Book #2 of 30 - Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer 2009
Tom Brady watches more game film than any quarterback in the NFL. Why? To become a better quarterback. Reading makes you a better writer. That's why I've committed to reading 30 books in 2018.
I love movies, and I love movie trailers.
Sometimes, I'll see an interesting movie trailer, and I'll learn that the movie's based on a book. So, I'll buy the book with the hope that I'll read it before the film comes out, so I can compare the film with the book and deepen the movie experience.
What's funny is that often, it makes me NOT want to see the movie at all.
Sometimes, I don't like the book and don't want to bother with the film. Sometimes, I love the book so much that I know that the movie will never be as good.
I recently saw a trailer for Annihilation, based on the book of the same name written by Jeff VanderMeer. It was an excellent trailer. It made me want to see the movie and read the book.
Plus, I ride or die with Portman! Beautiful Girls forever! (awful trailer)
BTW - Beautiful Girls does not get made in 2018. No way! Portman's Lolita character, one of the most beautiful and charming movie characters of the 90's wouldn't fly today. No way. Ted Demme would be arrested at the read-through.
I digress. Here's the Annihilation trailer.
The book is the first of a trilogy called the Southern Reach Trilogy. I would classify the setting of the book as science fiction, but the intention of the book, it's mood and tone is pure horror. It takes place in the near future in what seems to be a region of America similar to Alabama or Lousiana.
Here is the Wikipedia description of the plot: The book describes a team of four women (a biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, and a surveyor) who set out into an area known as Area X. The area is abandoned and cut off from the rest of civilization. They are the 12th expedition. The other expeditions have been fraught with disappearances, suicides, aggressive cancers, and mental trauma.
The author tells the story from the point-of-view of the Biologist, whose husband was a member of the previous expedition team. He has returned from the expedition very sick and very damaged. The Biologist joins the 12th journey to learn what happened to her husband.
After reading Annihilation, I'm very interested in seeing the movie. Not because I loved the book, but because I'm not sure how you make this book into a film. The book is very complex.
First, the book is beautifully written. The prose is gorgeous, and VanderMeer can paint elaborate scenes and settings in painstaking detail. I was very impressed with his sentences and overall writing ability.
But, Annihilation is not a book for readers looking for an easy read.
VanderMeer dedicates a lot of glorious pages describing the world of Area X. But, he also moves backward in time a lot to tell the story of the Biologist and explain the relationship between her and her husband. There are lots of flashbacks.
I'm not the biggest fan of flashbacks, and I find them very frustrating in literature. This probably says a lot more about me than the device.
As the good book says, "We may be through with the past, but the past ain't through with us."
See this movie for reference....
As a reader, I just want to get into the present day story. Let me dine on the meat.
What's happening? What's this world all about? Where are we going?
But, I learned quickly, Annihilation wasn't going to give me much of that.... for a good reason.
Annihilation is a character piece.
While the expedition is made up of four women, the book doesn't make a big deal about it. He fills the book with a few flawed female protagonists who don't always remain protagonists. But, he doesn't make a big deal about them all being women, which I applaud.
Ultimately, this book is all about one character, The Biologist. Through the exploration of this mysterious Area X, the story becomes a mirroring examination of the woman's psyche. It's a study of human relationships through geography and biology.
The Biologist spends the majority of the novel alone, exploring the seemingly uninhabited landscape. Along the way, she encounters phenomena, vegetation, and creatures that can't be explained.
There isn't a lot of action, more reflection. So, if you're looking for a bang-bang sci-fi novel like The Martian, this is not the book for you.
My instinct is to label Annihilation as slow, but the pace of the book is intentional. The author does an outstanding job of building tension and anticipation by slowing rhythm of the story down to a deliberate march. The pace gives the reader and the Biologist room to reflect on what's going in Area X and her past.
What's interesting is The Biologist's reaction to the danger around her.
The main character is experiencing an extraordinary world filled with life-threatening creatures, but as these risks present themselves and the stakes rise, the fear inside The Biologist seem to lessen. She is finding meaning in the chaos and mystery of the world.
My wife hates when the reveal never comes in movies or TV. She'd wants all her hard work and time invested paid off with an ending that is ultimate. She'd hate this book.
The totality of the story's meaning never unravels. Like a lot of excellent science fiction, you get to examine the world and story through your paradigm.
There's a lot of mystery, but I recommend that you don't get too bogged down with it. You'll find yourself trying to understand what Area X's vegetation and spores mean and how they relate to biblical text. Blech! This is window dressing for what's really going on.
Ultimately, I think Annihilation is a study of loneliness.
Through flashbacks, we learn that the Biologist has always felt alone. Alone in her family. Alone in the world. Alone with her husband. A very relatable feeling in 2018.
Like many of us, she has lived in fear most of her life. Fear of being alone, different; fear of being loved and not loved.
The Biologist travels to Area X, a place filled with predators, and threats that she doesn't understand and often can't see.
When confronted with real fear, real danger, the fear of death: the Biologist doesn't run, she fights. She finds the bravest version of herself and takes on the mysteries of Area X, alone. The Biologist realizes that she's right where she needs to be.
I found this depressing and inspiring at the same time. Two things that are tough to hold in your hand simultaneously.
I felt depressed because I related to the fear and loneliness she felt inside the relationships in her life. I felt inspired that in the face of real peril, she was able to rise to the challenge and confront the bone-chilling unknown.
I'm sure that in the trilogy's remaining books, there is more to learn about Area X. I bet the books explore the mysteries, the history and it's role in the universe. All placed under the microscope and dissected.
But, I'm not sure I'm interested in returning.
In Annihilation, it's only the Biologist that gets the examination and I found that I got a lot out of that.
Who knows? Maybe if the movie is really good, I'll read the next one.
I'd love to know your point of view. Shoot me a note and let me know what you thought of the book.