Archive for September, 2015



There is a tunnel into the earth. Its lit by its own phosphorescence, and dimly showing on the walls is a never ending sentence. It’s an Old Testament style warning written in cursive script,  ‘the strangling fruit of your sins will burst….’. The text is alive. It’s living fungi growing on the walls, and the walls have a pulse. There are tracks on the ground. Is something patrolling these stairs?

This is the world of Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer. Area X has been occupied by some kind of biological presence. The Authority has quarantined it, and sent in teams to investigate. So far none have returned unchanged, or unharmed.

The book is a first person narration by the Biologist on the most recent expedition. She tells us about her colleagues the Psychologist, Anthropologist, and Surveyor. None of them have names. She also tells us about Area X: the woodland that surrounds the tunnel; and the swamp, abandoned village, crumbling lighthouse and sand dunes that lie between the tunnel and the coast.

She does not tell us why the Authority has sent them, or what is going on in Area X, because she does not know. The reader can only speculate.

As the book progresses she does tell us about why she chose to come, and what Area X is doing to her while she is there. But this explanation only raises more questions.

The combination of this depiction of a mysterious landscape, and little or no information about the how and why of it, is both fascinating and frustrating. It gives the book a brooding moody atmosphere, but it leaves you desperately wondering who you should be supporting. What does Area X want, what does the Authority want, and on whose side is the Biologist?

Of all these questions, the key one is do you care about the answers? Books in the sci fi and fantasy genre usually reveal a back story. They usually tell you what is at stake, and what might happen if things don’t go well. They also usually create a few characters with whom you can empathise and if not like, at least understand. They do all this to make you care, and make you keep on reading.

This book dispenses with most of that. Area X remains a mystery, It’s intentions and its future, like those of the Authority, remain unclear. And the more we learn about the Biologist the more alien and unlikeable she seems.

All this uncertainty, mystery, and strangeness is evocative and intriguing, but with little in the way of plot or any characters to care about should the reader be bothered finishing the book, let alone the rest of the trilogy?

The answer from bookgroupers was a universal yes. Even those unfamiliar with, and usually very opposed to, books of this genre. Bookgroupers were puzzled and interested, they wanted to know what was going on in Area X, and what would happen to the Biologist. We had fun speculating about this, and also talking about our various mental images of the weird environments depicted in Area X.

So does the book succeed? One bookgrouper who is an avowed anti sci fi and fantasy person not only finished the book but moved straight on to the second part of the trilogy. That is high praise for a book of this kind. Those of us who had read more of the genre were less inspired but still happy enough.

So if you are a reader that does not enjoy traditional fantasy, but you want something that stimulates your imagination and takes you out of the real world, at least for a little while, this might be just the book for you.


September 15, 2015 at 1:39 am Leave a comment


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