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Annihilation
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2015 Reads > Ann: The Biologist (full spoilers)

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Ruth (tilltab) Ashworth | 1861 comments I've picked up a few comments about the protagonist in some of the other threads, so I thought I'd make one especially for her.

As an unreliable narrator, I found her a really interesting character. Her motivations were difficult to discern, especially given the way she was manipulated by Area X, but by the end of the novel I felt I understood her a little, and unlike others on this forum, I did not find her entirely unsympathetic. Actually, I rather liked her, and found the distance she retained from the others in her group refreshing.

I'd love to discuss her with others on here.

(note: I put full spoilers in the thread title because I think it might be tricky talking about her without accidentally revealing other things, so read with care if you haven't finished yet)


message 2: by Tassie Dave, S&L Historian (last edited Feb 02, 2015 03:46PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Tassie Dave | 3532 comments Mod
I found I liked her more once she was alone.

From what you get from her past she is introverted and a loner by choice. She might even have some form of Aspergers.

She is a totally unreliable narrator and by the end you can't be sure any of it is real.
From the moment she breathes in the spores anything and everything that happens could be her lying unconscious dreaming, walking around hallucinating, part of a group shared mass hysteria or everything that happens is real (my least preferred version) or a mix of several of these events.

Is the mystery of Area X explained in later books? Does the biologist appear again? and does she have a name? I won't be reading any more in the series. It was ok (2 stars) but not enough to hook me in.


Brendan (mistershine) | 930 comments The biologist is a kind of gloomy, introverted scientist type. I loved spending time in her head, she was very relatable. Also how many SF stories feature a married professional woman as the main character?

Spoilers for Acceptance and Authority follow, since you did ask:



(view spoiler)


Valerie | 51 comments Also how many SF stories feature a married professional woman as the main character? Amen to that! Let alone a scientific expedition composed entirely of women.

I thought what made the biologist special is her skill as an observer rather than a participant. Even before Area X, she existed as a fringe element even within her own family and marriage. I thought this was the quality that made her encounter with the Crawler different from the anthropologists'.

Then again, who knows what really happened. Unreliable narrators are fun like that.


Erik Redin (erik_redin) | 149 comments Tassie Dave wrote: "She is a totally unreliable narrator and by the end you can't be sure any of it is real.
From the moment she breathes in the spores anything and everything that happens could be her lying unconscious dreaming, walking around hallucinating, part of a group shared mass hysteria or everything that happens is real (my least preferred version) or a mix of several of these events."


This is exactly why I don't really understand why some people are so upset that all the mysteries of Area X weren't solved in this book. Sure, within her journal, the biologist could've said she figured everything out, but it doesn't mean in reality she actually did.

To me, there were two moments in ANNIHILATION that made it pretty clear we weren't going to get definitive answers about Area X or the biologist's ultimate fate. One, when she inhales the spores. And, two, when it becomes clear that we're reading her journal.

My enjoyment of the book was entirely tied to the biologist's journey. I found her incredibly relatable, despite the possible insanity (...and hopefully not because of it). I didn't care where the Crawler or the tower came from because I was captivated by her analysis of what was going on around her in Area X and inside her own body.


Dara (cmdrdara) | 2693 comments Well said, Erik. I totally agree. The story was about the biologist, not Area X so the mysteries there didn't bother me.


message 7: by Daniel (last edited Feb 07, 2015 05:02AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Daniel K | 164 comments She is just a delusional mad person, what else to say? We could feel sorry for her or we could blame her for her decisions, but the biggest concern for me was the fact that i cannot stop believing that the whole storyline is just some nightmare or a metaphor for being afraid of "unsciencable" universe. She wasn't interesting for me as she was just a walking set of limited properties that worked as plot devices to demonstrate someone who's going mad. Nothing more. Same could be said for other characters. And the same for the whole story with all the chaotic occurrences in Area X (words on the wall? pile of journals at the lighthouse? the crawler? dolphins? moaning creature? its all just a chaotic bunch of fear-inducing things, not a meaningful setting). It isn't a story about people, its a story about a certain fear of everyone on the Earth. So i'm not sure if its worth a novel.


message 8: by Rob Secundus (last edited Feb 07, 2015 09:01AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Rob Secundus (quintessential_defenestration) | 1035 comments I'm pretty sure a story about a fear of humanity is a story about humanity, and a story about humanity is indeed about people, and almost every great classic is about basic fears/desires/traits of mankind, pretty much. I mean, your description just makes me think of kafka's metamorphosis. Nothing is explained. Nothing may be real. We just see our extremely common fears, of insignificance, of change, of aging, of rejection, played through the eyes of mr cockroach dude.

And I'm not saying you *have* to like this book. I'm saying the job from "I didn't personally like this" to "this is not worthy of being a novel" is huge, and discredits huge swathes of western literature. And you don't have to like those either! But it's ok to say "this might be good, it's just not to my taste" !


Steve (plinth) | 179 comments
I thought what made the biologist special is her skill as an observer rather than a participant.


More precisely, she was a detached observer. The biologist is detached from everyone in the expedition. She is detached from her husband. She is detached from the tidal pool she was observing.

It seems like it is only when she cannot be detached from the crawler that she starts to regret that her detachment from her husband.


message 10: by Rich (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rich Boulton (rich_boulton) By the end though, she seemed to have accepted that detachment from her husband, she had no expectations of seeing him again. The only attachment she has seems to be to Area X.


Rob Secundus (quintessential_defenestration) | 1035 comments She ends the journal noting that she's following her husband's trail to the island, hoping to find, if not him, some trace of him, or message,


message 12: by Ulio (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ulio | 2 comments The biologist true to her name, only seems to care about her job. I know they get training prior to getting into area x but she doesn't seemed fazed at all by all the deaths. The surveyor actually has a natural reaction of freaking out even with the training they had nothing would prepare them for what they faced( the tunnel, the letters, the crawler).


Hershel Shipman (hershdawg) | 43 comments The narrator reminded me a lot of the professor from Lovecraft's Mountain's of Madness. She was intrigued from a scientific and emotional view of area X(as per her husband or whatever came back from there) but area X is obviously mess with her head and sanity. Hell toward the end it doesn't seem exactly like the same narrator. Also she seems to avoid using a name like the plague which I find really odd.


message 14: by Rich (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rich Boulton (rich_boulton) Rob Secundus wrote: "She ends the journal noting that she's following her husband's trail to the island, hoping to find, if not him, some trace of him, or message,"

"I plan to continue on into Area X, to go as far as I can before it is too late. I will follow my husband up the coast, up past the island, even. I don’t believe I’ll find him—I don’t need to find him—but I want to see what he saw. I want to feel him close, as if he is in the room."

This was the section I was remembering, she doesn't think she will find him. You're right though that she hopes to find some trace of him - contrary to how I was recalling it she does seem to want that attachment with him. I wonder if that is more because, by going into Area X and presumably becoming part of it in some way, he finally found a way into her world.


Valerie | 51 comments Hershel wrote: The narrator reminded me a lot of the professor from Lovecraft's Mountain's of Madness.

I had this same connection! There's very much a modern Lovecraftian feel to whole series. The changes in her character are very subtle, and we can't be quite sure how much is due to her experience and how much is due to possibly alien spore parasites and friends, but it certainly kept me interested.


message 16: by Rob, Roberator (new) - rated it 3 stars

Rob (robzak) | 6782 comments Mod
I was pretty indifferent towards her. She felt more like a camera to me than anything. Her relationships with others on the team and her husband seem very odd to me.

I was more interested in Area X and it's mysteries than her. Maybe that's why I was only so-so on the book.


Rob Secundus (quintessential_defenestration) | 1035 comments Rich wrote: "I wonder if that is more because, by going into Area X and presumably becoming part of it in some way, he finally found a way into her world. "

Ooh, that's a really great way of looking at it! Yeah, that makes perfect sense.

The one thing I'll also note is that she does realize at some point that he's been really trying to communicate with her/ have a functional relationship with her. In the flashbacks he comes off as kind of a douche, as a dude who just refuses to understand his wife or change for her, but then she sees in his journal that that's all he's trying to do. So culpability shifted from him to both of them for their failed marriage.


Scott | 312 comments I had the same feeling as Rob- her being camera like. Things seemed to be happening to her, rather than her being really proactive. And, her detachment made her really hard to relate to. I found myself caring more about finding out the truth behind Southern Reach's "coverup/conspiracy" much more interesting than anything happening to the biologist.


message 19: by Ivi_kiwi (last edited Feb 10, 2015 10:41PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ivi_kiwi | 87 comments Oh, i cared about her. .. And i liked her, too. I am not the most outgoing person, so i could kind of relate to her.
I also though the other members of the party were intersting without being annoying. There a plenty of books where female Chararcters kind of annoy me, but here, it was refreshingly different.


message 20: by Rich (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rich Boulton (rich_boulton) Ivi_kiwi wrote: "Oh, i cared about her. .. And i liked her, too. I am not the most outgoing person, so i could kind of relate to her."

I would be interested in the relative personality traits of those of us who can and cannot relate to the biologist. Quite a few people are negatively commenting on her detachment and introversion, but it is something I can definitely relate to. I can't quite imagine what my experience of the book would be if that was something which just didn't resonate with me at all.


Daniel K | 164 comments Rich wrote: "Quite a few people are negatively commenting on her detachment and introversion, but it is something I can definitely relate to."

Introversion is one thing, but indifference towards lives and deaths of people, towards emotional struggles of her husband and her "not really friends"? And even if its not enough - indifference towards herself. She doesn't even care what could happen to her when she repeatedly delves into trouble. Its hard to make more effort to make me as a reader to not feel sympathy towards her. It creates only the desire to perceive her either as extremely stupid or crazy person.


message 22: by Tassie Dave, S&L Historian (new) - rated it 3 stars

Tassie Dave | 3532 comments Mod
These traits in her are what makes me think she has some form of Aspergers Syndrome (or other form of high functioning autism). She has trouble understanding social emotions and relating to others or caring. She is single minded to the point of obsession with her pond life when she is younger but found it easy to let it go. No real attachments.

These are not necessarily bad traits for an observer or researcher. Just not ideal for someone who needs to be part of a team or a normal social life.


message 23: by Scott (last edited Feb 11, 2015 08:46AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Scott | 312 comments Rich wrote: "I would be interested in the relative personality traits of those of us who can and cannot relate to the biologist...."

I'm definitely an introvert and I could relate to that part of her but I think my issue with the biologist was the detachment made her much less interesting than everything going on around her. She was so much an observer that it made everything else too interesting. She was so interested in studying and finding out what was going on, that I began to care more about those aspects of Area X than I did her.
That's why I ended up giving this book 3 stars. The world was interesting and kept me engaged, but the biologist, as a protaganist, was just plain boring to me.

Scott wrote: "I found myself caring more about finding out the truth behind Southern Reach's "coverup/conspiracy" much more interesting than anything happening to the biologist. "
A thought occurred to me last night. When I'm not reading SFF, I'm usually reading political thrillers, spy novels, and mysteries. I have to think that I've read so much about secret government agencies/conspiracies/etc that that made the "Southern Reach" subplot stand out as interesting to me.


Julio (juliosd) | 16 comments I liked the character, though that probably only happened because I identified with her a lot. I struggle with introversion, detachment and obsession, in a smaller degree, and it was interesting to see that taken to the extreme.


Brendan (mistershine) | 930 comments Julio wrote: "I liked the character, though that probably only happened because I identified with her a lot. I struggle with introversion, detachment and obsession, in a smaller degree, and it was interesting to..."

Yeah I feel this way as well. I had the same experience with the main character from The Scar. I liked her a lot and was surprised that every review on Goodreads talks about how much they hate the main character and how cold and unlikable she was.


Stephen Richter (stephenofllongbeach) | 1327 comments I like the biologist. I liked way Vandermeer described the creation of the biosphere created by the abandoned pool which created the path she chose to take in a professional life. Not to keen on the autism angle, I like the notion she relishes the observer role.


message 27: by Bell (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bell (nickhudson) | 7 comments Valerie wrote: "Hershel wrote: The narrator reminded me a lot of the professor from Lovecraft's Mountain's of Madness.

I had this same connection! There's very much a modern Lovecraftian feel to whole series. ..."


I too totally got the Lovecraft vibes from reading this book. There was even a passage near the end of the book that I felt was a wink to Lovecraft´s line: "That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die."


Michele | 1154 comments I haven't finished yet (I'm to the point where she found all the journals) but I'm with the rest of the introverts here - I can very much relate to her.

Also, I know if I was writing a journal that I believed other people would very likely read someday, one that was intended to record my experiences in Area X as a scientist and a researcher, I would not go too deep into my personal feelings about things, so I give her a pass on not being quite as detached about things like the Anthropologist's death as she seems.

I must say, I really want her to slap the Surveyor :) That woman totally rubs me the wrong way.


Ruth (tilltab) Ashworth | 1861 comments I'm generally a very chatty/friendly sort of introvert, rather than the more extreme, remote version we see in the biologist, but I did still relate to her very strongly.

I also felt like her detachment was not a sign that she did not care, but rather that she shuts herself away from her feelings because she doesn't want to care, which is a different, and much more human, response. I have days when I pull back from the world and withdraw, sometimes so much that it can seem like I don't care about anything, when really I am just pushing that stuff to the side, sometimes so far down that I can't even recognise it. That is how I see her, so she didn't seem so cold and unemotional to me as others have mentioned.


Andrew Knighton | 158 comments Ruth wrote: "...I also felt like her detachment was not a sign that she did not care, but rather that she shuts herself away from her feelings because she doesn't want to care, which is a different, and much more human, response. ..."

I think that's a really interesting insight. The book, and her journey through it, reminded me of a speech from the film Pump Up The Volume, where Christian Slater's character says that feeling messed up doesn't necessarily mean that you're messed up, but is a natural reaction to a messed up situation (he used a word other than 'messed', but I thought I'd keep it clean). That's how I saw her response to what she encountered. Even before entering Area X, their expedition training has set up a twisted dynamic, and her reaction is a way of coping with these layers of disturbing strangeness, in large part by distancing herself from events.


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