Annihilation (Southern Reach, #1)
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Started reading July 02, 2019
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Jeff VanderMeer
Have you ever fallen into a tunnel and discovered it was actually a tower? I had that experience in a magical, surreal place called Sintra, in Portugal—because Sintra includes a tower buried in the ground. When I think back, it’s that tower-tunnel that tripped a wire in my brain and combined with my favorite hike in North Florida to create ANNIHILATION. Our brains have to make story out of such moments to help understand them. The same way that my brain turned a dolphin I saw in a freshwater canal at the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge into an otter at first… because how could it be a dolphin? And, then, of course, my subconscious went one better and gave it a human eye for the book.
Halim and 666 other people liked this
Sytze Hiemstra
Sytze Hiemstra
My old english teacher would have highly sexualised a tower buried in the soil...
Sytze Hiemstra
Sytze Hiemstra
he would have a field day with "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..."
BludStanes Schrank
BludStanes Schrank
I can't read this just because of the fact my brain keeps saying "Sinatra" every time I see Sintra and then I just get pissed off and start thinking about how many people openly adore certain entertai…
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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.
Jeff VanderMeer
Have you ever fallen into a tunnel and discovered it was actually a tower? I had that experience in a magical, surreal place called Sintra, in Portugal—because Sintra includes a tower buried in the ground. When I think back, it’s that tower-tunnel that tripped a wire in my brain and combined with my favorite hike in North Florida to create ANNIHILATION. Our brains have to make story out of such moments to help understand them. The same way that my brain turned a dolphin I saw in a freshwater canal at the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge into an otter at first… because how could it be a dolphin? And, then, of course, my subconscious went one better and gave it a human eye for the book.
Shannon and 90 other people liked this
Jacquie
Jacquie
Funny, as I was reading the section that introduced the tower-tunnel, I thought immediately of the spiral well/tower at the Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra! That whole property feels like it was designe…
Eric
Eric
I love the dual meaning of “not supposed to be there.” The obvious one is that they are looking at a map and the tower isn’t on it. Except we don’t know about the map yet, so as we orient ourselves to…
Christian Braithwaite
Christian Braithwaite
It's so interesting how thoughts translate into creativity. I'm a writer working on my first Novel. I recently finished Annihilation and it was great. We thank you for such a great novel. Good for you…
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Beyond the marsh flats and the natural canals lies the ocean and, a little farther down the coast, a derelict lighthouse.
Jeff VanderMeer
A shot I took around mile seven out at the St Marks Wildlife Refuge, looking out on the marsh flats with the sea somewhere beyond. At this point on the hike, you’re pretty far out and the quality of the light is extraordinary. I became a lighthouse enthusiast while researching the Southern Reach novels. The histories of most lighthouses are interesting in part because most lighthouse keepers were loners and eccentrics. I recommend two books, Guardians of the Lights and Women Who Kept the Lights. This image is from the lighthouse at St. Marks Wildlife Refuge, smaller than the one in the novel. But, oddly, the inside, which I hadn’t seen until last month since it’s not open to the public, strongly resembled the description in the Annihilation.
Xopher Butzgy
Xopher Butzgy
I loved the descriptions of Area X. I always had a very strong urge to bird there....
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Our expedition was the first to enter Area X for more than two years,
Jeff VanderMeer
Some reviewers have referenced the “forbidden zones” of the classic Roadside Picnic by the Strugatsky brothers, which was also made into the movie Stalker. But I was primarily influenced by the idea of expeditions into the unknown in the real world. Indeed, these continue in the twenty-first century–for example, this expedition in China. North Florida isn’t remote in that way–it’s riddled through with small towns, but it’s still possible to feel like you’re embedded very far in the wilderness.
Gerhard and 72 other people liked this
William Schmidt
William Schmidt
Area X and Roadside Picnic are on the top of my favorites list.
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Looking out over that untroubled landscape, I do not believe any of us could yet see the threat.
Jeff VanderMeer
The Spanish publisher of ANNIHILAITON created a trailer that shows their view of the landscape: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DEBRppUU4PQ
Gerhard and 37 other people liked this
Tony Martinez
Tony Martinez
If only they knew that most of Florida is an overgrown sand bar...
Ryan
Ryan
What did you think about the movie adaptation and its depiction of the landscape, was it what you had in mind?
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All of us were women this time,
Jeff VanderMeer
From the beginning, in the first draft, the expedition was composed of four women. I had a fifth character, a linguist, who resisted going–resisted being put on the page. So I left her out and then spent a lot of time figuring out why she hadn’t wanted to go–the answer to that question coming up in book three, Acceptance. As for the lack of descriptions, I address that in this My Bookish Ways interview: “I liked the idea of characters who the reader has to interpret through their actions, interactions, and dialogue—without any anchor of names or physical descriptions. The namelessness along with the lack of physical descriptions tends to embed the characters more into the landscape—the landscape encroaches on them more than it would otherwise, which amplifies the sense of them being totally on their own and isolated.” See also: Franz Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony”, although there the names are definitely symbolic. In Annihilation, there is a practical reason for not using names. Image below taken from this interesting article on Kafka’s story. http://johnstoi.web.viu.ca//kafka/inthepenalcolony.htm https://xenoptica.livejournal.com/1587.html
Morgan and 94 other people liked this
Ken
Ken
The way that the characters interacted was something the movie could never replicate (no fault of its own of course, different mediums).
Susan
Susan
Thanks for these notes, they are so interesting. Making me want to reread
Kaiju Reviews
Kaiju Reviews
I rarely read a book twice. I may read this trilogy again.
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chosen as part of the complex set of variables that governed sending the expeditions.
Jeff VanderMeer
A member of a prior expedition talks about the experience: https://youtu.be/gIe01iiPn_M
Lindsey and 16 other people liked this
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She had put us all under hypnosis to cross the border,
Jeff VanderMeer
The Southern Reach, the organization sending in the expeditions, may well be a little paranoid… https://youtu.be/WTlPzUhTdFA
Hiro K. and 19 other people liked this
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It took four days of hard hiking after crossing the border to reach the coast.
Jeff VanderMeer
Cue: Murder by Death’s “Those Who Left,” the arc of which describes the arc of the novel, a slow burn building to a crescendo. I listened to a lot of Murder by Death while writing Annihilation. They also did the soundtrack to my last novel, Finch. https://youtu.be/_Gu-ATF8VOM
Miranda and 27 other people liked this
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We had also been assured that it was safe to live off the land if necessary.
Jeff VanderMeer
My suggestion, however, would be to skip mushrooms altogether, should you decide to forage during your own expedition. It can be easy to eat the wrong mushroom, at which point the time for correct identification, and you, may have long passed…
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Our most outlandish equipment consisted of a measuring device that had been issued to each of us,
Jeff VanderMeer
ANNIHILATION isn’t funny–many terrible things happen. But some elements, like these measuring devices, are darkly funny to me, and have some correlation to things in the real world. The idea of expedition members removing themselves to a safe place is absurd, given that all of Area X is an unsafe place. The idea of a box with a glowing red button that’ll tell you you’re unsafe…when the whole time you’re in danger anyway…In an early draft of the novel, I had a scene where the expedition members stand around talking about these devices, but it wasn’t serving any purpose other than to underscore the irrational nature of life, so I cut it.
Tess C. and 63 other people liked this
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We had been forbidden watches and compasses.
Jeff VanderMeer
Warning: If embarking on an extended expedition include both a watch and a compass amongst your supplies. Trust not your smart phone, for by prophecy come down to us from many a doomed expedition, a smart phone may indeed become a dumb phone. But I wonder why they’ve been forbidden watches and a compass?
Cat
Cat
having seen the movie adaptation before reading, i loved comparing both mediums and often found darkly funny comparisons and somewhat explanations, this being one of them.
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But other phenomena could also result in “premature dissolution of expeditions,” as our superiors put it, so we needed to test our stamina for that place.
Jeff VanderMeer
The following phrases uttered by an expedition leader may help guard against “premature dissolution of expeditions.” However, side effects include nausea, sheeple disease, unnatural calm, strangulated scream rash, mumblecore, and loneliness. Consolidation of authority. There’s no reward in the risk. Floating and floating. Paralysis is not a cogent analysis.
Lindsey
Lindsey
Sheeple disease 🤣
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We also needed to acclimate ourselves to the environment.
Jeff VanderMeer
Meanwhile, under the surface, unbeknownst to the surveyor, the psychologist, and surveyor, but probably not the biologist this process is going on all around them. Beware the common thistle–it is more complex than you might imagine. (And also figures prominently in a later section of the novel.)
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one might encounter black bears...
This highlight has been truncated due to consecutive passage length restrictions.
Jeff VanderMeer
It is unlikely you’ll ever see a coyote out in the wild–they’re too sly and silent and wary. Black bears are generally shy and I’ve only seem them from a distance, crossing the trail far in front of me–elusive as thick dark smoke.
Zoozoo and 13 other people liked this
Sara
Sara
If you live in Tucson, AZ there is a very good chance you'll see a coyote, even in the middle of town. 🥰
Elena Westbrook
Elena Westbrook
We see coyotes in the suburbs of Dallas almost every week
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Bogs and streams hid huge aquatic reptiles, and so we were careful not to wade too deep to collect our water samples.
Jeff VanderMeer
The reptiles come back into play in ACCEPTANCE, book 3–in which a character must jump over one. This is easier than it sounds if the head is lost in the underbrush on one side of a raised trail and the tail on the other, thus ensuring that you can at least pretend it doesn’t see you. I have jumped over a large saurian in my day. I can’t pretend it didn’t make me long to have gone out for the long jump team in college. Quick test: Is this an alligator or a crocodile?
Jacqie
Jacqie
If it's a Florida animal, probably an alligator.
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Long ago, towns had existed here, and we encountered eerie signs of human habitation:
Jeff VanderMeer
In North Florida, you’ll find more than one abandoned town, overrun by kudzu, wisteria, and trees. I went back and forth on putting in a description of rusted-out cars, but decided against it, even though there’s an iconic batch of them on the road to Sopchoppy, because in the novels the coast was much less inhabited and there were fewer roads, and for one reason I can’t divulge. For more on Gulf Coast abandoned places, check out this facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AbandonedGulfCoast
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Far worse, though, was a low, powerful moaning at dusk.
Jeff VanderMeer
“When the smoke cleared, I saw that the room was empty, and the window free. The room was much lighter. The night air blew in, coldly, through the shattered panes. Down below, in the night, I could hear a soft moaning, and a confused murmur of swine-voices.” – William Hope Hodgson, The House on the Borderland
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The wind off the sea and the odd interior stillness dulled our ability to gauge direction,
Jeff VanderMeer
Long after finishing ANNIHILATION, someone brought up the subject of Cold Skin, by a Catalan writer. The novel is set on an isolated island and deals with issues of loneliness, aloneness, and desolation. It includes a lighthouse and a monster. The words “annihilation” and “annihilate” pop up two or three times. The two novels are completely different and I had never encountered the author before, but there is no denying a thematic resonance.
Vicki and 30 other people liked this
Weeks
Weeks
There is a film adaptation too, but it may be a hyperbolic version of the book. Not sure. Didn't read or see.
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If you looked out through these areas, toward the ocean, all you saw was the black water, the gray of the cypress trunks, and the constant, motionless rain of moss flowing down.
Jeff VanderMeer
Rachel Carson’s writings have been a huge influence on me for a long time, and her first book remains one of my favorites. Under the Sea-Wind, with its detailed accounts of coastal ecosystems, is, among many things, a description of places that no longer exist or exist in altered form now. You cannot have too much Spanish moss around here. Or, rather, you can’t escape the moss. But, after a while, you tend to forget it’s all around you because…it’s always around you. Then you come across a scene like this one while out in the wilderness…and you remember again.
Amy and 25 other people liked this
Kimberly Nicholas
Kimberly Nicholas
Jeff, this is so cool to see your annotations and inspirations behind your writing. Thanks for giving us a peek inside your weird and wonderful brain!! 😃
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The beauty of it cannot be understood, either, and when you see beauty in desolation it changes something inside you. Desolation tries to colonize you.
Jeff VanderMeer
Have you ever been someplace where all you could hear is the wind? One thing I love about hiking in North Florida is getting somewhere that remote. The world’s a wild and unexpected place. Take care with where you wander. I’ll only be your guide for so long before I fall away and you’re on the journey all alone… “The Other Side of the Mountain” by Michel Bernanos also deals with desolation and with facing the unknown. It’s a brilliant piece of fiction from the 1960s. Although the Bernanos is not a conscious influence, in looking back I can see how the tenacity of my biologist is allied to the tenacity of the characters in “The Other Side…” You can find the novella in an anthology I edited with my wife, Ann, entitled, The Weird. This 1,200-page monstrosity covers one hundred years of strange an unusual fiction. For more on Bernanos, this essay by Gio Clairval provides an interesting overview. http://weirdfictionreview.com/2011/11/essay-the-mountain-dead-from-life/
Skylar Phelps
Skylar Phelps
The Weird continues to be my favorite anthology of all time! Honestly, at least once a week one of the stories will pop into my head and I will smile (or shiver) just thinking about it and the way it …
Elena Westbrook
Elena Westbrook
Ooh, I loved "The Other Side of the Mountain" but had forgotten about it!
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Nothing that lived and breathed was truly objective—even in a vacuum, even if all that possessed the brain was a self-immolating desire for the truth.
Jeff VanderMeer
As someone who worked with government agencies for a time, including science-based ones, I quickly realized that “the information” is always malleable. That even the perspective by which “facts” are collected has subjectivity of some sort built-in. This is one reason why even in the hard sciences you see old theories become out-of-date. This isn’t a bad thing necessarily, but I like that the biologist recognizes that consciousness creates subjectivity.
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Names belonged to where we had come from, not to who we were while embedded in Area X.
Jeff VanderMeer
As you will discover, the use of names is strictly prohibited in Area X. Expeditions that used names, rather than references to job function, appear to have been more easily “hacked” by whatever is lurking in Area X. (Lurking or slithering or lurching or…?) Alas, this is where I must leave you, dear reader–on the verge. You’ll be continuing on this expedition by yourself. I hope my annotations have helped to in some small way fortify you on your journey. Be brave. It will all be over soon.
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“Where lies the strangling fruit that came from the hand of the sinner I shall bring forth the seeds of the dead to share with the worms that…”
Jeff VanderMeer
Ever have a déjà vu moment from a dream? I have. Later, I will experience even a small moment that I’m certain I already dreamed. But I still have never had as revelatory a dream as the one in which I was walking down the stairs of a tunnel-tower with living words on the wall… and remembered the words when I woke up! I still can’t quite explain it. I never remember words. I take this as a real gift from my subconscious.
Don
Don
It's interesting. I'm rarely able to read in dreams, but when I've been able to force myself to make sense of the words, they tend to have this same kind of run-on quality.
Benjamin Fair
Benjamin Fair
I've definitely experienced this before. It's such a strange feeling!
A
A
The full tunnel-tower living message is simply one of the most evocative, beautiful, profound, magical, and dreadful passages I have ever read.
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There are certain kinds of deaths that one should not be expected to relive, certain kinds of connections so deep that when they are broken you feel the snap of the link inside you.
Jeff VanderMeer
Just like the world is filled with the invisible pheromone trails of insects, there is also the power of human relationships and how we form commitments and connections. And this is a brightly shining, radiant pattern that we cannot see but is always there. When the pattern breaks in some way, we feel it deeply.
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The map had been the first form of misdirection, for what was a map but a way of emphasizing some things and making other things invisible?
Jeff VanderMeer
A map is just another story we tell—what we put on the map is the plot, the characters. What we leave off is what we don’t want in our story. Here’s a challenge—find a map of an area you don’t know and another of an area you don’t know. Can you tell what’s missing or over-emphasized on each? Can you build a profile of the mapmaker from the map?
Luke and 35 other people liked this
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That’s how the madness of the world tries to colonize you: from the outside in, forcing you to live in its reality.
Jeff VanderMeer
The biologist is always thinking from a perspective that exposes the foundational assumptions of the majority as being flawed. Those things that in your daily life you don’t even notice are lies. Some are benign lies, but others are leading to actual crises in the world. I feel like the difference between the biologist and, say, Lowry, from the later books, is that Lowry
Tess C.
Tess C.
Lowry what? LOWRY WHAT??
Cody
Cody
@Tess lmao
Tess C.
Tess C.
;)
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There shall be a fire that knows your name, and in the presence of the strangling fruit, its dark flame shall acquire every part of you.
Jeff VanderMeer
I can recall in such vivid detail the moment in the dream I saw these words. They felt like they were written in burning letters in my brain. If you can imagine a dream where you don’t know that you’re dreaming, but you’re endlessly descending, with living words on the wall. I can’t really describe how frightening and yet amazing that moment was.
Dan and 35 other people liked this
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some questions will ruin you if you are denied the answer long enough.
Jeff VanderMeer
We live in our heads a lot—even more so during times like what 2020 became. When there’s some fundamental question to be answered that doesn’t get answered, we tend to imagine things. And we usually imagine worst-case scenarios. Like, if you’ve ever had to talk to a prickly neighbor about some problem? And you have that conversation in your head and it goes badly, but then you actually talk to them and it’s a pleasant experience? So there’s a kind of possible damage that comes in due to our own amazing ability to visualize.
Amy and 28 other people liked this
Zac
Zac
2020 was indeed an interesting year for me to read this trilogy and the Borne trilogy for the first time. These books spent a lot of time at the forefront of my mind on dark, quiet nights.
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That which dies shall still know life in death for all that decays is not forgotten and reanimated shall walk the world in a bliss of not-knowing …
Jeff VanderMeer
Listen, I was just the conduit for this text. What do you think it means? Because I’m still figuring it out. But maybe, in part, it means I live in North Florida and everything always decaying and full of mushrooms.
Zach and 30 other people liked this
Don
Don
Well, "reanimated shall walk the world in a bliss of not-knowing" sure reminds me of the third book.
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“We all live in a kind of continuous dream,” I told him. “When we wake, it is because something, some event, some pinprick even, disturbs the edges of what we’ve taken as reality.”
Jeff VanderMeer
Sometimes revelation comes from something prosaic, like knowing more facts about the world. I remember when I first learned about native plants and how important it is for bees and butterflies. Around the Annihilation era, my hikes were all about the animals—birds, otters, alligators. Now I know more about plants and have a sense of whether a lush habitat is actually that or a food desert for wildlife. I would say that meant I “woke up” a bit.
Gerhard and 24 other people liked this
Sandra Bollenbacher
Sandra Bollenbacher
Reading your annotations made me want to reread the whole trilogy :)
Jack Stevens
Jack Stevens
I want to learn more about environmental biology and ecology now, reading all these annotations and insights
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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Jeff VanderMeer
I’m excited to have a new novel coming out, HUMMINGBIRD SALAMANDER (April 2021), which expands on the themes in ANNIHILATION and once again features a character who is, in some ways, at odds with the world she lives in and who feels out of place. It’s a thriller with a lot of twists and turns and, yes, it features a hummingbird and a salamander. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/53359447-hummingbird-salamander
Alfin and 94 other people liked this
Melissa
Melissa
Thank you Jeff for your lovely annotations. I visited St. Marks on my birthday last year, completely inspired to take the trip because of your books. These books have changed my life!
Vandana
Vandana
Love your southern reach trilogies!
Debbie Hope
Debbie Hope
Loved loved LOVED Hummingbird Salamander! I had not read Annihilation but took on the trilogy afterward. Amazing!