Book review: Annihilation (The Southern Reach Trilogy – Book 1) by Jeff Vandermeer

annihilation.jpegIf I was going to sum up this book then I’d say that it was gritty, surreal and lacked specifics. The characters remain unnamed, the setting: likewise unnamed, along with an unspecified location and no hint as to when it is set.  Annihilation is the first in a trilogy detailing the events surrounding a region of coast that seems to have been taken over by an alien ecological force. The main character is a biologist who is a member of a exploration team sent into investigate the infected (if that’s the right word) region. As well as having to contend with strange creatures who may or may not be imaginary, alien doppelgangers and transformed humans, the team also has to deal with a member who may not be on their side …

The strange thing about this book is the lack of names. I hadn’t realised how important names are when trying to engage with a character, if not just to help separate who’s who. Since the characters are referred to by their job title, I didn’t have too much trouble keeping track of who though; it was more a question of caring what happened to them. This could have been deliberate, to reinforce the notion of how expendable the team was to the people that sent them in. Still, it was a little odd. On the whole though, I enjoyed the book. It lacked pace on occasion, taking regular breaks to fill in a little back story. And what the back story told us was that the main protagonist (known to all her friends as ‘The Biologist’) was sort of cold and detached, which made it kind of hard to care what happened to her.

But I can get through a book with unlikeable characters as long as the story is a good one … and this is a very good story. There’s a lot of setting description, but once you get past that there are some terrific moments of suspense and one or two shockers along the way, which makes up for the occasional lack of pace. By the end I wasn’t any the wiser as to what was going on, but I was curious enough to buy the second book to know more.

A strange experience, sometimes frustrating buy ultimately enjoyable. Six out of ten.


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