Years after a mysterious border shut Area X off from the rest of the continent, the Southern Reach research organization has sent in a dozen expeditions. When Jeff VanderMeer‘s Annihilation opens, readers know little about the four experts making the twelfth trek. By the time the novel closes, we hardly know more, but the ride along is a Lovecraftian trip that shouldn’t be missed.
Annihilation follows a group of women — the biologist, the psychologist, the surveyor, and the anthropologist — into Area X, where they discover an uncharted structure: an inverted tower, or tunnel. Pseudo-religious writing adorns the walls inside: “Where lies the strangling fruit that came from the hand of the sinner I shall bring forth the seeds of the dead to share with the worms that gather in the darkness…”
When she leans in to examine the living moss in which the words are written, the biologist — who also narrates VanderMeer’s novel — inhales a spray of spores. Now immune to mind tricks, she discovers that the psychologist has hypnotized the rest of the group, and uses a series of voice commands to control their actions. She plays along, but when another member of their group dies and the psychologist disappears, the biologist sets off into the heart of Area X on a quest for answers.
In Annihilation, VanderMeer draws from the weird fiction tradition to craft a story that chills and mesmerizes. It’s a short, unputdownable novel, and a dynamic start to the Southern Reach trilogy.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
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Image Credit: Robert Michalove