks to solve. Are we sure the brightness described happens and is one reason the biologist makes it? Is she unreliable? I submit that narrators are always somewhat reliable if they are in any way human. It's all about what the narrators remembers and experiences, accurate or not. Is she still hypnotised to some extent and that's why even she never refers to anyone's proper name, even her husband, when we are in her inner thoughts? Did the Southern Reach vaccinate her in some way so that she was able to keep going, or did the contact with the shell of her husband after his return give her an immunity? As far as she knew, she was the only spouse of a previous expedition member that chose to go on her own expedition.
In some ways, the novel feels like things are moving slowly, but if you sit back and think about it, there's quite a lot of action pillowed by moments of introspection. And who wouldn't be introspective if in an environment in which you have no digital/electronic distractions, few or no other humans with which to interact, or cultural events to distract you from actually noticing what's happening within and without? The pacing seemed just right given the events of the novel.
Don't think for a minute that the length of this book or the fact that it is the first in a quickly published triology (from 2014) means that it doesn't pack a punch. This isn't fluff. It's science fiction/mystery/horror/romance (okay, I thought so on that last one - lots of ugly bumping does not a romance make in my mind) and at no point did it feel forced or badly nailed together. I was so engrossed in this book that I had to detach myself from my boyfriend after getting home from the city so I could finish the last 20 or so pages. Quite a feat! It's interesting that the great movie trilogies (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Back to the Future) seem to have spawned a trend in book publishing, albeit years later. Why not? Humans like stories that are suspense-filled and that *don't* give you the answer right away, despite claims that immediate satisfaction is penultimate. Serial publishing made Dickens, Dumas, and Melville, so what's wrong with that style today? Nada, I say. Unless it is garbage filled, as are the Passage, Twilight, and Divergent series. Then it should rot, slowly moldering. Or maybe quickly so it's presence stops troubling me.
What's also great about "Annihilation" is that it stands on its own. As much as you want to find out whether the biologist makes it to her next goal, there's something to be said for the author creating a good enough story that you imagine several options for her, but feel as though the story arc was complete. I don't know whether they'll be answered in the sequels, but I'm definitely going to read them!...more