Continuing our discussion of our April Book of the Month Club selection – Annihilation: writes: “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.”

Answer: Well, you’re in a better position to know so I stand corrected.  Still, this first book is surprisingly short and the speedy release of subsequent volumes atypical of any series I’ve ever read.  It will be interesting to see how this experiment fares.

skua writes: “The Arkady and Boris Strugatsky´s Roadside Picnic (Tarkovski´s Stalker) sensation at the first stages let me in.”

Answer: Yes, it certainly was reminiscent of Stalker as well with its foray into an uncharted alien landscape where the rules of physics – and logic – no longer apply. Great movie.  Perhaps time for a re-watch.

JeffW writes: ” I found the pacing in Annihilation to be slow and ultimately unsatisfying.”

Answer: I didn’t mind the pacing.  I was so caught up in the story that the slow build really worked for me.  It was like one of those horror movies of old where the meat of the narrative is in the suspense rather than the visceral payoff.

Duptiang writes: “Was the protagonist her whole self or a replacement like what was often explored in the SG series a DNA replacement, replicator conversion?”

Answer: Interesting question.  She seemed to retain a certain part of herself as evidenced by the introspective passages in her journal.  And yet, there’s the hint that she is losing a part of herself as well.  When her husband mysteriously returns from his expedition, she points out that it’s as if a part of him is missing.  He’s not quite the same person…

Duptiang writes: “How did the files get into the Light house, and why was she succumbing to the brightness?”

Answer: My guesses would be – 1) the lighthouse keeper (human or otherwise) and 2) any human being will succumb to Area X following extended exposure to the environment.  Of course, these are just guesses.  Are the answers to come?

whoviantrish writes: “The protagonist is smart, decent, down-to-earth, flawed and brave. She’s easy to like.”

Answer: I found the narrative approach very interesting.  It allowed us to get to know our protagonist but, on the other hand, never allowed us to know or in any way connect with the other characters.

sparrow_hawk writes: ” The prose is lovely and evocative and conveys the sense of weird other-worldliness quite well.”

Answer: Agreed.  He’s a terrific writer and I’ve greatly enjoyed his previous books.

sparrow_hawk writes: “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? ”

Answer: In my mind, these first two questions are the ones that really need to be answered.  Don’t get me wrong.  I too would like an answer (or, failing that, some solid hints) regarding the fate  of the biologist and how Area X is influencing its visitors, but I’m willing to cut its enigmatic, alien-centered answers some slack.  In the case of the expeditions, I’m in a less forgiving mood since there are real people behind these seemingly illogical decision.  As someone else already pointed out, if so many teams have already gone missing, why are expeditions still being sent into Area X?  What, if anything, is being gained?

Jenny Horn writes: “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. ”

Answer:  I’ll have to reserve judgement on payoffs until I’ve completed the trilogy, but you present some very interesting examples.  I didn’t make it through the entire Lost run but my friends who did were VERY disappointed with the finale.  As for Under the Dome – I read it and, while I thought the premise was great and the narrative fairly engaging, I found the ending hugely disappointing.  Sometimes, payoffs aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

astrumprota writes: “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.”

Answer: And that fairly encapsulates my biggest bump with the book.  Given all of the previous failed missions, why not better prepare future teams?  Why not arm them with better resources?  This is hinted at early on (ie. the limits to what they can bring, the fact that much of their equipment is outdated, etc.) but these are questions that need to be answered in time.

cat4444 writes: “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.”

Answer: Yes, I had a problem with that too – and the fact that no one had a name  It was always “the psychologist”, “the anthropologist”, “the surveyor”.  I eventually accepted the conceit – until, at one point, a character is referred to as “the anthropologist” in dialogue.  Surely when speaking to each other, I thought, they would use their first names.  But then, upon further consideration, I realized that this entire narrative is an extended journal entry written by our protagonist, so she is essentially offering a tweaked account of her experience.  It’s a reminder that our narrator is human and, perhaps, not to be trusted.

cat4444 writes: “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?”

Answer: Again, I really hope we get the answers to these types of questions, those related to the Southern Reach organization and the reasoning behind some of their seemingly illogical decisions.

cat4444 writes: “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.”

Answer: Yep.  And remember her encounter with the dolphin possessed of an uncomfortably familiar gaze?

cat4444 writes: “Is this the 12th expedition to enter from a particular point, the others having entered from somewhere else?”

Answer: Another interesting point is the suggestion that they must pass through some sort of alien portal to cross the boundary from their reality to Area X.

cat4444 writes: “Who or what is the Crawler and what is the purpose of the words on the “Tower” wall? ”

Answer: Are those messages a disordered attempt at communication by the Crawler who perhaps makes use of the jumbled memories of those Area X it has absorbed in order to reach out to new visitors?

Line Noise writes: “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.”

Answer: Yes, alluded to this earlier, the fact that we could well be dealing with an untrustworthy narrator, one infected by alien consciousness.

2cats writes: “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 ”

Answer: I highly recommend you do.  Maybe this one?

Quick!  Get cast your votes for June’s Book of the Month Club selection!  It’s a tight race and the polls close this weekend:

And continuing our Stargate: Atlantis re-watch with…1

Well, this one did NOT go over well.  In fact, it probably ranks as Akemi’s least favorite Stargate episode to date – partly because she found it so gosh darn confusing (“So complicated this episode!”), but mainly due to the “everything but the kitchen sink” plot (“A little too much thing going on for me.”).  The word “cliche” also came up quite a few times.

When the countdown clock counts up to 100% in the nick of time: “So cliche.”

On their way back to the jumper, they encounter one more hidden alien to complicate matters: “So cliche.”

When the Daedalus is being attacked by enemy ships and all hope seems lost: “Atlantis will save them.”  And then, when Atlantis does save them: “So cliche.”

For some reason, she really fixated on the team discovering their own dead bodies.  She HATED that shot.  When I asked her why, she explained that unlike the sequence in SGU’s Twin Destinies in which Rush encounters an alternate version of himself, she felt there was no point to their discovery here – outside of the VFX department showing off.  I pointed out that the reason this discovery raises the stakes since alternate versions of themselves were in this exact same predicament and failed.  She grudgingly accepted this explanation and then, seemingly unconvinced: “So not showing off the computer graphic skills?”

This episode’s single highlight: “I like him [Ronon].  Hansamu.”

A potential highlight, quickly quashed, came when the ship finds itself beside the red giant.  “Now they can recharge!”  Uh, sorry.  Wrong Stargate series.

And she continues to be impressed by David Hewlett’s ability to deliver seemingly endless dialogue: “Don’t you think handsome guy’s sentences are very short and McKay’s are very long?   Not fair.  I can’t believe he can remember every single sentence.”

All in all however, Akemi found this episode tiresome despite (because of?) the seemingly endless obstacles the team encounters: “Like after drinking scotch or smoking pot, I have huge ideas and put them all into one script.  I’m a crazy genius and this is chance to write every crazy idea I’ve ever had in this episode!  I need something to make sense to make everything like this happen.  I know – a ship!  Alien attack!  Now very close to sun!  Super hot!”  You get the idea.

Next up: Ghost in the Machine.  Nothing like a Carl Binder joint to get us all back on track!

20 thoughts on “April 8, 2014: Continuing our BOTMC discussion of Annihilation! Continuing our Stargate: Atlantis re-watch with…The Daedalus Variations!

  1. I loved the aliens in this episode and wanted to see more of them, they were too cool to be a one and done alien. Not to mention one of them getting the better of Ronan(Which lets face it, doesn’t happen very often), was of interest. It would have been interesting to have the team encounter them again randomly while on an offworld mission. It would lead to the question, who are they? What do they want in this galaxy, if anything?

  2. I have to agree with Akemi. This episode was … meh on the scale of meh to Woohoo! It was all over the board and really focused on that stinking engine. The new aliens were cool .. I bet if the writers had introduced them instead of the replicators, well .. 😛

  3. Usually it would really bother me that I wasn’t able to fully connect with the characters. Not having any names, just professions, was irritating at first. But then I found that I was so creeped out by Area X that I actually didn’t mind being detatched from the characters. Especially because the protagonist hints early on that things don’t end well for them. I didn’t want to get really attached. I felt safer having that distance there.

    It seems as if those “in charge” have learned nothing. We know they’ve sent more than 12 teams because of the mountain of journals in the lighthouse. And yet it seems they have no clue how to equip their teams. It seems as if they are grasping at straws. They just keep throwing people at the problem. I think that’s the real question I want answered: Why are the expeditions done in such a way?

    I can’t read Stephen King because it scares me too much. I’m a baby, I know. But maybe I can handle other VanderMeer stories. So even if this story will always irritate me like the ending of Lost, I’ll still probably pick up more of his work. I’m calling that a win.


  4. As for the Atlantis episode: One of my pet peeves is when the clock counts down to almost zero and the hero saves the day. I agree with Akemi that it’s a cliche.

    Did you tell Akemi that David devours lines? I really think if he didn’t want all those lines he would have followed Flanigan’s lead and said them slowly. 😀

  5. I liked this episode of Atlantis. Loved that Ronon had no idea how to shot at the enemy aliens and the scene got compared to Star Wars. Who ever thought to have Sheppard call Ronon, “Chewie”, was just brilliant.

  6. Have to agree with Akemi on this one….one of my least favorite Atlantis episodes. Maybe if the aliens were going to be revisited…in say Season 6, then it might have moved up in importance but since the show was prematurely canceled, we will never know.

  7. One thing regarding Annihilation I had not yet considered…perhaps Area X is not on Earth.

  8. @Jenny Horn I had thought of that! It’s just so bizarre how they have to enter it and how it’s being kept a secret. Even Area 51 has been discovered. The biologist had mentioned they had ways of keeping tabs on Area X.. whatever that means. I’m thinking there were far more truths untold than told. Because they certainly didn’t expect her husband to return so it’s not like they’re guarding it really well.

  9. It is clear to me that we are not going to get any answers in subsequent books, so I propose that we make up our own answers to our questions. I’m going to begin by naming the lead character Bridget…Bridget the Biologist. And her husband is/was Richard. Ok, now who wants to say what happened to Richard? Did he morph into the dolphin, or is he still roaming Area X as a human?

  10. The detachment in Annihilation seemed quite normal to me. At last, someone who sees the world the way I do. Snapshots. Moments. Wait. Being detached is not normal? Why didn’t someone tell me decades ago?

  11. LOL, continuing to disagree with Akemi about almost everything! Loved this episode, it had the team, it had adventure and sadness and many of the things I loved about the series. I remember reading a lot of positive things about it back in the day. 🙂

  12. Late to the Annihilation party.
    It was a bit slow, strange that did not bother me. I think I am waiting for more stuff to be revealed with the step by step by step approach. Whomever said, this was Myst like – YES…I could not remember what seemed so familiar but not concrete. Because it was slow, I did not devour quickly, but I am wanting to know what next and I still want to know.

    Bows head in shame, Not done reading yet, got to the part where she finds the journals. There are so many questions that beg to be asked and answered.
    Yes, very very ODD – keep sending people into a situation where there has not been great news and also limiting what they take.

    my only lame excuse – work…and now I have to take a work break cause I stopped to do this…sigh.

  13. I have a big love for AU scenarios and I liked Daedalus Variations. I don’t have dvd’s of season 4 or 5 so I’m commenting from memory.

    I have two quibbles with DV. My smallish quibble is the appearance of the dead team. What did they die of? They don’t look dehydrated or starved.
    (BTW, I loved their outfits.)

    I liked Rodney’s situation of having to solve a problem (with Sheppard’s “help”) that another version of him couldn’t solve. However, quibble number two is, I think that the situation of Rodney making a mistake and then spending the episode fixing it, got overused in the SGA run. Off the top of my head there’s Tao of Rodney (he’s showing off and gets zapped) and The Last Man (he did something with the gate I think). Just so you know, those are two of my all time favorite episodes. I just don’t like to see my SGA hero as causing problems; I like him as Mr. fix-it.

  14. Some of my theories about Annihilation:

    It’s possible that the Southern Reach authorities have been infected by Area X and their minds are being controlled in order to keep “feeding” Area X with fresh meat. We know that people can come back from Area X “changed” so it’s possible that these “returnees” have either infiltrated the government or have come into contact with government officials and infected them. This could also explain why the expedition team seems so unprepared and their training focussed solely on the lighthouse . . . all the better to get them to the right place.

    It’s clear that advanced technology does not work in Area X as evidenced by the Biologist’s film camera not working. I’m sure it was also mentioned that things like radios didn’t work either. Without advanced technology you need people on the ground to gather information. Assuming the Southern Reach authorities aren’t compromised then I’m sure they are worried about the expanding influence of Area X and it’s a priority for them to find a solution.

    They’ve sent in a lot of expeditions but is it wise to tell the current expedition about the tens (perhaps hundreds) of expeditions that have failed before them? To lose 11 previous expeditions is tragic but acts to compound the mystery and drive expedition 12 to find out what happened. If they were told there were 111 previous expeditions that all failed I suspect they’d struggle to find volunteers.

    From what little we know about the Southern Reach it sounds like a totalitarian government with control of the media. I would imagine that any information about Area X is severely restricted.

    As for the lack of names for the characters . . . it really annoyed me. More than it really should. I don’t think the expedition members even knew each other’s names. I’m sure I remember it being said that during training they were instructed to not use real names. Perhaps the intention was to ensure each member didn’t become to attached or friendly with the other members so they could still function when the inevitable deaths started happening. I don’t know.

    Is the Area X phenomenon a purely biological one? In which case maybe some sort of hazmat suit and decontamination/positive pressure tent could be employed to ensure no contamination. Or is it some sort of “field” that affects the brain?

    I mentioned when this book was first selected as BotM that I didn’t like the cover because I kept reading it as “Ant lion”. I was quite freaked out when “Ant lion” was actually mentioned a couple of times in the book.

    I also said in the review of the previous month’s book that I wanted to read a book where the aliens were just so alien they were incomprehensible to the human characters. I take that back. I’ve read such a book now and I really, really want to understand the aliens.

  15. Annihilation is itself a self-contained short novel. Groan…. I was hoping for a solution. 🙁

    Great Q & A All!

    I cast my vote for “Evening’s Empires”.

  16. For a second i thik “Now they can recharge!” too. 😉

    Sometimes crazy genius idea is use all cliches, until you lower your guard.
    An then Teyla says Rodey: “I think you´ll make an excelent father someday”

    That’s when Sheppard & us all togheter say: “I´ve seen a lot of scary things in my time but that thought scares me the most.” 👿

  17. @One of my pet peeves is when the clock counts down to almost zero and the hero saves the day.

    The waiting till the last moment thing is used quite on a lot on TV and in Movies, it wasn’t unique just to this episode, it adds to the suspense and in some cases excitement.

  18. That “Schroder” book sounds a lot like a novelized version of this nonfiction book:

    I just heard an interview with the author of “Blood Will Out” on the radio a couple days ago, so when I read the “Schroder” description, the parallels were fresh in my mind. Both have a shady German immigrant who goes by a famous, wealthy-family surname (“Kennedy” in “Schroder”; “Rockefeller” in “Blood Will Out”). Both masquerades come unraveled when the shady con man kidnaps his daughter in a custody dispute. Except in the nonfiction tale, the guy is not only a kidnapper, but also wanted for a double murder in California 23 years before his façade came crashing down. I guess that detail would’ve undermined the reader’s ability to empathize with “Schroder” and find some good in him.

    “Blood Will Out” is told from the perspective of the author, who was friends with the con man and duped by him for 10 years. From what I can tell, it’s the story of how he was sucked in and missed all the signs that could have tipped him off that the con man’s entire existence was total BS.

  19. I agree with Akemi on this episode. I like them all but some I like more than others. This was at the lower end of my liking.

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