Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer

Annihilation Book Cover Annihilation
The Southern Reach trilogy
Jeff VanderMeer
Fantasy, New weird
FSG Originals

"New weird" is a genre I've been aware of, and interested in, ever since someone blessedly made sure I read China Miéville's Perdido Street Station a long, long time ago, when I generally didn't read speculative fiction at all.  And it might have looked like "sort of steampunk" at the time, but of course it was weird.   So, okay, yes. I like this sub-genre.  If you don't, you may have issues with VanderMeer.

Annihilation is the first of three little novels, released in a trickle through 2014. I can tell you I will probably read the rest of The Southern Reach trilogy, and may already have bought Authority and pre-ordered Acceptance.

I chose the audiobook version for this, because it was convenient.  It works well in that format - to my fat ears the narrator (Carolyn McCormick) is a good match for the material.  I know others have been a bit annoyed with some of her quirks, but they worked for me, so there you go.  It's a six-hour listen, which, incidentally, is what I consider ideal for my audios, as it's short enough that I don't lose track or accidentally leave it unfinished for several months because audio activity didn't happen. (Audio activity is idle handwork like illustration, knitting, um, Civ V.)


Area X.  It does sound a bit cheesy, but - yes, of course - it's weird cheesy.  It's been entirely cut off from civilization for decades already; No one knows much about it, though there's been a number of scientist expeditions.  Twelve, in fact. We follow the 12th expedition going in,  after the 11th one came back (at least partly) oddly changed, confused, and ultimately dying from cancer.

The 12th expedition is an all female group. A psychologist, an anthropologist, a surveyor, and our narrator, the biologist.   Their job descriptions are the only names we have for them, because things don't have names in Area X.    The psychologist leads them across the border - the supposed border, anyway, they can't cross it in a conscious state, it requires hypnosis.

They set out to do scientist-y things;  map the terrain, record their observations in the little notebooks they've each been given for the purpose.  It'd also be nice if they managed to avoid being contaminated by Area X, themselves.

You'll not be terribly surprised to know that yes, there are odd and mysterious phenomena and entities to be observed.  There are other surprises, too.  Most of them not even native to Area X.

Now, I enjoyed the style, shape and feel of this novel, but in the end, it's like a plate of chocolate that is enjoyable because of the exquisitely designed wrapping - and not so much for the actual content.   I'm perfectly willing to accept it's trilogy syndrome.  This novel by itself doesn't satisfy me at all, it goes a bit out of focus towards the end, and I feel like the author is just as impatient as I am to just finish this first book so we can go take on the second one.   Meandering endings is high up on my grr-list, so for me, it has a huge impact on how I rate the book.   This isn't true for everyone, of course.

But there was a lot of really likeable suspense and creepiness in there.  I was going to call Annihilation "Good enough to get the rest of the trilogy, insufficient on its own", but that's too harsh, and not accurate at all.    I'll settle for something like this:  Best saved for when atmosphere is the main thing you want.  Not an optimal choice if you're pining for pointy, angular, clear cut story characteristics.

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