Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Review: ANNIHILATION by Jeff Vandermeer
Whoa. So, I dabble in SF but I don't read a lot- maybe 3 or 4 titles a year, and I'm picky. I like China Mieville, and Christopher Priest, and once in a while I can be persuaded to read Victor Lavalle but mostly I go by the reviews sections of SFX magazine. If they like it, I'll probably like it. They loved Annihilation, and so did I.
Set in the future at an indeterminate time, the book, which is the first in a planned trilogy (all will be out this year), tells the story of a doomed expedition to a place called Area X. The narrator, a biologist, tells us that this is the twelfth such expedition, and all of the previous 11 have ended in tragedy- suicides, murders, disappearances, mental breakdown and disease. The narrator's own husband was one of the casualties of the last expedition and her motivations for joining are one of the things we explore throughout this drawn-out, immersing and page-turning book.
The book we read is her journal, a record she leaves in situ after the first part of her journey has ended. She is not a reliable narrator and carefully withholds some crucial information until about 7/8 of the way through. The journey is bleak and scary; the landscape is brutal and holds some real terrors for her and the other members of the expedition, all women and all scientists of some sort. We never learn names. The women are defined by their professional roles- the linguist, the psychologist, the anthropologist. This nomenclature makes them seem generic and nonspecific, like playing cards or blanks. It's safe to say this is not a character-driven book but rather a voice-driven book, the singular voice of the biologist-narrator. And like I said, she's not reliable.
The book is short but it's not a quick read. It's detailed and like I said, immersing- when you're reading, you're there, and it's not a pretty place, filled with monsters and death and psychological games. But hang in there because it picks up speed near the end and becomes impossible to put down. It might be worth your while to wait for all three; I think I will wait till the third is published and read books two and three together. The complete series, called the Southern Reach Trilogy, is Annihilation, out now; Authority, coming in May, and Acceptance, coming in September. Jeff Vandermeer is known as an anthologist and did one called The New Weird a few years ago. This book would fit right in. If you like weird, this is it.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.