1A team of four women are are set out to explore a mysterious region known as Area X. By all accounts, they are the twelfth group to journey into the bizarre amazon-like territory.  All of the previous expeditions have ended badly, marked by murders, suicides, disappearances, and, in the case of the eleventh, the inexplicable return of its members, sickened and psychologically broken by their experience.  Our narrator, a biologist, apprises us of her team’s progress as they venture deep into Area X, making strange discoveries and unearthing hidden agendas, all the while dogged by a creeping suspicion that all is not right…

This book is admittedly weird but, surprisingly, actually the most grounded of author Jeff VanderMeer’s considerably weirder body of work.  It’s a seemingly straightforward tale rooted in science and exploration that, slowly but surely, veers into the dreaded unknown.  No mushroom people or squid-like creatures plague the pages of this book which, nevertheless, possesses an undercurrent of simmering horror reminiscent of Lovecraft.  It also reminded me of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves with its slow burn mounting sense of foreboding.  Or, for more t.v.-centered readers, it feels like a deeper, more nuanced, intellectually-provocative version of Lost.

As we bounce back and forth between the present and the past, gaining insight through our protagonist’s journal entries – a narrative device that, unlike most first person accounts, offers no assurances regarding the fate of our narrator – the secrets of Area X open up to us, offering glimpses but no real answers.  Though if the answers ultimately do come, one can’t help but wonder:  Will we be able to understand them or will we, like our narrator in one of the book’s most brilliant passages, be so overcome by its otherworldly nature that we’ll be incapable of processing the truth?

Regardless of where we end up, Annihilation is a hell of a ride.  VanderMeer does a masterful job of gradually immersing us in this uncanny environment, every eerie encounter and bewildering find drawing us in ever further until, by the time our protagonist makes her final descent into “the tower”, we find ourselves equally ensnared, unable to turn back and unsee what we have witnessed, unlearn what we’ve been told.  With the reminder that the tiny microcosms that thrive under our noses, taken for granted and largely ignored, may hold the key to some vaster enigma far beyond our imaginings, can we ever look at them the same way again? Our reality is teeming with potential alien incursions and the Devil may well be in the details.

I’m a big fan of Jeff VanderMeer and liked this book a lot.  What kept me from loving this book is the fact that, despite being a self-contained chapter of a larger work, it’s incomplete.   Granted, the second and third volumes of the Southern Reach Trilogy will follow in fairly quick succession (book #2 comes out in May and book #3 in September), but I don’t understand why all three weren’t simply released as a single volume.  Okay, scratch that.  I understand why.  It’s more lucrative for the publisher.  Still, it’s annoying, especially given that I’m in the process of reading another book, The Weird, edited by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer, that clocks in at a hefty 1100 pages.  And those oversized pages hold twice the print of a regular page so the final tally is closer to 2200!   And yet HarperCollins felt the need to make this a trilogy?

Overall, an engaging and enjoyable read.   I look forward to the second book, Authority, with equal measures eagerness, curiosity, and annoyance.

Let the discussion begin!

1Continuing our Stargate: Atlantis re-watch with…Broken Ties.

Yes, this one was mine and, upon review, I think it takes a while to get going.  But, once they’re in the wraith lab – What fun!

Akemi liked the episode – less for the story itself and more for the surprise highlights like…the shocking reveal of actor Mark Dacascos in the tease: “Wha!  Chairman!” And she was downright delighted with his performance: “I’ve never heard the Chairman talk so much.”  In truth, Mark is a lot more soft-spoken the chatty Tyre. Also a lot more laid-back.  And much less likely to ambush you in deserted forest.

Another highlight for Akemi was dog-related = Woolsey’s emotional reflection on his beloved yorkie, lost in the divorce.

And, of course, the sword fight at episode’s end (compliments of longtime Atlantis stunt coordinator James “Bam Bam” Bamford) mightily impressed.

On the flipside, she was saddened by Tyre’s death (“Very sad because I liked the chairman”), found some of the dim lighting in certain scenes annoying (“I couldn’t see very well the getting old getting young parts!”), and had a difficult time understanding what was going on at first (“Chotto confusing because I skipped so many episodes.  My fault.”).

Ultimately, Tyre reminded Akemi of another character in another Stargate series: “Chairman remind me of Chef’s [Lou Diamond Phillip’s] character a bit.  Gets brainwashed, now clear but pretending to be brainwashed.  Chef stole idea from Chairman.”  Doubtful, but an interesting take nevertheless.

Plug in your top-loading VCR’s and put your video cassette on standby.  Tonight, we watch: The Daedalus Variations!

25 thoughts on “April 7, 2014: Our Book of the Month Club reconvenes! Let’s discuss Annihilation! And continuing our Stargate: Atlantis rewatch!

  1. I wouldn’t normally comment, but…the next two novels are about 100,000 words each, which complicates things, and are *completely separate novels* in their own right, that interlock with Annihilation…they do not pick up the story right after the events in Annihilation. Annihilation is itself a self-contained short novel. Among other considerations FSG weighed in their approach to publishing the trilogy that weren’t at all cynical.

  2. “I can’t remember the last time my initial affection for a novel was so betrayed by its conclusion.

    The Arkady and Boris Strugatsky´s Roadside Picnic (Tarkovski´s Stalker) sensation at the first stages let me in.
    But, and this as you said not have nothing with the cuality of writing or interest of the idea:
    It is clear that given the length of the book, in my actual letter size and lines for page the supossed (200+) ebook, account only for 140 pages.
    At the end you would edit the whole story in a 400 pages book .
    If i am not planted here with a broken heart, would give him a chance. But I refuse to be cheated. Surely next year they shell out a compendium volume, but it will be late, they have lost me.
    I do not see any sense in this publisher policy. Lose nearly as many readers as you can theoretically win and those who you lose do not return, they leave with the first passing through there.

  3. Iread nowthe first comment. I think is Jeff. The editor not shell this first story as an introductory short-novel. I can understand the sense the waters aproach. But they are more cinical with us reader than you said. At least i not bloame you for this. But i dont buy the editors way. Sorry.

  4. Wot? No mention of the lovely Wraith? *shakes head in dismay*

    Didn’t read this book – kinda busy, distracted…just no time to read. Sorry I can’t join in the discussion.

    das

  5. On Annihilation:

    Has anyone else read Dean Koontz’s The Taking? The imagery of the “biological manifestations” was very similar. But while I enjoyed The Taking, I found the pacing in Annihilation to be slow and ultimately unsatisfying. I’m not sure I’m willing to wade through the next two books to get to the payoff. I guess I’ll see if my curiosity builds enough to get me to buy the next two books.

  6. My first thoughts of this story were to a computer game back in the 90’s “Myst.” You landed on an secluded and abandoned island and you were to set out and discover the Mysteries left behind. So begins in a way entering Area X. I guess I also drifted into comparing the technique of exposition in this book and the previous. I know exposition was an issue for even with SG. The commentators often talked about the importance of relaying important information while trying to keep the listener (reader) interested. Annihilation was more introspective and pondering, some times laborious, or as you coined “measures of eagerness, curiosity, and annoyance.” I found more of the latter because, perhaps, I like resolution and a degree of congruence. Was the protagonist her whole self or a replacement like what was often explored in the SG series a DNA replacement, replicator conversion? How did the files get into the Light house, and why was she succumbing to the brightness. I guess I would find the answers to these and other thought by continuing to read the rest of the Trilogy. Toward the middle I felt I was not so much a witness to the story but surveyor of the past. I could imagine a reader closing the manila covered or spiral note book.

  7. I really liked this story. I agree it’s incomplete. If the other two books don’t complete the story that will be really frustrating.

    This is my first novel by VanderMeer. It was definitely suspenseful. I loved the Floridian feel to it. The protagonist is smart, decent, down-to-earth, flawed and brave. She’s easy to like.

    There are just so many unanswered questions though. What really happened to her husband? Does she find him? What does she become? Does Area X takeover the world?

    I’m still fighting a head cold. So I’m going to stop here for now. I’ll definitely have to get the next book in the trilogy.

    ~~Trish

  8. I knew what I was getting into when I picked it up. I have read Jeff VanderMeer before in a previous BOTM round. I find his stories unsettling and creepy. The prose is lovely and evocative and conveys the sense of weird other-worldliness quite well. I was never tempted to stop reading, but was never really satisfied by the book.

    And I was left with too many unanswered questions:
    Why are teams still being sent in? What is done to them before they go in? What is happening to The Biologist and has it happened to others before her? Why the heck is everyone so depersonalized and isolated? and a lot of the same question that other people have already listed.

    I think the comparison with Myst is a good one – blended with equal parts of Heart of Darkness

    I think I would like this book better if I had read the last two novels in the series and then came back to this one.

  9. “…upon review, I think it takes a while to get going.”

    No it doesn’t. It was off and running from the start for me.

  10. Boring. I found Annihilation to be utterly boring. I was trying to find a less offensive word to use, but none were as accurate as the denotation of that particular word. This was a 200 page dull, misty trek that only delivered two, maybe three, interesting plot points, and zero interesting characters.

    If we follow the movement of the main character, in all those pages, she simply goes down into the tower twice and to the lighthouse once. Really? One could argue she travels vastly in her mind, but it’s too late. I did not care about her or her husband, not the psychologist, anthropologist, nor the surveyor.

    The premise reminded me some of Michael Grant’s series and King’s Under the Dome as well as LOST, but had none of the payoff. The dull introspection of the biologist was as run-on as the Crawler’s writing on the walls.

    I gave it a fair shake, hoping it would get more interesting, but it did not. The idea of the story was more enticing than the actual. I voted for this book as the monthly selection; it sounded like it would be a great read. But, alas, I was unable to enjoy it.

  11. I loved the style of the writing and found the imagery very beautiful, especially when the protagonist is in the Tower. I had to slap myself when I assumed the narrator was a man and learned she was a she — why would I assume it’s a man, other than decades of social conditioning that men are the protagonists? 🙂

    I also thought of Lost as I read the book. Unexplained things that keep piling on top of each other with little resolution. (I loved the Lost finale, so let’s not go there!)

    I guess the antagonist is whoever sends in the missions with nothing but lies. If they want to be successful understanding Area X or stopping its encroachment, why not give them all the information possible, and dispense with having one person, who becomes insane, use hypnotic suggestion on the others? I don’t see an end to the failures.

    I loved that she found her husband’s journal. I hope she finds him even if she doesn’t really miss him (!). I too will be disappointed if the upcoming books don’t answer some of the questions left here.

  12. I haven’t read any of Jeff Vandermeer’s books before, but this one seemed very Lovecraftian in its style.

    Overall, I enjoyed the story, but I didn’t find that I was invested in what happened to the characters due to the detached manner in which the story was told. I get that the story itself is, at its core, essentially some unidentified person reading the biologist’s diary of the events that took place during the 12th expedition.

    I also found that I didn’t identify with the characters for the very reason that they weren’t identified themselves, except by their occupations. The linguist backed out? Oh, well. The archeologist was killed? Crap happens. Let’s move on. The psychologist, for all intents and purposes, committed suicide? Whatever. The surveyor’s dead? Ho, hum. I found I just didn’t care very much about the characters. Maybe that was the point of this particular expedition, and by extension, the world as it is now? That we can be so separate from what’s happening around us that we don’t see events for what they are, at least not until it’s too late, and we can be so apart from other people that we can dispassionately observe what happens to them without really caring?

    The psychologist obviously knew more about what was happening than the other members of the expedition and was surreptitiously in control through the hypnotic triggers implanted in the other members’ minds. But how much did she really know?

    I will admit that I will probably read the second and third, parts of the story, not for the characters, but for the answers to the questions raised by Area X itself. Specifically, what exactly is Area X? Is it Mother Nature having had enough of the human race trashing the planet and deciding to do something to get rid of the blight? Some toxic chemical gaining sentience? An experiment gone awry as is suggested by the “military test” that was referred to early on that seems to have gone wrong? Some kind of alien invasion? Some other reality seeping into, or being forced into, our own? Or just the next step in planetary evolution?

    I’d also like to know the answer to what’s happening to those that don’t return. The biologist’s observations suggest that they’re being changed. Some become the mossy pillars, but the diary suggests that others are changed into the very wildlife that Area X is rife with and that they may retain some semblance of who and what they were before they were changed.

    Then there’s the unidentified whatever-it-is that inhabits the swamp. Is it something completely new or what someone has become? Or maybe it’s comprised of a group of someones. An entire expedition, maybe? Given the amount of diaries, just how may expeditions have there been? Are they all being dispatched by the Southern Reach? From the same point? Is this the 12th expedition to enter from a particular point, the others having entered from somewhere else?

    Who or what is the Crawler and what is the purpose of the words on the “Tower” wall? Are we harkening to Simon and Garfunkel: “The words of the prophets are written on the subway (tower) walls and tenement halls”? The words themselves seem almost biblical.

    It appears as though the lighthouse keeper will be a major part of the puzzle, especially if he’s become, or is a part of, the Crawler. If so, is he aware of himself as a separate being from the Crawler, or just a part of the whole, similar to an appendage?

    What is the significance of the lighthouse and why is so much focus placed on it during the training for the expedition.

    Lots of interesting questions, but amazingly few answers.

  13. Is Akemi’s English improving a whole bunch? Or are you just getting better at transcribing? I taught adult ESL classes for years and I find it impressive. If it’s just your transcribing skills, then it’s significantly less impressive.

  14. It took me a little bit to get going in this book too but to be fair i had just finished Arthur C. Clarke’s Rama series and was having a hard time shaking that imagery and switching gears to something new.

    I did enjoy this book though and found myself becoming more and more involved with the mystery of it. I did hope at some point that there would be some resolution to that and I’m curious enough to probably read the other books-if I haven’t moved on and forgotten in another month…

    Loved the Daedalus Variations. AU episodes always intrigue me.

  15. I thought this episode was a good way to close Ronans Sateda survivor story. I think by this point there isn’t going to be much in the way of more people from Sateda knocking around the Pegasus Galaxy. And Tyres sacrifice at the end was more in the way of redemption, restoring some pride to his name.

  16. @stunt coordinator James “Bam Bam” Bamford

    The stunts in the Arrow series, the show he’s working on are pretty amazing. There’s more in the way of fight scenes in this show though. Some episodes are like wow.

  17. I found this book frustrating and annoying in equal measures. Frustrating because what little information we find out simply raises more questions until by the end of the book the only thing we can know for sure is that we know nothing at all. Annoying because while reading it I knew that there were two more books to come so I was sure not everything would be revealed.

    For the first quarter of the book I was thinking that there must be a plot twist coming where it would be revealed that the expedition members were not actually human. They certainly didn’t act very human. I assume it was the lack of context for anything that caused those thoughts. Where is Area X? What year is the story set in? Is it even on Earth? The lack of character names exacerbated the “otherness” of the story.

    The characters had almost no depth to them. They seemed like programmed automatons sent into a dangerous area like bomb squad robots.

    Clearly Area X affects the mental and physical state of those who enter it. It modifies a person’s perceptions inducing hallucinations and wild emotions. As a result we can’t even trust the biologist’s record of events. Ultimately we emerge from the story wondering if anything in there really happened.

    Normally I’m a series completist. I will need to read the following books even if my interest in the series has waned. Well, in this case I’m inclined to give the remaining books a miss.

  18. I agree with Sparrow_hawk’s take on this book. I have not read “Heart of Darkness” though. I did read “Annihilation” through to the end and with surprising speed, but found it creepy and horror-like in places, such as the lighthouse keeper being controlled by or as part of, the crawler entity. Remember, I’m not a horror fan as I’ve often said.

    I also felt a “Lost” similarity that Jenny Horn pointed out, especially with the jungle setting and the unexpected turn of events. The mind-control/body invasion idea really bothered me (stuff of nightmares). I was left unsatisfied with the various character & situational outcomes as others have mentioned. It definitely left you hanging with many unanswered questions, but frankly, I won’t be reading the rest of this trilogy. Although I would like to know what people transform into and is it alien in nature or express mutations?

    The writer’s style was lovely in places, highly descriptive and inventive, which I do like. I believe this was my first Vandermeer novel and I would read others in the future, when in a mind-bending mood 😉

    I read the eBook version from Amazon, BTW.

    2cats

  19. Speaking of anime Joe, the third Puella Magi Madoka Magica movie sold over 137,000 copies first week in Japan, that’s pretty crazy. I’ve seen the first two movies already, not had a chance to catch the third but wow. People are going crazy over this franchise lol

  20. I thought your review of was dead on! I’ve never read any of VanderMeer’s work. The story drew me in but I was disappointed because there was no conclusion. Like you said: What kept me from loving this book is the fact that, despite being a self-contained chapter of a larger work, it’s incomplete. It flowed well it but I have a feeling the second book is going to leave us hanging too. I enjoyed everyone’s comments on the book and found common ground with many that posted.

    As for Akemi’s impressions of the show, great as always! I’m impressed with Bam-Bam’s fight scenes too.

    I haven’t voted for a new BOM selection yet. I’m leaning towards “Evening’s Empires”.

  21. I wished Tyre could have made it out. I like his character and energy Mark provided. Jason did a great job in his portrayal in converting to a wraith worshiper. Kudos to the director as well. One question, who thought it a good idea to have Teyla’s blouse have zipped? It was very distracting. I missed the line about the yorkie.

  22. I enjoyed Annihilation, more for the dreamy atmosphere than anything else. I always wondered if there were books or stories like this that were just steeped in atmosphere and allowed you to watch without feeling too much. Things happen and you shrug, because, well, it’s a story, like a dream. Being able to immerse oneself in another’s dream-like world is like falling asleep whilst awake. I don’t think I’m even awake. Considering my life seems to move like a dream and my dream-life and waking-life are constantly overlapping. Was I ever awake? Or am I just a passer-by watching someone else’s dream?

  23. I LOVED Broken Ties. It was a great episode. I always secretly hoped that we would see him pop up in a future episode somewhere because no one dies in sci-fi. Akemi always sees things uniquely (like Mark/Lou character comparisons).

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