ANNIHILATION by Jeff Van Dermeer


I read Annihilation by Jeff Van Dermeer for The Morning News Tournament of Books. I’d heard good things from friends about this first book in the Southern Reach trilogy, but less good things about the trilogy overall. It was short, though, and sounded cool:

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; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died 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 months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.

This is the twelfth expedition.

The twelfth expedition is also all women, so this book was automatically going to pass the Bechdel test, a sort of lowest-common-denominator of a book or movie, in which the work contains two women who are named that have a conversation that is not about men.

I loved having a smart, scientist woman narrator, and the world the author describes is mysterious and fascinating.

I leaned in closer, like a fool, like someone who had not had months of survival training or ever studied biology. Someone tricked into thinking that words should be read.

The book does a great job setting up whether our narrator is reliable, how reliable, what is going on, and is it “real” or paranormal. But it didn’t sustain the momentum to the end, which was more a whimper than a bang for me. I’m writing this less than two months after I read it, and I cannot remember much about the ending, so it did not stick with me. I will not be reading 2 and 3 in the trilogy.

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