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Annihilation
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2015 Reads > Ann: What genre is it actually (expect spoilers)

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message 1: by John (Taloni) (new)

John (Taloni) Taloni (johntaloni) | 3917 comments So, I'm pretty much a "genre" fan, by which I mean SF/F and comics. I will read the occasional literary work and have enjoyed Dickens, Dumas, the Bronte sisters and a few others, but in general "literary" work leaves me cold. I'm also not so much a fan of horror, but at least there I understand the attraction.

Annihilation is...what? It's not traditional SF. Certainly not Fantasy. Not really Horror.

I've recently seen a description of "genre" fiction being plot-based whereas literary fiction is about characters and mood. So based on that I'd call this a piece of literary fiction.

Except it really defies description. It's definitely out-there enough to be part of broader "Speculative Fiction." The entirety of the book seems to be exploring the characters and their reaction to the area, rather than the mystery itself.

So what is this book really? And does it matter? If it's outside your usual reading comfort zone like it is mine, did you like it anyway? I'm intrigued enough to read the other two, although that decision is easier because my library has them so it's a no-cost decision.


Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Why should we expect books to fit into neatly defined categories? That's a silly constraint to place authors under, and makes readers sound like petulant little kids who won't eat anything but hamburgers and hotdogs.


Geir (makmende) It has elements from at least horror, fantasy and science fiction. That's three roads to potential enjoyment, not a taxonomy problem.

I don't usually read horror, but found the book quite enjoyable nonetheless. I'll also be seeking out the rest of the series.


Rob Secundus (quintessential_defenestration) | 1035 comments I'm really, really comfortable classifying this as literary fiction. And honestly, while the stuffiest of academics would disagree, I think a large number lit critics would be a-ok with that. It fits very nicely in my mind as a post-modern version of the Southern Grotesque novel. I could easily see Flannery O'Connor as part of this thing's DNA. Maybe even a bit of Faulkner, just a smidge.

I wouldn't downplay the Sci-fi aspects though, if only because we have here a fairly lovecraftian horror novel in which the protagonist is a fairly competent scientist who goes forward collecting samples and analyzing them and tries to come up with rational models not just for her experience in area x but also in life in general. The trilogy as a whole is also really concerned with science and modelling the unknowable.


message 5: by Louise (new) - added it

Louise (louiseh87) | 352 comments Isn't it Weird Fiction? Not that that's an easily defined thing either, but it seems to be the genre VanderMeer tends towards.


Valerie | 50 comments I am glad to see this post because after finishing Annihilation (which I ordered online), I went to my local brick and mortar bookstore and couldn't find it in their SFF section. On a whim, I checked their general fiction, and there was the whole collection. It got me wondering what elements this series has that make people file it with mainstream when there are so many SF and horror elements.

I know we've opened the genre can of worms a number of times on these forums, but I still think it's worth asking the question of what exactly pulls a book off the speculative shelves and into literature. Is it just that the books are considered exceptionally good? Exceptionally weird? Exceptionally good kind of weird?


message 7: by Tassie Dave, S&L Historian (new) - rated it 3 stars

Tassie Dave | 3511 comments Mod
It's a Weird Speculative Sci-Fi Fantasy Horror Dystopian Mystery novel.

To be more exact it is Laser(ish) Sword


David H. (farrakut) | 908 comments Valerie wrote: "I am glad to see this post because after finishing Annihilation (which I ordered online), I went to my local brick and mortar bookstore and couldn't find it in their SFF section. On a whim, I chec..."

I think because of the huge marketing boost it's gotten for a variety of reasons, a lot of stores might've put it in a general fiction section or in more prominent display spots.

Genre is basically marketing.


message 9: by Ben (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben Rowe (benwickens) As others have mentioned this sits most clearly in the not genre exactly but label tag "The Weird". As such it will appeal to people who enjoy that feeling of unanswerable strangeness but might potentially frustrate people who want explainations for everything.

Beyond that it has elements of horror, fantasy and sf as well as aspects of literary fiction so really you can get what you want to get from it. Its well written, weird, exciting, scary, futuristic and fantastical.


message 10: by Garrett (new)

Garrett Not a response to the OP so much as the conversation.

It's true that a lot of genre definitions are foundationally expedients of marketing, but I think it's a mistake to dismiss the idea on that basis. Books, like people, don't fit perfectly into neatly defined categories, but they are influenced meaningfully by them.

I would add that it's not just the booksellers or the publishers who make marketing decisions, but the authors themselves, and a lot of the decisions an author has to make about how to deal with the "market" necessitate points of intersection with so-called genre. Even a decision to ignore genre is STILL a decision that requires a relationship with genre. Many authors also embrace the storytelling tropes that grow out of different genres, reinforcing or subverting them in wildly creative ways.

I would also ask: Is modernism a genre? Romanticism? Realism? Satire? It seems to me that the writers who work and worked self-consciously in these forms are embracing a form of genre that defies the marketing umbra (I, for one, have never seen a Literary Realism section in a bookstore).

And Vandemeer, from what I know, is pretty self-conscious about his use of genre. The whole New Weird thing would seem to attest to that. I would think that being aware of the genres Vandemeer's New Weird is responding to (in the way that post-modernism was a response to modernism, which was a response to Victorianism, and so on) would only further inform the art itself.


message 11: by Rich (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rich Boulton (rich_boulton) Sean wrote: "Why should we expect books to fit into neatly defined categories? "

I pretty much agree with this, but I think books like this one can start really interesting discussions about that exact problem, as is happening right now!

Also, as genre fans, I think we need to fight for books like this being categorised as genre fiction to continue the acceptance of our favourite works in the wider literary world. If we don't then all you'll see in genre sections is what literature snobs assume all sci-fi is - long series of boring books about spaceships and aliens.


message 12: by John (Taloni) (new)

John (Taloni) Taloni (johntaloni) | 3917 comments Books about spaceships and aliens are among my favorite things. I don't find them boring at all.


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

Rich Boulton (rich_boulton) John (Taloni) wrote: "Books about spaceships and aliens are among my favorite things. I don't find them boring at all."

Haha, perfectly true. I just meant to say that there are lots that are boring, and the narrower a definition of SFF we accept, the worse off the genre is for it.


Joe Informatico (joeinformatico) | 888 comments Garrett wrote: "It's true that a lot of genre definitions are foundationally expedients of marketing, but I think it's a mistake to dismiss the idea on that basis. Books, like people, don't fit perfectly into neatly defined categories, but they are influenced meaningfully by them."

I accept that authors, fans, and academics have deeply thought-out and varied ideas and definitions of what "genre" is. I count myself among them. I just don't think publishers care most of the time. They have to worry about selling books, and thus there's the push to slot books into a handful of safe, predictable genre classifications.

Even though I hear well-founded complaints how out of touch the big publishers are with readers, and they don't predict future trends, I think the market still shows them to be right on genre. You get a few exceptions, but the big SF&F sellers seem to be books in the same familiar genres. If we ever see a genre-defying self-published novel get really big, that might defy the notion of genre-as-marketing, but all the success stories I'm aware of fit into pretty typical genres.

If there's something out there that really broke the mold, I'd be really interested to hear about it. The New Weird is probably the closest to it, but in a sense, it's also a retro-genre. It hearkens back to the pulp magazines of the 1920s and 30s when the boundaries between science fiction, fantasy, and horror were blurry and ill-defined, only with much better writing and craftsmanship and an appreciation of the last century of genre development.


Brendan (mistershine) | 930 comments Jeff VanderMeer's comments from a couple months ago about New Weird made me a little sad. Apart from the big names being new weird didn't help books sell more copies and a genre can't really survive on critical hype alone.

More here: http://www.tor.com/blogs/2014/12/jeff...


message 16: by Randolph (new)

Randolph (us227381) | 0 comments Who cares as long as it is good?


message 17: by Gina (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gina (gmjackson) | 6 comments What elements of science fiction are in this book? I didn't get a sci fi vibe from this at all, unless the tunnel/tower and the thing inside it are aliens, but in this book it's not clear whether that's the case or whether they're hallucinations or something else. (Maybe this is explained in the later books?) Or does the fact that it takes place in the future make it sci fi?

Regardless of the genre (or lack thereof) I enjoyed it :)


message 18: by Rich (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rich Boulton (rich_boulton) For me it kind of has to be sci-fi, in the broadest sense of the term. Maybe it's just because I'm thinking in sci-fi terms to begin with, but any possible explanations of Area X would have a scientific basis, whether it is not real, has sprung up 'naturally', or has been created by some outside force (native or alien). Also in its tone and structure, it reminded me of Under the Skin (last year's film), so it just feels like it belongs to sci-fi.

Funnily enough, the horror side of the book is getting a lot of attention on here, and it's not a way I would have ever thought to characterise it. Parts were very mildly unsettling, but I never really got a horror vibe.


message 19: by Tassie Dave, S&L Historian (new) - rated it 3 stars

Tassie Dave | 3511 comments Mod
I think it deserves it's horror tag. It is as much psychological horror as a lot of Edgar Allan Poe's works. Not that I think Vandermeer is in that class yet.


Andrew J. | 54 comments Tassie Dave wrote: "It's a Weird Speculative Sci-Fi Fantasy Horror Dystopian Mystery novel.

To be more exact it is Laser(ish) Sword"


I like this category. But can I find a whole aisle devoted to these kinds of books at the store, I wonder.


Andrew J. | 54 comments Randolph wrote: "Who cares as long as it is good?"

Amen to that, but the question remains...did YOU think it was good?


message 22: by John (Taloni) (new)

John (Taloni) Taloni (johntaloni) | 3917 comments I was thinking about this again as I read some more Alastair Reynolds, plus some comic books.

Most comics don't rise to the level of great storytelling. I read them because I like the genre or the character, preference to "cosmic" characters like Thor, Dr. Strange, Flash, less so to "gritty" like the Punisher. In most cases I'd rate any random trade paperback a three, but I still enjoy them.

Same with science-oriented SF. I don't particularly love the characters Alastair Reynolds populates his books with, but man does he get the science right. I don't even particularly mind that Reynolds is so derivative of Niven that I feel like I'm reading a Known Space book half the time.

The Southern Reach books are an example of good writing and solid storytelling that just took too long to get to the point for me. I liked it okay, but not to the point where I'll seek out more of Jeff Vandermeer. Meanwhile I am very likely to read more of Reynolds.

When it comes down to it I like books that tell a story of humanity's future, preferably spacefaring. Dystopian is okay, but the main characters have to be trying to improve the situation. I also need more clarity and more action than I got in the Southern Reach books. Nothing against them, and I recognize the artistry. It just didn't hit me in the sweet spot.


message 23: by Brendan (last edited Feb 17, 2015 04:45PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Brendan (mistershine) | 930 comments Reynolds being so derivative was a dealbreaker for me. I can get accurate science at work (or at least it had better be accurate or I'm in trouble!) but in my SF I want lots and lots of originality, so I prefer VanderMeer.


Rob Secundus (quintessential_defenestration) | 1035 comments I'm with Brendan on this one. I privilege prose, character, and originality.

It'd be really interesting to see if there were bigger parallels here; personalities, approaches to reading, introvert/extrovert, how immersed one gets in stories, other preferences in other mediums, etc, because so many people here are either "this was great" or "I understand why it's good, but it's not for me."


Brendan (mistershine) | 930 comments Category 3 is "I hated it so i'm going to pretend it was all made up," which I think is a bizarre way of interpreting this or any story other than Life of Pi.


Rob Secundus (quintessential_defenestration) | 1035 comments I mean, I understand the interpretation of an unreliable narrator, the entire thing is first person and the narrator does indeed hallucinate. I just don't get the jump from "it might be unreliable" to "thus I hate it." Everything from Lolita to Buffy is similarly unreliable.


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