Annihilation (Southern Reach #1)
Jeff VanderMeer, 2014
The general public know almost nothing about Area X, but the scientists don’t know that much more, aside from that the border is slowly expanding into the known world. A group known as the Southern Reach have been sending small expeditions into Area X, in order to map it and to find out more about the ecosystem. The first expedition reported back on a pristine landscape, with remnants of a civilization but no living humans to be found. The second group all committed suicide. The third turned on each other. This book tells the story of the twelfth expedition, made up of a biologist, an anthropologist, a surveyor, and a psychologist, as they discover the truths of Area X for themselves.
This is a relatively short book – just under 200 pages – told as a series of journal entries from the point of view of the biologist on the twelfth expedition. A lot is left unexplained, simply because the biologist (we are never given her name) does not know the answers for a lot of things. The big question left unexplained is What is Area X? We don’t really know where it is, where it came from, what affect it is having on the outside world… Not much about it at all.
The characterization is relatively two-dimensional in this book as well, again, because the story is from the point of view of the biologist. She doesn’t have much time to get to know most of the other characters – for one reason or another – so we don’t get a very deep feel for them. When someone is in danger, or dies, we don’t feel a whole lot of sympathy or fear, because we don’t know them very well. This isn’t necessarily a fault of the writing, just the way that the author chose to tell this portion of the story…
Which brings me to the most important part: This is only part of the story. The first of a trilogy, this book tells one person’s point of view about what they are seeing first hand. No background information. No answers. Again, this is not a flaw, but rather the way that the author chose to tell the story. I can’t say for sure how I feel about the plot as a whole until I’ve read the other two books.
That being said, I did like this book. It was quirky and creepy and definitely left me wanting to continue with the trilogy. If you like good science fiction, pick this book up. If you like all of your questions to be answered by the end of the book, however, you’re going to be disappointed. I am hoping that a lot gets answered by the end of the trilogy, though, because this book certainly left me with a lot of questions.