Reading for the Scientific Mind

AnnihilationAnnihilation by Jeff VanderMeer is the first in a trilogy about a place known as Area X. In the same way that nearly everyone over the age of 10 has an opinion about Area 54, the wider society in Annihilation believes a catastrophic environmental event occurred in Area X. Authorities have neither confirmed nor denied the rumors; they have sent eleven expeditions into the area to assess current  conditions. None of them has been successful.

In this first volume of the trilogy, a team of four women – Team 12 – is tasked with completing an assessment of the area. The team is made up of a biologist, an anthropologist, a surveyor, and a psychologist. None of the women uses her name. Even when asked directly, that information is not supplied. The person telling the story is the biologist. The tale is told through her journal.

The journal entries are written in a thorough and self-assessing manner. So much so, that at times the biologist’s thinking process — checking and double-checking her impressions and assumptions to ensure they are as free of bias as possible — feels claustrophobic. Her knowledge of the environment and her ease in the wilderness help to offset the overall feeling that something is out there. At least it does until she realizes the dolphins look a bit human and the moaning sound she hears at night is coming from an actual being.

In tone and mood, this book is reminiscent of Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca. The tension mounts steadily. Each discovery brings a new set of questions. HG Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau has a similar feel. Despite the creepy feel, I was engrossed in this novel from the moment the team made its first unexpected find.

In one interview with VanderMeer, a question was asked about the ways in which a new habitat or environment has the overall experience of a first contact with an alien society. VanderMeer’s reply relates to the type of person the biologist is. He points out that the biologist is entirely comfortable in her surroundings. She doesn’t fear the wilderness at all. Maybe that’s what makes her story so compelling.

Technically, Annihilation is a scifi/fantasy novel. Pigeonholing it a genre is grossly unfair. It is, at its core, a terrific read.

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