Hugo & Nebula Awards: Best Novels discussion

Annihilation (Southern Reach, #1)
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Monthly Reading: Discussion > October, 2019--Annihilation (Spoilers allowed)

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message 1: by Kateblue, 2nd star to the right and straight on til morning (last edited Oct 01, 2019 07:44AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kateblue | 2266 comments Mod
Put all of your conversations about Annihilation here.


message 2: by Oleksandr, a.k.a. Z (new) - rated it 4 stars

Oleksandr Zholud | 1792 comments Mod
I've read the whole trilogy. For me the sense of strange was done great, but the final answers were weak.


Scott | 115 comments I loved the first book but couldn't get through the second. Don't know if I'll give it another try sometime.


Gabi | 81 comments Weeell ... I only wanted to start today, but the story turned out so perfect for me that I raced through the book. Best moment: when she sees the journals ... Just wow!

And just yesterday I was telling my son about my fascination with tidal pools off the coast of Scotland - and here they are as integral motivation part of an introvert biologist. I understood her so well.

Now I'm very insecure if I should read on. It is perfect like it is and I fear that any attempt to explain stuff will water it down.


Scott | 115 comments Gabi wrote: "Now I'm very insecure if I should read on. It is perfect like it is and I fear that any attempt to explain stuff will water it down."

That's exactly how I felt. The ambiguity is perfect as it is.


message 6: by Jay (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jay Sandover | 2 comments Oleksandr wrote: "I've read the whole trilogy. For me the sense of strange was done great, but the final answers were weak."

My feeling, too. The first 2 books were almost life-changing for me in terms of impact. That's rare for me now in my 40's. I liked the ending, but it didn't have that same power.


message 7: by Sam (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sam (buchflimmern) | 4 comments Gabi wrote: "Now I'm very insecure if I should read on. It is perfect like it is and I fear that any attempt to explain stuff will water it down."

Same here. I read book one a while ago and it perfectly captured a mysterious and otherwordly atmosphere. I'm the worst when it comes to continuing on with series, but I was especially hesitant with the Southern Reach books.

As a side note, I'm a linguist, so I really enjoyed having a "colleague" as one of the protagonists :D


Kalin | 98 comments I've heard so many similar comments about books 2 & 3 being disappointing verging on unfinishable, especially on r/printSF, that I never even bothered considering reading them.

Annihilation was an interesting read in terms of texture and atmosphere. I found Vandermeer's choice to not name characters and only refer to them by title ("anthropologist, psychologist") really irritating. I'm glad it was as short as it was, because it felt mostly like nothing happened even by the time I finished.


Banshee (bansheethecat) | 7 comments I read the entire trilogy recently and I actually really enjoyed books 1 and 3. The second one was a bit of a slog, but in the other two I appreciated the atmosphere of mystery.

I generally tend to enjoy the people vs. nature works, especially when it's the nature that's winning in the context of what's happening in the real world.

But my most important reason for enjoying Annihilation was the main protagonist, the Biologist. It's rare for me to find a character with which I can identify to such a large extent. I am myself a pretty extreme introvert and at times it felt as if the author copied the contents of my mind and put it into the Biologist's head. It's pretty clear to me that either he is an introvert to an extent or he knows very well people with this kind of personality.


message 10: by Gabi (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gabi | 81 comments @Banshee: I totally agree with your thoughts regarding introverts! Nobody in my old lab could understand when I tried to explain that I wouldn't come to Christmas get-togethers cause those situations cost me a year's equivalent of social energy. VanderMeer totally nailed it!


Scott | 115 comments I have heard that the third book is much better than the second, and that you don't even really have to read the second, but I wouldn't feel right jumping ahead that way.

Referring to the characters by their roles worked for me. I think it helped put you in the place of the organization that was employing them, who probably didn't get to close to any of their people either (since they were liable to lose them in the end.) It also kept up the feeling of disorientation, since you didn't even have names to latch on to.


message 12: by Kateblue, 2nd star to the right and straight on til morning (last edited Oct 04, 2019 10:16AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kateblue | 2266 comments Mod
Here's my review . . . I can't really write right now because too much to do.
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

Later there should be SF for you to shop, but right now, no time.
Here's a link to the usual Friday sale by Open Road

https://theportalist.com/1000-ebook-s...


message 13: by Ed (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ed Erwin | 275 comments I liked this one more than I usually like JV's work. I don't intend to read the sequels because I don't think I need to. They could possibly resolve some ambiguities, which I don't feel I need, or could add more to the story, which I also don't need. It is fine as it is.

The movie version is related to the book version about as much as "Stalker" is related to "Roadside Picnic": similar, but distinctly different.

The movie has one fewer character, includes the lighthouse, but not the "tower", and does not include the word "annihilation" as a subconscious trigger. It was intended as a stand-alone movie, so it does include some matter from books 2 and 3, which is another reason I don't need to read those books.


message 14: by Gabi (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gabi | 81 comments I watched the movie yesterday, but I was disappointed. I was missing the atmospheric feeling and didn't like the added monster parts.


message 15: by Oleksandr, a.k.a. Z (new) - rated it 4 stars

Oleksandr Zholud | 1792 comments Mod
Ed wrote: " They could possibly resolve some ambiguities, which I don't feel I need, or could add more to the story, which I also don't need. "

No big questions are answered / ambiguities resolved, only minor ones in the rest of the trilogy.


Antti Värtö (andekn) | 339 comments I liked how the book had an extremely creepy feeling without showing almost anything that's unambiguously "scary".

To me, the scariest part weren't the ones describing the weird things in the area, but the psychological horror when the protagonist discovers the extent of the hypnosis and the lies. When she realises she doesn't and can't know what's true anymore: that's really scary stuff.

It was pretty inevitable that the book would not have any proper resolution or answers: I was actually rather surprised that VanderMeer described the biologist's descent into the tower and back. I expected the final page would say something like "tomorrow I will go into the tower and find out what's at the bottom" and just end there.

I feel like after the lighthouse the book started to lose steam and the descent into the tower was a bit disappointing, but all in all the book was good enough.


Kirsten #ripcarollspinney (kmcripn) | 16 comments Kalin wrote: "I've heard so many similar comments about books 2 & 3 being disappointing verging on unfinishable, especially on r/printSF, that I never even bothered considering reading them.

Annihilation was a..."


I found the non-naming characters annoying too.


message 18: by Kateblue, 2nd star to the right and straight on til morning (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kateblue | 2266 comments Mod
The lack of names actually helped me read this book. I always forget names anyway, although not usually with a book as straightforward plotwise as this and with as few characters as this. Still, I liked it.


Antti Värtö (andekn) | 339 comments I liked the non-naming of characters: it added to the feeling that the mysterious and sinister Southern Reach really isn't looking after the welfare of the members of expeditions. The implied dehumanization created an extra layer of suffocating anxiety to the book.


message 20: by Oleksandr, a.k.a. Z (new) - rated it 4 stars

Oleksandr Zholud | 1792 comments Mod
A nice interpretation about the dehumanization, Antti!


message 21: by Kateblue, 2nd star to the right and straight on til morning (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kateblue | 2266 comments Mod
Yes, Annti! I hadn't seen it as depersonalization for a purpose before, but it makes perfect sense.


Antti Värtö (andekn) | 339 comments Now that I thought about it a bit further, I'm having trouble understanding the motivations of the Southern Reach. I can understand why they would lie about the number of past expeditions, especially if they don't know about the pile of notebooks in the lighthouse (if they DO know about the pile, then the lying makes no sense: why would you set up a situation where the expedition will lose all trust in you?)

But I can't understand why they would omit the tower from the maps. I mean, the expedition will find the tower on the first day. Why not just include the tower and ask them to investigate? What good does it do to leave the tower out of the map? Or don't they know where the tower is - they just know it's somewhere near the base camp, but don't know the exact location?

And why do they keep sending expeditions, if no one ever comes back with anything useful? Why send scientists instead of, I don't know, soldiers? What is the actual point of the expeditions?

(Now that I think on it some more, maybe they just want to study and dissect the "returned" members of expeditions. Perhaps they really want to dehumanize the members, both figuratively and literally! But in that case wouldn't it be better to go full SCP Foundation and send death row inmates?)


message 23: by Oleksandr, a.k.a. Z (new) - rated it 4 stars

Oleksandr Zholud | 1792 comments Mod
Antti wrote: "Now that I thought about it a bit further, I'm having trouble understanding the motivations of the Southern Reach. ."

For me it was "don't think, enjoy the ride". Maybe it is a bit Kafkian, with the Institute continuing the research, the goal of which is forgotten. I have to re-read to recall the details, but IIRC there were no explanations given


Anthony (albinokid) | 87 comments In some ways, the novel felt like an exercise on the part of Vandermeer, but it was a throughly involving, evocative, and eerie exercise. Did anyone else find bits of mordant humor in the approach he took?


message 25: by Kateblue, 2nd star to the right and straight on til morning (last edited Oct 09, 2019 08:53AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kateblue | 2266 comments Mod
I usually have huge vocabulary, but I had to look up mordant. Did this book "have or show" humor of "a sharp or critical quality?" Was it "biting?"

I really didn't get that. I did not get any humor at all, really. I just think Vandermeer wants to make his books mysterious as a way of distinguishing himself as a writer and developing "weird" as a genre. As I said in my review, I don't think that "weird" writing is anything but the author telling the story in a way so that the reader doesn't really know what is going on--in this case, by having the characters be confused and misled by the people who sent them on their trek.

If this book had started from the "beginning" when the ghost area started, it wouldn't have been weird at all. I can even see it rewritten that way as a Neal Stephenson book. Too long and technical, but explaining everything as it was discovered.

I really wonder if VanderMeer, Jeff knows why people disappear or why the big stack of notebooks exists in the lighthouse, or why the biologist has to turn back at the bottom (top?) of the tower? As an author, it's probably easy to build a creepy, unexplained story if you don't know what is going on yourself.

The fact that people have said that the third book does not have a satisfying ending makes me wonder if Vandermeer has unfinished worldbuilding. It's like the end of the TV show "Lost." The writers had no clue how to get out of it. They just didn't have anything to tell us about what really happened because they didn't know either.

Perhaps that's why I liked the Wayward Pines trilogy as a better example of weird writing. There WAS an explanation that became obvious later as the character learned what was going on. I guess I just think that weird fiction, well done, is not weird, it's just good fiction.

Plus, one of my least favorite literary devices is keeping things from a reader--facts that the characters know (or that the author knows would help at a particular point). But instead, the author purposely doesn't tell the reader to keep the suspense up. An extremely hideous example of that was Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, extremely popular for absolutely NO reason I can fathom. I felt betrayed by that book when the facts about the first-person supposed protagonist were revealed almost at the end of the book. It's like you feel ripped off. I didn't care enough about this book or its characters to really feel ripped off, but it definitely felt unfinished to me.

Ditto telling things out of order, which definitely happened here, not just with the husband as rationale for the biologist's actions, but also for, basically, the whole book. (The other side of this coin is foreshadowing a later outcome, which I also hate, but that doesn't really apply here.)

Anyway, I think not telling facts that should be known is a lazy way to create suspense and make a story when there's really not much of a story there. Vandermeer has added to this by making a huge government(?) conspiracy to keep the facts from volunteers. Now, I don't think governments are good at conspiracies, having worked for a couple of them. Mistakes and subsequent coverups, yes, but long drawn out conspiracies of the size this one must be? I don't buy it. And the reason for the hypnotism stuff and the role of the psychologist--never explained. I don't buy it, either.

Sorry, Anthony, I guess the "mordant humor" idea just got me going about some of the things that bug me as a reader. Many of which detracted from my enjoyment of the book.

OK! Discuss! Or not.


Scott | 115 comments It's a fine line between too much and too little but I think Jeff gets it right here. He gives just enough and in such a way that I want to keep thinking about it...and thinking about it...even now, long after I've read it.

As opposed to a book like Empty Space: A Haunting, where I had no damn clue what was going on at any given time, and don't care. (I do however recommend the first two books in that trilogy, which is also about a weird zone.)

I am really glad Stephenson didn't write this book.


message 27: by Kateblue, 2nd star to the right and straight on til morning (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kateblue | 2266 comments Mod
Scott, I am also really glad Stephenson didn't write this book. It would be endless. But I'm still saying, the book could be written that way. Weird is in the mind of the author.


Caitlin O'Neill (ktdid42) | 24 comments Finished this yesterday, i really liked it. I have a science degree so i was really thrilled to read a book that had a this kind of point of view. It left me wanting more... i really wanted to know if she found her husband, what was at the bottom of the tower, why the replicas wound up dying from cancer so soon after going back... I am hoping to get some of these answers in books 2 and 3.


message 29: by Alex (new) - rated it 4 stars

Alex (kyptan) | 4 comments The part that gets to me the most is the Biologist that was unable to make her scientific curiosity work within the framework of academia, and the land of grants and funding. She knew it too, she knew that her personal passion wasn't compatible with...well, really any other people. I love the ending because of that. She was unhappy in a world with people. Maybe she'll be happier in the wilderness with maybe possibly only a few others.


Scott | 115 comments Do I remember correctly the dolphin having eyes that reminded her of her husband? What did people make of that? He mutated, or refracted (as in the film) with the dolphin?


message 31: by Alex (last edited Oct 10, 2019 07:47PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Alex (kyptan) | 4 comments Life as a dolphin doesn't sound too bad either.

[Edit] add:
I like what it says about modern society, that literally everyone either breaks or escapes when they react to Area X.


Scott | 115 comments I don't like seafood.


message 33: by Alex (new) - rated it 4 stars

Alex (kyptan) | 4 comments Neither do I


Antti Värtö (andekn) | 339 comments I don't trust any of the Biologist's intuitions. She reveals herself to be an unreliable narrator pretty early on, and I get the feeling her reliability doesn't exactly get any better as the book progresses.

So, the dolphin may or may not have human-like eyes: perhaps it was just her fantasy that the dolphin is her husband, transformed but still alive.


message 35: by Oleksandr, a.k.a. Z (new) - rated it 4 stars

Oleksandr Zholud | 1792 comments Mod
Just a few notes as I started re-reading the second volume, Authority. It is set in the Institute and goes from POV of Control, who replaced the missing director.

1. the 12th expedition returns w/o the psychologist. The biologist is found in the abandoned lot, depicted in the first book.
2. the missing director is the psychologist.


message 36: by Ed (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ed Erwin | 275 comments Kateblue wrote: "... I don't think that "weird" writing is anything but the author telling the story in a way so that the reader doesn't really know what is going on ..."

I disagree about your terminology. I don't know the exact definition of "Weird fiction", if there is one, and don't believe in strict genre limits anyway, but the sorts of techniques you describe are not limited to "Weird" fiction. All sorts of literature in the 20th century and later uses those techniques. Perhaps they fall under the umbrella term "modernism".

I agree with your assessment of "Lost". "They just didn't have anything to tell us about what really happened because they didn't know either."

Maybe I shouldn't have any opinion of "Lost" since I only watched one episode! But I figured out quickly that it looked like the sort of story that would have twist after twist and never arrive anywhere. I could have enjoyed that in a 6-part TV series, but not in an open-ended TV series with an indefinite number of episodes.

I think what "Annihilation" is doing is different. It is true that the writer probably doesn't really have solutions to all questions. But I think his goal was to write about characters being forced to react to things they cannot understand. No matter that they are trained scientists with fancy equipment. They don't understand, because nobody can. The world is perhaps stranger than humans can understand.

Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock says, "Old Weird fiction utilises elements of horror, science fiction and fantasy to showcase the impotence and insignificance of human beings within a much larger universe populated by often malign powers and forces that greatly exceed the human capacities to understand or control them."

I agree. And in that way, Annihilation is "Weird" fiction. It uses certain literary techniques to help give that flavor, but those techniques are not what makes it "Weird".


message 37: by Kateblue, 2nd star to the right and straight on til morning (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kateblue | 2266 comments Mod
Interesting, Ed, thank you.


Banshee (bansheethecat) | 7 comments Ed wrote: "I think what "Annihilation" is doing is different. It is true that the writer probably doesn't really have solutions to all questions. But I think his goal was to write about characters being forced to react to things they cannot understand. No matter that they are trained scientists with fancy equipment. They don't understand, because nobody can. The world is perhaps stranger than humans can understand."

That was one of the things I really enjoyed in the whole trilogy. I felt it was more about the people and the journey than the solution. So even if I'm usually frustrated when I don't get all the answers that I expected, I was actually fine with that here.

Anyway, I suspected what I was getting into, even if I hadn't read all that many weird fiction books before "Annihilation".


message 39: by MJ (new) - rated it 5 stars

MJ (The Book Recluse) (bookrecluse) | 2 comments To me Annihilation is not about plot or people - hence why they are not named - but about language. There is the writing on the wall, and explains the notebooks. This theme continues through the series, and perhaps it is more relevant in the later books.

I loved all three of the books, and I enjoyed the ending. It did not clear up anything, while clearing up everything. It seemed to fit the whole fill of the books for me.


message 40: by Quare (last edited Oct 21, 2019 10:15PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Quare | 1 comments Ed wrote: "I think what "Annihilation" is doing is different. It is true that the writer probably doesn't really have solutions to all questions. But I think his goal was to write about characters being forced to react to things they cannot understand. No matter that they are trained scientists with fancy equipment. They don't understand, because nobody can. The world is perhaps stranger than humans can understand."

This was also my interpretation. The book is anti-answers. It stresses that all possible explanations are reductive and not just in relation to the alien (or nonhuman, like the destroyer of worlds starfish) but to the human as well. Her husband couldn't understand her any more than she could him. There was something ultimately inaccessible.

Banshee wrote: To me Annihilation is not about plot or people - hence why they are not named - but about language. There is the writing on the wall, and explains the notebooks.

I agree that language is a major focus of the novel. The crawler may even be writing about them as they are writing about it. While reading I kept being reminded of the idea that reality is mediated by language and keeps us at a distance from the thing-in-itself.


Caitlin O'Neill (ktdid42) | 24 comments I wound up reading the whole series because i wanted to know more about area X and how everything happened. While i think we got a bit more info i was still pretty disappointed in how many loose ends were left. i felt like i really missed how Controls mother linked to the whole thing. Did anyone figure that part out?


message 42: by Oleksandr, a.k.a. Z (new) - rated it 4 stars

Oleksandr Zholud | 1792 comments Mod
Caitlin wrote: " While i think we got a bit more info i was still pretty disappointed in how many loose ends were left. ."

That was my view on it as well. I've read all three in 2015 and now I've re-read the first two. I have to re-read the third before I can answer about the mother


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