Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
Published by HarperCollins Publishers Limited in July 2014
Series: Southern Reach, #1
Genre(s): fiction, science fiction
Format & Length: audio, 6:00:14
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Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.
This is the twelfth expedition.
Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.
They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything.
I hadn’t heard of Annihilation until seeing a preview for the movie that was released in February 2018. But it intrigued me, and when I was recently searching for a shorter audiobook to listen to from my library and this showed as available and just over six hours long, I figured it was the perfect time to give it a shot.
“What can you do when your five senses aren’t enough?”
The book was not what I expected based on what I’d seen in the movie preview, but it was interesting. It read like a scientific journal of observation and discovery of the biologist in an exploratory expedition into Area X, a mysterious area where the laws of nature seem to be changing. Despite the format, some of the writing was really quite poetic, balancing out the factual with description and abstraction in a way that appealed to me.
The narration in the audiobook was fine, spoken in a manner that a scientist would as they take notes. This was a double edged sword, as it made sense and enhanced the feeling of a more detached scientific observer, but that sense of detachment also made it easy to disengage and put the book aside. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this in audio format, but if that’s how you like to consume your books, I would suggest trying to find a sample first before diving in.
After completing the book, I had to watch the movie to see how the story would be adapted to another medium. Let me say this upfront: this is not a faithful adaption of the book. While it did have similarities, in many ways it was very different. The backstory is essentially the same, but the plot was changed significantly – I assume to adjust better to a visual medium. It did, however, convey the same slightly eerie tone and atmosphere of unease that drew me in to the book and worked again in the movie.
For me, the book and movie version of Annihilation complemented each other, coming at the story from slightly different perspectives and uncovering its secrets in their respective manners. I think this might be one of those cases where you could easily read or watch in either order and still enjoy both. On the other hand, if you have read the book and found it to be too slow, the movie may be more to your taste.