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Book Review

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Annihilation (Hardback)


Author: Jeff VanderMeer
Publisher: Fourth Estate
RRP: £10.00
ISBN: 978 0 00 755071 5
Publication Date: 27 February 2014

The twelfth expedition to enter the enigmatic Area X is an all-female team, consisting of the biologist, the anthropologist, a surveyor and their titular leader the psychologist. No names, names like many other things have to be left behind once you breach the barrier. The team find the tower and the lighthouse, but the other things which exist there will make sure that their expedition will be as doomed as the first eleven...

Annihilation (195 pages) is a new novel by Jeff VanderMeer, the book is the first in the planned Southern Reach Trilogy. The above description might lead you to think that the books is science fiction and it can be if that’s what you want, it can also be horror, psychological examination. This is a book which takes you on both an internal and external journey with no easy answers, what you get out of the book depends on what you bring. Given the outcome of the story I’m thinking that this was exactly what the author intended.

The only book which is similar to Annihilation is the Russian science fiction story, Roadside Picnic (1971) by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. Although fundamentally different both deal with areas of Earth which have change by some internal/external influence, creating an area which is fundamentally different to the rest of the planet. It has similarities with Conrad’s, Heart of Darkness, with its idea of travelling into an environment whose very nature has a detrimental effect on the traveller’s mental and physical health. To take your characters through an experience, which, by its very nature should be inexplicable, is a tough act to pull off.

We follow our main protagonist, the biologist, whose husband had been on the previous expedition. Area X is a stretch of wilderness, which had grown up following the Event, which created it and over seen by the Southern Stretch. With the Area expanding, the Southern Stretch has sent a series of groups in. The book makes plain that there are many competing secrets in the latest group, not least of which is the rather strange training undertaken.

Being the first in a trilogy we can view this as the opening act of a play. VanderMeer has balanced his book well, between what needs to be revealed to keep your attention and what is hinted at, which hopefully will be resolved in the latter two books. Who is the Southern Stretch and what really is their agenda? After all it's pretty plain that most of the expeditions don’t come back and those that do are somehow changed. With such an attrition rate are they really interested in what is happening in Area X or are they throwing people at it as some form of sacrifice?

You won’t get answers to these questions and although, some things are revealed they often just lead to more questions. You may end the book a little bewildered, but you’re almost certain to be intrigued.


Charles Packer

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