Annihilation is a beautiful ordeal

Jeff Vandermeer invites you to explore the alien, yet familiar, world of “Area X”

Image courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers

By: Alex Bloom

Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation is the first book in the Southern Reach Trilogy, and it will pull you in immediately with its rich and insidious atmosphere. Lovers of science fiction and horror are sure to find themselves gripped by a compulsion to learn more about the mystery at the center of the story, much like the characters in the book. Readers may find themselves transfixed by Vandermeer’s prose from the very start. One might even call the book abrupt, throwing the reader into the increasingly strange and intriguing world of “Area X” from the top of page one.

The story follows four women — a biologist, a psychologist, an anthropologist, and a surveyor — who are sent on an expedition into the aforementioned “Area X” by a shadowy organization known only as The Southern Reach. Their mission is to find, document, and understand the source of the inexplicable events reported in the area.

None of the characters in Annihilation have names, and it is told in the first person from the perspective of a woman identified only as “The Biologist.” All of the other characters are simply referred to by their roles. This is emblematic of the story itself, which calls into question the nature of all that the explorers know, with ever more chilling implications as the expedition goes on.  

Even though her name is never revealed, the first-person narration provided by The Biologist gives the reader an intimate insight into her psyche and the way she approaches life through the lens of her work. She sees natural phenomena, not morality, as she navigates nightmarish scenarios in the pursuit of understanding the mysterious Area X. In Annihilation, moral ambiguity abounds, and everything is grey, despite The Biologist’s colourful surroundings.

Annihilation is existential horror at its finest. It is rife with metaphors and musings about mortality, pain, personal growth, isolation, as well as the nature of reality itself and how we perceive it. This book is a must for anyone who enjoys speculative fiction and, despite its short length, is not a short read as it takes multiple readings to unpack all the hidden meaning it holds.

If you’re still left wanting more, however, Annihilation has also been made into (a very different) but still fascinating feature film. The film is directed by Alex Garland and features stars like Natalie Portman, Jennifer Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, and Oscar Isaac. The film is well worth watching despite diverging from the book in several ways, and it’s sure to keep you up at night.