This first book of the Southern Reach trilogy doesn’t really deliver. The premise is interesting, but it’s hardly used to develop something other than mood, the only thing we get is verdant breadcrumbs. There isn’t much of story, hardly any character development, and surely no characters I cared for, because the characterization is (very) shallow most of the time. Yes, there is some back story to the protagonist, but that’s just clichéd: she was an uncool kid that liked science. (Now there’s something we can all relate too!)
It’s a book filled with seemingly neat ideas for the sake of neat ideas (e.g. the expedition is filled with only women, but nothing of that fact is explored, the characters easily could have been men).
Some have written VanderMeer writes lyrical prose. I can see where they are coming from, and the prose is not bad, but adjectives like bloated, ponderous or vague spring to mind just as easily as ‘lyrical’.
Annihilation is only 190 pages in a pocketish edition. I have the feeling volume 2 and 3 won’t add a lot, and some surfing on the web indeed confirmed they don’t really answer any questions at all.
So, it’s mainly an atmosphere novel, brooding for the sake of brooding, mysterious for the sake of mystery. Lots of nature descriptions, strange sticky slime, hallucinations & hypnosis, bioluminescent fungi, a lot of insinuations and internal monologue, gothic writing in moss, maybe a military experiment caused an ecological disaster, feral boars, etc. Dreamlike stuff, it has been done before. On a surface level, this book is about the weird and the odd. Sadly, there aren’t any other levels.
Some have argued the trilogy is about that what can’t be known (and the inherently mysterious nature of reality), and there sure are explicit hints of that near the end of this first book, yet I didn’t have the feeling I was lyrically elevated to new epistemological spheres, nor did I gain intuitive insights on meta-truths about knowledge. Conclusion: style over substance.
Beats me why this is classified as SF, btw. Oh yes, right, Area X might have been caused by something alien. Or not. Who cares? It was just a dream anyways.
originally written on the 12th of April, 2015