Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer is the first book of the Southern Reach Trilogy and is the basis for the recent film. Entering a world cut off from modern society due to mysterious contamination, a biologist finds herself on a mission with several other women to find out what happened to the previous explorers of Area X. Things quickly go wrong, and she finds herself questioning the mission itself and her own experiences as she pushes farther towards her goal.
This book is a quick but reflective read. The focus is on the biologist’s experiences and perceptions, and the reliability — or lack thereof — of them. How do you figure out which memories to trust, if any? That tremulous uncertainty colors the book as she grapples with her preference for being alone and how that has impacted her life and survival. Sometimes the very sociability that has aided our species for a millennia is what keeps us from safety and from being able to see what’s around us. Our closeness blinds us to the bigger picture.
The references to various minutia common to the biological sciences and roles of ecological study may bore some; but they also help fix the biologist in her role and make her more believable. The moments of reflection on the natural life around her provide a respite from her inner monologue and reflects on her nature and that of those around her. Her introvert nature is the key to her understanding of the mysterious Area X and dwelling within it.
The Audible narration was soothing, and at a mere six hours (200 pages if you’d prefer the written form), it wasn’t a slog by any means. There were parts where I wish it would have lingered a bit more on details in various places; it felt like the story could have been greatly expanded. However, the listening experience was gripping, and I found it hard to stop listening and get things done. Philosophical types, biology lovers, fans of esoteric mysteries — this is the book for you. If you’re expecting answers and battles with mutated monsters? This isn’t for you. It’s about survival and knowing oneself.