Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer

AnnihilationI was talking with a friend a while back about The Name of the Wind and how I just want to know what happens with the spiders, dang it, and it’s really frustrating when nothing happens over the course of a 700-page novel and how I’m really just not going to read the rest of the series because if you can’t be arsed to answer some basic questions in your first book why do I care about the rest? (See also: Wizard’s First Rule, which I apparently read before the blog, which… wow, that’s a long time ago.)

But apparently it’s okay to do the same thing in a 200-page novel because I have questions that need answered (shut up that’s perfectly acceptable grammar in Ohio) and I am going to read the rest of this series and get those answers and it will all be shorter than one epic fantasy novel.

I am pretty sure there are exactly zero answers in this novel, for serious. You start off not knowing anything, and you end up knowing some things, but none of those things are things I had questions about and most of them only lead to new questions.

This novel is about a lady biologist whom we only know as the biologist because that’s how these people roll, and she’s hanging out with other ladies, specifically an anthropologist and a psychologist and a surveyor and not a linguist because she left the expedition practically before it started. Said expedition is into a place called Area X that exists… somewhere… possibly reality, possibly not at all reality, I have no idea. And it’s the twelfth expedition into Area X, most of the rest of the expeditions having gone horribly wrong.

The story is told as a series of journal entries, so we learn about Area X more or less concurrently with the biologist, though some entries are long enough for her to be like, if only I had known what would happen next. We also get a bit of her backstory — why she’s on this mission, why she’s a biologist — but not enough to identify her in a lineup of biologists.

Everything is very very vague in this book, and it is absolutely fascinating. The characters are there doing things, but those things really don’t matter so much; the important thing is this Area X and what happened to it and why people are exploring it and what its buried secrets are.

The center of the story is this so-called “tower” that almost ruined me — the biologist calls it a tower even though it’s an underground building sticking up not even a foot above the ground, and everyone else calls it a tunnel even though it’s pretty obviously a winding staircase, which is not to me a tunnel. This nomenclature thing is a brain exploder, for sure. Anyway, inside the tower/tunnel/staircase there are strange words “written” on the wall in some sort of biological organism, and the story is largely about the biologist’s quest to find out how these words got here and what wrote them and what might be hanging out farther down the staircase.

As she’s finding out the answers to these questions (okay, I guess some of HER questions get answered), we learn more about the history of Area X and the expeditions in the form of tantalizing details and then a small info dump, but it is obvious that there’s so much more than meets the eye (sometimes literally) and I really really really want to know what the heck is going on with this place and I am eager to dive into the next book whenever my library deigns to get it cataloged and on the holds shelf for me!

Recommendation: For reading when you don’t mind being frustrated by a severe lack of detail, and maybe when you have the other two books on hand because waiting is hard!

Rating: 8/10

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