ANNIHILATION : A Novel (The Southern Reach Trilogy # 1)Jeff Vandermeer
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Annihilation Is A Science Fiction Story Of A World Gone Wrong
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★★ An Amazon Best Book of the Month, February 2014 ★★
★★ The 2014 Nebula Award For Best Novel ★★
★★ The 2014 Shirley Jackson Award For Best Novel ★★
Annihilation is a 2014 novel by Jeff VanderMeer. It is the first in a series of three books called the Southern Reach Trilogy.
The book describes a team of four women (a biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, and a surveyor) who set out into an area known as Area X. The area is abandoned and cut off from the rest of civilization. They are the 12th expedition; the previous expeditions have been fraught with disappearances, suicides, aggressive cancers, and mental trauma.
Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; the second expedition ended in mass suicide; the third expedition in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another.
The members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within weeks, all had died of cancer. In Annihilation, the first volume of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, we join the twelfth expedition.
The group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain, record all observations of their surroundings and of one another, and, above all, avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.
They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers―they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding―but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another that change everything.
A team of four women (a fifth having abandoned the team before entering) crosses the border into an uninhabited area known as “Area X”, an unspecified coastal location that has been closed to the public for three decades. The group comprise the 12th expedition into Area X, and consists of a biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, and a surveyor, none of whom are ever identified by name.
The story is told through the biologist’s field journal, written near the end of the expedition. It is revealed that the biologist’s husband was part of the preceding 11th expedition, from which he had returned unexpectedly, showing up in their kitchen without any recollection of how he got there. The other members of the 11th expedition had shown up similarly, and a few months later, her husband and all the others had died of cancer.
After the first night spent at the base camp, the 12th expedition comes upon a structure containing a set of spiral stairs descending into the ground. Inside the structure (which the biologist repeatedly calls a tower), along the staircase, they find cursive writing that begins with the words “Where lies the strangling fruit…”
The words appear to be written with a plant material growing several inches from the exterior wall. While the biologist is examining the writing, she accidentally inhales spores from this material. After returning from the tower, the biologist discovers that the psychologist, who is the appointed leader, has programmed the group with certain triggers via hypnosis.
By saying the phrase “consolidation of authority”, the psychologist hypnotizes all except the biologist, who believes that the spores she has inhaled have made her resistant. The group decides to return to base camp, and at dusk, they hear a moaning noise from far away.
After a night at base camp, the anthropologist is missing; the psychologist claims that she decided to leave and returned to the border. The group then make their way back to the “tower”, where the psychologist stands watch while the surveyor and the biologist descend the stairs. The biologist sees that the tower is made of living tissue, which the surveyer is unable to perceive due to lingering hypnotic suggestion.
Eventually, they come upon the body of the anthropologist, who they believe came into fatal contact with the writer of the text on the wall (which the biologist names “the Crawler”). Returning to the top, they find the psychologist missing, and after a fruitless search decide to return to base camp. That night the biologist sees a light from the area of a distant lighthouse. The next day, the biologist is conscious of a “brightness” growing within herself, which she attributes to the spores. She leaves for the lighthouse while the surveyor stays behind.
At the lighthouse, the biologist finds a large pile of journals from past expeditions, indicating that there have been many more expeditions than they had been told about. One of the journals belongs to her late husband. She also finds a photograph of someone she thinks is the lighthouse keeper from 30 years previously, when Area X had been abandoned.
Near the base of the lighthouse, she finds the psychologist seriously injured after having jumped from the top. Perceiving the biologist as glowing and frightened by her approach, the psychologist screams the word “annihilation” repeatedly in an attempt to induce suicide in the biologist through hypnotic suggestion. Before dying, the psychologist tells the biologist that the border is expanding slowly northward, toward the Southern Reach’s facility.
As the biologist returns to base camp, she has a close encounter with the moaning creature that the team has heard every night in the reeds. She is able to escape but is ambushed by the surveyor who is also terrified of her glow.
They exchange gunfire. With newly-enhanced perception and reflexes, the biologist manages to outflank and kill the surveyor, but is wounded. She learns that being injured impedes the process of her “brightening”, which continues to take over her body as she recovers.
Now the only surviving member of the 12th expedition, the biologist takes time to analyse plant and animal samples she has gathered and discovers that some have human cells. She also reads her husband’s journal and finds that his all-male team of eight was designated “11G”, suggesting multiple “11th expeditions”.
Her husband’s team had found the “tower” on their fifth day but did not explore it, moving to the lighthouse first. After discovering the huge pile of journals, the team of explorers split up with two members choosing to explore the tower, four deciding to remain in the lighthouse, and the biologist’s husband and his team’s surveyor choosing to explore the land beyond.
Finding that Area X seemed to stretch out indefinitely, they returned to the lighthouse, only to find that their team’s psychologist had been murdered by a beast and then somehow resurrected, and that the rest of the men had turned on one another. At the tower, they were unable to find the other two men, but later saw doppelgängers of the team’s members — including themselves, and all except the psychologist — entering the tower.
At this point the two decided to abandon their mission and leave Area X, the surveyor attempting to return via the way the team had entered, and the biologist’s husband attempting to cross the border via boat, following the shore.
Having read her husband’s journal, the biologist decides to return to the tower. She makes her way down the spiral staircase and eventually finds the Crawler. After a nearly fatal encounter, she continues down the stairs until she comes in sight of a door. Unable to continue, she returns toward the top, perceiving within the Crawler the face of the lighthouse keeper as he looked in the photograph. The biologist decides to remain in Area X and seek some trace of her late husband.
About the Author:
Jeff VanderMeer is the author of Dead Astronauts, Borne, and The Southern Reach Trilogy, the first volume of which, Annihilation, won the Nebula Award and the Shirley Jackson Award and was adapted into a movie by Alex Garland starring Natalie Portman. VanderMeer speaks and writes frequently about issues relating to climate change. He grew up in the Fiji Islands and now lives in Tallahassee, Florida, with his wife, Ann VanderMeer, and their cats, plants, and bird feeders.
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