Bryan Alexander's Reviews > Annihilation

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
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really liked it
bookshelves: gothic, new-weird, sf

I liked this very much. Annihilation is a brooding, unsettling, surreal short novel.

The plot concerns a group of explorers sent by a shadowy government to check out "Area X", a zone in an unidentified nation where strange things have been happening. Nature has been subtly altered, and human reactions are peculiar. Our team is the latest in a series of expeditions, many of which met mad ends. The protagonists are all specialists, all women, and all unnamed. They enter Area X and... I'll leave the rest for spoilers.

Annihilation depends on atmosphere for effect, but has a solid plot. The narrator's sense of disorientation and estrangement from humanity deepens as Area X's depths become more detailed and unsettling. She's busy, though, as the expedition proceeds and runs into challenges. The team's mission and its fate structures action, as does the progressive revelation of Area X mysteries. We are also treated to good character depiction, as the narrator uses the present to reflect on her personal story.

Annihilation draws heavily on some sources. First, the conceit and plot owe much to the great Andrei Tarkovsky film Stalker (1979). That's based on the Strugatsky brothers' 1971 novel Roadside Picnic, but it's Tarkovsky's imagining that really shines through Vandermeer's. Aliens have visited the earth and left behind a Zone where nature has been subtly transformed. At the center of the Zone is supposed to be a legendarily powerful structure. Governments have made visiting this illegal, so people sneak in at some risk to themselves. You see the link.

Second, Annihilation reads like JG Ballard, especially Ballard's earlier novels and stories. The narrator (unnamed, but nicely nicknamed "ghost bird" by her husband) communicates in that Ballardian tone: cold, detached, carefully observant, while also quick to enter abstraction. Vandermeer's novel also has that early Ballard sense of a wrecked world, one where natural forces have undermined humanity to an apocalyptic level.

Third, and this is somewhat of a spoiler, (view spoiler)

Taken together these references give the novel a great deal of imaginative power and some emotional affect. Like a Tarkovsky film or Ballard story, its images stick with you for some time afterwards.

It's a pleasure to see Vandermeer continue to hone his craft and expand its range. (There's at least one cute mushroom reference)

Annihilation is the first of a series; I'll look for the second book.
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Reading Progress

April 7, 2014 – Shelved
April 7, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
June 8, 2014 – Started Reading
June 8, 2014 – Shelved as: gothic
June 8, 2014 – Shelved as: new-weird
June 8, 2014 – Shelved as: sf
June 8, 2014 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Julie Davis I've been wanting to read this since Jenny reviewed it. You just moved it closer to the top of my list (once I've tackled Ancillary Justice).


Bryan Alexander I'll write up some review notes for you soon, Julie.


Jenny (Reading Envy) I've heard book two is from the pov of people who know the truth about Area X, "Control." On my shortlist.


Bryan Alexander Oh neat.


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