Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer (Southern Reach #1)
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.
AUTHOR: Jeff Vandermeer
PUBLISHER: FSG Originals
LENGTH: 195 pages
GENRE: Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction
Queer Rep Summary: No canon queer rep.
ANNHILATION is built on twin pillars of grief and uncertainty, as the biologist of a four-woman expedition into a strange land begins to mistrust her present she tries to reassess her past.
There are many obvious analogies to draw in the way the biologist's ruminations on her history are driven by her attempts to analyze her increasingly disturbing present. For me they land in this strange middle zone of, on the one hand, being fairly obvious comparisons to draw in a novel and thus feeling a bit boring, and on the other hand they completely make sense for the character to have pondered and journaled in this situation. They're so perfectly fitting that it seems obvious, but nevertheless I was rarely bored.
I ended the book feeling like I knew a great deal about the biologist (but never her name), and not very much about Area X itself. What she was able to convey was confined to a few (very cool!) areas within what is implied to be a much larger space.
I'm intrigued enough to move on to the sequel. There are a lot of little moments I love, tiny descriptions and ways of thinking about the world, and I would happily read more of those.
CW for grief, sexual content (brief), terminal illness (backstory), cancer (backstory), blood, gore, body horror, violence, gun violence, death.