No one expects a newlywed to bring a book entitled Annihilation on her honeymoon, but that’s exactly what I did. Sitting on the cobblestone wall outside my cliffside suite in Santorini, protected from the sun with a newly purchased wide brim hat, I soaked up this novel. Every single wonderful word of it. What was worse… I couldn’t put it down. My voracious reader husband didn’t mind. He had his own distraction, a Philip K. Dick mindbender (Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said) he purchased at Atlantis Books in Oia. Together, we were immersed in unique worlds.
In the world of Annihilation (FSG, 2014) by Jeff VanderMeer, four women volunteer for a mission to the vast Area X, which has been quarantined for decades. Members of some of the previous 11 expeditions returned changed and eventually succumbed to aggressive cancers. Others turned on one another during their stay. Some simply disappeared.
The women of expedition 12 don’t even know each other’s names, out of fear of getting too personal. The protagonist is a biologist and her group includes an anthropologist, surveyor, and psychologist who acts as the leader. Their job is to gather information and return safely, but as you’d expect, all does not go well after they discover a certain collapsed tower that did not exist on any maps from before. The eerie black pine forest, the dreary salt marshes, the weird sounds from unknown creatures coming in the night, and the mysterious words of fungi growing on the walls of the tower lead to events that cause the group to break up. Now, their only allies are their own thoughts.
Will they survive? Will they succeed?
In Area X, nature in its wildest form has taken over. VanderMeer brings to life this vibrant natural terrain with vivid detail and attention to minutiae. When it seems like you are being bogged down with too much detail, pay close attention, because you never know what may come of it later on.
The book is not just about exploring the physical world. The reader gets an intricate and philosophical foray into pursuing goals, the nature of loyalty, an appreciation of nature, and the definition of how to be true and allow ourselves to reach our full potential. It’s also about relationships, especially marriage and what it means to understand and live with one another’s desires and dreams.
At the crux of this delightfully haunting tale is the human relationship with the natural world, how our impact on the environment has lasting repercussions far and wide. Nature has a way of reclaiming its power. But it’s sure worth watching people try and make sense of it all in this amazing story. We may have to spend a little time doing just that in our lives if we continue on the path of destroying Mother Earth. Lovers of nature, fans of sci-fi, and LOST enthusiasts, should do themselves a favor and get their hands on Annihilation.
Area X is mysterious, the characters multidimensional, and the story keeps you wanting more. Thankfully, there are two other books in the Southern Reach Trilogy: Authority and Acceptance.
Today, I was excited when I heard the book will be turned into a movie starring Natalie Portman and the charming Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin) is in talks to being a part of it. It’s especially exciting because the novel is about strong, fearless women and the beauty and enchantment of the wilderness. I am glad I get to see this sci-fi thriller come to life on the big screen.
The Southern Reach Trilogy books are are available wherever books are sold; help support your local businesses and get your copies at your nearest independent bookstore.