by Jeff Vandermeer
Genre: Science Fiction
Part One of the Southern Reach Trilogy Series
Annihilation falls into a science fiction realm that is parts dystopian, surrealism, and horror. Area X is one part of a continent where the laws of nature do not act like expected. Human civilization has abandoned the area while plant and animal life has reclaimed it. After being left alone for decades, teams have been sent in to explore and figure out what is going on. Previous expeditions have not gone well beyond the very first one that documented about nature taking over the area. Other expeditions had various outcomes ranging from killing each other to all committing suicide to returning unharmed but devoid of their personalities and then all dying of an aggressive cancer. The novel starts with the 12th expedition about to head into Area X.
The team is made up of four women: an anthropologist, a surveyor, a psychologist and a biologist. No one has a name in the novel and they only referred to each other with their professions and none of them knew each other before the expedition started. I found this interesting since not knowing the background of any character beyond a job title, many preconceived notions could not be applied to these four women. It also puts them all on edge with one another right away, not knowing how much they can trust their teammates.
There are supposed to collect samples and observe both Area X and each other while recording everything in their journals. The psychologist is the leader of the group and the narrator of the novel is the biologist, which I found fascinating for a couple of reasons. It’s an unusual choice as the narrator since the biologist is an introvert. She loves to be on her own and lost in her own thoughts. She does not express herself outwardly towards other people, which puts her at odds with other members of her team. I have read some criticisms that the main character is extremely boring, but since I identify with introverts, I did not find her boring at all. There is some action in this book, but there is also a lot of introspection that could bore some people that want to get back to moving the plot along.
The team finds some weird structures in Area X and explore them. They start not trusting what they are seeing or feeling, and also start to not trust each other. Is that part of their own personalities or is Area X affecting them? What they find and experience in Area X can be terrifying at times and I read it really quickly to find out more and hoped to discover what was really going on. Could the other people in the group really be trusted? How reliable was the narrator? There are many questions that are posed. Very few are answered, but many are left unanswered since this the first book of a trilogy. It did wrap up some plot lines, but also sucked me in so I’ll have to continue reading the rest of them.
I would have given this a higher rating if the book hadn’t been part of a trilogy. It annoys me when stories are planned as trilogies so that much of the story is left out to get you to buy the next one. I enjoy series that have the same characters with a new story instead of having an overall story arc going over three books. This book was only 200 pages long. The other two books are the same length. I would have preferred this book be longer and have the entire story contained in one long book.