ANNIHILATION (The Southern Reach Trilogy) by Jeff Vandermeer
Women have long held an important place in the Sci-Fi genre. Since Mary Shelly created a living corpse, women have dominated despite what critics would have you believe. It is still a rare treasure to find a Sci-Fi novel that not only has a Female MC, but an all Female ensemble! And another shocker about ANNIHILATION by Jeff Vandermeer is that the Female characters are actually written well. Believable even, which is a surprise coming from a Male author.
This is not to say I think male authors can’t write women, but research and history have shown that it is not one of their strong suits. Vandermeer delivers not only a refreshing take on a Sci-Fi story, he also creates characters that to me are intrinsically real. Part of this may be because the characters don’t have weird Sci-Fi names, but I don’t think so. Take the MC, she is not perfect. Far from a Mary Sue. She is working in a S.T.E.M field and loves it. (More of this please) She has a rocky marriage and no ‘real’ friends by her standards. She is human. Ergo women can simply be human and I freaking love that.
The MC is a biologist. Who is part of a 4-women team brought together to enter Area X. An Anthropologist, Psychologist, and Surveyor round out this team and they are all equally human. Area X is a mysterious anomaly that the government has been trying to find answers to for 30+ years. This story follows specifically the twelfth expedition into Area X and no more information is really given before they plunge head first into this potentially fatal twilight zone. Prepare for a confusing romp through some very fucked up and mutated situations.
The first being the discovery of the ‘tower.’
This ‘tower’ is underground and much to the chagrin of the biologist everyone else calls it a ‘tunnel.’ Honestly, it could go either way. The biologist then does the one thing that made me cringe. She, a biologist, walks up to a fungus without any kind of facial protection and breaths it in. Of course the fungus spits spores and of course they get into her body. How? How could she let that happen? Unless she wanted it to. This honestly could be an arguable defense based on what we learn of the character later.
More shenanigans occur that lead to the group dismantling rather quickly. Honestly, the rate at which this group turn on each other is rather laughable. It’s like they went into this mission fully not trusting the other members of their team. That has got to be the biggest red flag that someone from HQ should have picked up on. Just saying.
Biologist worries about the whole puffing foreign spores thing. She monitors herself for a few hours and then arbitrarily decides she’s good. That is until you learn why a psychologist was paired up with scientists. To put them under hypnosis to keep them complacent. This of course has no effect on the now fungal positive biologist.
Now it becomes clear to the biologist that something is off about the entire expedition. I personally had that feeling from the moment they stepped into Area X, but what do I know? She also doesn’t mention this discovery, which normally would bother me but lets not forget the whole not trusting each other thing. I wouldn’t be ready to throw down that kind of information unless I had assurances. And trust me, the biologist has no reason to trust these women, especially the psychologist.
It’s at this point that two things begin to unravel. First, the very lives of the women and second, why the biologist is here in the first place. The later turns out to be far more interesting to me. Don’t get me wrong, the deaths in this book are pretty brutal. However, it’s the slow unveiling of the biologist’s backstory that kept me engrossed. Again, she is human and the fact that she has these flaws was so mesmerizing to me. I was with her. I was on her side despite any wrongdoing she may have committed throughout the course of the book. Frankly I don’t see how she did anything worse than the others. The psychologist can rot on that beach for all I care.
No, it is the humanistic reasoning behind the biologist’s thought process that makes the journey into Area X great. Granted the ending leaves many unanswered questions, but it’s nice to know that two books follow this one. I’m tempted to pick them up just to see what else I can discern.
There is also a movie staring Natalie Portman and Oscar Issac. (WHAT!?)
Just an FYI the movie does not follow the book very well, or really at all. If you go in with that mindset you will leave disappointed. However, I am comfortable in saying that as a strictly Sci-Fi movie, it wasn’t half bad. To be honest it’s shocking that a movie exists. ANNIHILATION doesn’t lend itself well to other media, which is why I suspect changes were made.
All in all, I think this is a great Sci-Fi story. And if you can look past the confusing elements I you too can enjoy it.
4* out of 5*
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