I’m a bit late to the party with Annihilation, but it’s still a damn good party. Except by “good party” I mean “terrifying uncanny nightmare”. It has been a long time since a book has scared me this much, mostly because I avoid horror, and I thought SF was a safe space where nothing was strike fear into me. Somehow VanderMeer sullied my safe space and made me enjoy being scared.
Annihilation follows a team of nameless specialists in various fields as they adventure into Area X, a strange portion of land where questionable things seem to happen and where multiple missions have ended in disaster. Sent off with partial information and mistrust in her team the biologist recounts the events of their expedition as best she can with limited knowledge. A lot of the fear in this book relies on limitations, the limitation of the narrative, the limitation of identity, and the limitation of human understanding.
Thankfully not all the fear relies on limits or we wouldn’t really have enough information to be scared, VanderMeer artfully lets through just enough snippets to make an almost tangible thought before snatching it away again. I don’t want to reveal too much, but I also want to list some things that really messed me up from this book:
- The most recent expedition returned alive, but not quite themselves (spooky)
- Something just howls every night, just howling in the dark
- Creepy lighthouse
- Spores, spores everywhere, is it even safe to breathe
- Eyes, I cannot handle eyes
- Some very disturbing wounds
- Some unnervingly Freudian spaces (lighthouse included)
- A deceptively bright and fun cover
If you have any problems with any of these things, I am downplaying it. I have a beloved children’s’ film I can’t watch again just because it has a lighthouse. Noises at night scare me. If my partner doesn’t focus their eyes quickly enough for my liking I become convinced some terrifying stuff is about to happen. This has gone from review to therapy session pretty fast so let’s get back to the book.
The beginning of the book was a little slow as the writing style seemed to put me off at first. The biologist is a scientific narrator, obviously, and though it works well to have a slight emotional disconnection in the story, I found it difficult to lose myself into the story because of it. Once I got past my own emotional hang ups (and once the story got a bit more emotive I’ll admit) I really started to get into it. I’m excited and a little scared to read the next instalment, which from what I can tell follows another character and is much longer, so hopefully a change in narrative will endear me to it more.