Book Review: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Annihilation_by_jeff_vandermeerThere’s something weirdly cool about the story Jeff VanderMeer tells in Annihilationand like a bad accident on the highway, it’s impossible to look away.

Weighing in at just under two hundred pages, the first in VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy reads like something between the Twilight Zone, Strange Tales, and Alien. It is the story of a team of explorers assembled to conduct research in an area known as Area X. The zone in the southern part of the continent is an area cut off from civilization. The reason for the quarantine, as well as the length of time since it was quarantined, is unclear.

The area affected by…well, whatever it is—it is slowly growing. Previous expeditions have met with disaster, no one who returns is unchanged, and as the story opens, the protagonist is aware that those expeditions often came to strange and occasionally deadly ends. There is a palpable sense that the team members do not trust each other, nor do they know or understand why the other team members have been sent or have joined the expedition in the first place.

As the researchers start making their various measurements, analyses, and determining where they are going to go first, things begin to get weird.  It becomes questionable whether the narrator is trustworthy, or even fully aware, either. It’s an eerie and strange tale, and I admit finishing the story without any real clarity about what was going on, except that things were not what they seemed. But VanderMeer’s story works, and I liked it.

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Annihilation Book Cover Annihilation
The Southern Reach Trilogy
Jeff VanderMeer
Science Fiction
FSG Originals
February 4, 2014

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; the second expedition ended in mass suicide, the third expedition 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 weeks, all had died of cancer. In Annihilation, the first volume of Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy, we join the twelfth expedition.
The 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, record all observations of their surroundings and of one anotioner, and, above all, 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.

About Daniel

Daniel Burton lives in Salt Lake County, Utah, where he practices law by day and everything else by night. He reads about history, politics, and current events, as well as more serious genres such as science fiction and fantasy. You can also follow him on his blog where he muses on politics, the law, books and ideas.


  1. FictionFan says:

    Sounds intriguing – I’ll be interested to hear what you think of the rest of the trilogy if you read them.

  2. Bloggin' 'bout Books says:

    This one definitely sounds mysterious and intriguing. I hadn’t heard of it before reading this review, but now I think I need to get my hands on a copy. Thanks for the heads-up!