Annihilation: A Novel is Jeff VanderMeer’s latest novel. It is the first part in the prospective Southern Reach Trilogy which will be published throughout 2014. The second book is set to come out in May, and I’m awaiting it with baited breath. VanderMeer is, of course, best known for his contributions to the New Weird. I’ve been aware of him for some time, but had only previously read City of Saints and Madmen, which is a good a place as any to start. It is his signature and, until now, most popular work. Annihilation has a different feel to it, but is still recognizable.
The novel takes place during the ill-fated twelfth expedition to Area X, a region mysteriously cut off from the rest of the world where strange and terrible things have been reported. The expedition is comprised of four women referred to only by their job titles: an anthropologist, a surveyor, a psychologist, and the narrator, a biologist. They have been sent by the Southern Reach, a secret organization almost as mysterious as Area X itself, to discover the secret of the region. Events almost immediately spiral out of control. Southern Reach is keeping secrets from them, and the very land seeks to contaminate them.
This makes for an intriguing set up, and that is precisely what the novel is—set up. The first part of a trilogy, Annihilation successfully introduces the reader to the weird uncanniness of Area X and even manages to tell a complete story in itself. The four women are well drawn, if a little distant, by design. The biologist is a distant woman, and her understanding of the other members is limited at best. Her story is effectively told, though there is room for a possible return. The story of Area X and Southern Reach, however, has barely started.
VanderMeer has a gift for depicting the uncanny and the frightening that he uses to full effect. This is a well-written, exciting, page-turner, but those expecting answers will have to wait. None of the central mysteries are answered, indeed the reader is left with the feeling that, perhaps, the right questions haven’t even been asked yet. As a result, it is difficult to truly judge Annihilation. It is the first part of a work in progress and it remains to be seen if the answers live up to the questions. But I trust VanderMeer and look forward to book two.