Annihilation

annihilation-by-jeff-vandermeer

I stumbled upon this book by chance. My father mentioned it was mysterious horror very in line with my interests, then the cat woke me up with her mouse murders and I decided to read the first page, and then I ended up committed to reading the whole thing because there was no hope of falling asleep after that. I would highly recommend it.

Annihilation is the first book in a trilogy called Southern Reach. In it, a group of people are chosen to be the most recent expedition into a location full of hallucinations, mysterious phenomena, and general madness.

It’s amazingly like a more polished version of The Sick Land, to the point I tried to find out if there was any connection between the two. Published in 2014, it must have been written at almost the same time as the 2013 Sick Land postings, and I wonder if there’s a third work out there that seeded both of them. Although they don’t sound like the same author, they hit similar beats even in addition to the general setting.

Annihilation handles itself well. The main character is rather detached and withdrawn, as makes sense for someone agreeing to go on an expedition like this, and of course there’s the madness and obsession that always happens in any story where people don’t just turn around and try to escape, but she’s not the blank protagonist or cipher she first appears to be. This is even played with in the narrative – at various times she’ll be making offhand references and avoiding a subject, as cosmic horror protagonists so often do, but then, much later, she’ll stop and apologize for skimming over it, return to the topic, and explain properly. In the end, the book manages to be amazingly comprehensible for a story that revolves around a fundamentally incomprehensible thing.

14 Comments

  1. ThenSheFlew says:
    I am thrilled that you are reading this. It is one of my favorite series. The world gets fleshed out more in the next two books, though they are very different. It does a really good job of giving you the shape of the answer without explicitly saying what’s going on and leaves you with many questions.

     

  2. Act says:

    I would probably kill to speak to the writer of Sick Land, and this makes me even more fascinated.

    1. Farla says:

      I was seriously hoping by the midpoint this actually was the same person and it’d be possible to contact them for some answers, but then I looked at the dates.

      1. Act says:

        I’ve just started reading this, and if it’s not the same person there’s definitely a seed work out there I’m intent on finding. I may try to contact the author of this and find out. 

        I think it’s less likely it’s one guy, but it’s not out of the question that, say, by the time they finished TSL they were still tied to the idea and the experience of seeing what worked and didn’t the first time meant they immediately knew what the second attempt would look like, so it got churned out quickly.

        1. Hyatt says:
          TVTropes compares The Sick Land to the novel “Roadside Lunch”, so that could be the seed work.
          1. Hyatt says:
            Roadside *Picnic*, not Lunch. It’s a Soviet-era novel and it also inspired the movie Stalker and the video game S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
            1. illhousen says:

              Well, there are some similarities in a sense that there is a zone where weird stuff defying modern understanding of science is going on and there are attempts to research it (though RP is told from the point of view of a stalker, that is, a person who illegally plunders the zone for stuff, though he does have a contact with a scientist at the start), though that’s where the similarities end.

              Both Sick Land and Annihilation differ from RP in that their weird zones contain life. A big thing in RP was that the zone was more or less empty of life aside from some plants. It’s all weird physical anomalies and trinkets and other inorganic stuff (though the exposure did cause the protagonist’s daughter to mutate).

              The game actually misses the point badly despite it being the title and then spelled out in the text: the story is not about monsters or some purposeful alteration of Earth, it’s just an alien civilization leaving behind some junk that’s so far above us, we see an empty can of soda (or, rather, a weird canister operating on magnetic fields, but it’s pretty obvious it’s a can of soda) as a miracle.

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            2. Act says:

              Roadside Picnic looks like a promising lead — I’ll have to look into it. Though that it was published in 1972 wouldn’t explain the writing of TSL and Southern Reach almost concurrently. I feel like that’s have to be something in the past few years.

              Reply
            3. Act says:

              I can’t edit, so an update: It looks like a video game series from 2009 base don picnic called S.T.A.L.K.E.R. could be the responsible party. That’s the right timing to spurn two spinoffs.

              TBH I’m just going to try to email the author.

              Reply
  3. Keleri says:

    Oh man, I really liked Annihilation. The sequels have some interesting characters but they didn’t speak to me as strongly as Ghost Bird’s narration.

    1. Farla says:

      Yeah, I’m midway through the third now and the first feels like a very different book – very tight, very focused, just a constant oppressive fear hanging over everything. But the others are enjoyable in their own right, so I’m okay with it.

      1. Act says:

        Practically I wonder if he got the publisher to agree to test the waters with the series by doing a horror novella first, and then once that did well he had the go-ahead for the big worldbuildly novels.

        1. Farla says:

          Hm. That does seem like it fits – he’d have to work it all out to write the horror, but you can’t lead with the workings, while uncomprehending horror is a much easier sell.

  4. Roarke says:

    Yeeeesh I just read this book and it really reminds me that I have a 4x weakness to horror. I was also surprised at how short it was. It makes a lot of sense in retrospect; there are all sorts of clues throughout that the expedition would be short. I was still super engrossed with it, and I had a hard time putting it down because the idea of letting the mysteries nibble at the back of my head while working was intolerable.

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