Book Review: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (Series, #1) (Audiobook narrated by Carolyn McCormick)
Nobody quite knows what is wrong with Area X, but everyone has their speculations. It’s been cut off from the rest of the world for decades, and the government has kept precisely what is going on rather hush-hush. The government periodically sends teams in to investigate it. The narrator, a biologist, is part of Team 12. The team is entirely made up of women, based on a supposition that women are less badly effected in Area X than men. The biologist’s husband was part of Team 11. She is curious to know what happened to him but also entirely intrigued by the tunnel her team finds. She insists on calling it a tower. Through her mandatory journal, we slowly discover what may or may not be in Area X.
I picked this book up since it sounded like it would be a mix of scifi and Lovecraft style fantasy, plus it features an entirely female investigative group. Although it is an extremely interesting premise, the actual book does drag a bit.
The biologist narrates in a highly analytical way that is true to her character but also doesn’t lend itself to the building of very much tension. Since the biologist calmly narrates everything, the reader stays calm. She also, frankly, isn’t an interesting person due to this same tendency to view everything through an analytical lens. Imagine if Star Trek was 100% written by a Vulcan, and you can begin to imagine the level of ho-hum.
This narration style could have really worked if the language used was stunningly beautiful. While I think that’s probably what the author was going for, it largely missed for me. While the language was good, there was also nothing particularly special about it. I marked three passages that I enjoyed throughout the whole book. Looking back, two were extremely similar. The passage I found to be the most beautiful is:
That’s how the madness of the world tries to colonize you. From the outside in. Forcing you to live in its reality. (time 3:15:47)
While pretty, it’s not pretty enough to make up for the rather dull narrator.
Since the story has four women to work with, it probably would have worked better to bounce around between their four narratives. This also would have given the bonus of seeing the mysteries of Area X through multiple sets of eyes, enhancing the tension the mystery, while also giving the opportunity for a variety of narration styles.
The mystery of Area X is definitely intriguing and different from other Lovecraft style fantasies. In particular, the passage describing the terror of seeing the thing that cannot be described was particularly well-written. However, the passages describing the horror in Area X are mostly toward the end of the book and are not as well spaced-out as they could have been to help build the tension. The end of the book is definitely the most interesting and managed to heighten my interest enough that I was curious about the next book in the series.
Overall, this is a unique take on the idea of a scientific investigation of an area invaded by Lovecraft style, fantastical creatures. It features an entirely female investigative crew but unfortunately limits itself to only the narration of one overly analytical and dull biologist. Recommended to big fans of Lovecraft/fantastical invasion style fantasies. To those newly interested in the genre, I recommend checking out Bad Glass by Richard E. Gropp first (review), as it is a more universally appealing take on the genre.
3 out of 5 stars