Book Review: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Annihilation_by_jeff_vandermeerAnnihilation is something else.

That said, I wouldn’t say that it was weird, exactly, as it has so much in common with traditional genre work.

It’s science fiction in the sense that it’s about science; in fact, it’s told from the first person point of view of a biologist, ostensibly on a scientific expedition. There’s a lot of scientific-sounding observations and a lot of scientific terminology tossed around. However, most of what the biologist encounters is decidedly not scientific, is indeed almost certainly supernatural or alien in nature, moving Annihilation firmly into the realm of the fantastical.

The biologist might have the mind of a scientist, but she has the soul of a poet. The descriptions of Area X’s environs are full of lush imagery and gorgeous turns of phrase that grant the whole book a sort of dreamlike quality. At times it even slips into what feels like nothing more than stream of consciousness narration, liberal interspersed with the biologists memories from before the expedition and an entire secondary story nestled in there about the biologist’s marriage, a tragic romance if there ever was one.

It’s a mystery in the sense that the reader doesn’t quite know what’s going on, but there’s no explanation in the end, and the biologist (and therefore the reader) finds far more new questions than answers over the course of the book. While reading, I generally felt like I was getting more and more information, but I was left somewhat frustrated at the end even though I felt like the biologist’s story ended in a way that felt just right for her.

Probably the thing Annihilation is most like is the works of Lovecraft and his copycats, but it’s not really horror, either. While there are some horror elements, especially of the psychological kind, I found the book to be more melancholy than anything else, and the biologist’s very detached, clinical style of narration rather dissected her feelings of horror more than it projected them to the reader. I felt like I was reading about horror, not experiencing it.

I suppose I would call Annihilation a work of literary surrealism, which definitely earns it a place under the SF umbrella, but aside from the common comparisons of it to Lovecraft (and those comparisons aren’t truly apt), I’d say it defies ordinary genre classification.

I can’t say that I particularly liked Annihilation, but there are things I loved about it. Its lovely prose and well-though-out structure show the meticulous craft that went into its creation. I don’t think I will be reading the rest of the trilogy, though. Annihilation left me wanting to know more about Area X, but it just wasn’t a very enjoyable read for me. Not enough to make me want to read another two books like it.

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