In the first book of Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, an expedition team of four government explorers: a psychologist, an anthropologist, a surveyor and a biologist journey into unknown coastal Area X, a seemingly natural promised land. From the outset of this dense science fiction journey, the threat of desolation looms in the surrounding beauty of the landscape.
It is futile to resist the compulsion to devour this book in one sitting. Annihilation’s premise is one that feels familiar to fans of science fiction; a team of explorers journey into an unknown area with the intent of gathering scientific data and reporting out to an obscure government body. Previous expeditions have met mysterious ends. We follow Vandermeer’s narrator, known only as “the biologist,” into Area X along with an anthropologist, a surveyor and a psychologist. The discovery of an undocumented tunnel marks the group’s descent to ruination. As a captive audience of the biologist, we journey with her as she falls prey to Area X’s “brightness” and is drawn to what she calls “the Crawler.” Much like the limited information the expedition team is provided at the birth of their journey, readers of Annihilation proceed into the unknown armed only with what the biologist decides to tell them. Through this forced ignorance, Vandermeer nurtures a feeling of disquiet in his readers’ hearts. As the complexities of Area X transcend the biologist’s comprehension, Vandermeer’s writing mimics our narrator’s evolution and a story unfurls that is at once beautifully written and terrifying in its disorientation.