Exploring Area X, part I

Book Review of Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer, book 1 of Southern Reach trilogy.

synopsis – Area X is a mysterious, ever-encroaching expanse of land in America, bordering the ocean. This land is wild. Dangerous. Feral. And the flora and fauna are… abnormal. And Southern Reach keeps sending expeditions into the heart of Area X. Willing volunteers who, after immersion into this feral land, return mere husks of themselves, if they return at all.  No one knows exactly why Area X is so powerful, only that it must be explored. And so the twelfth expedition sent into Area X consists of a biologist, a psychologist, a surveyor, and an anthropologist. They must explore, take notes, collect samples… and hopefully return. Ah, but who are they kidding? For the land is lush with transformation, and the expedition members are keeping secrets from each other. Secrets that give even more power to Area X.

reaction – While I refer to the novel as “Area X,” the title is “Annihilation.” The annihilation of civilization, of society, of the codes governing interpersonal expectations and conduct. The annihilation of others. The annihilation of self. Within Area X, you get a sense of being immersed, slowly but effortlessly, then “the sense of” fades away and You’re Actually There, in Area X, lost, and this is as it should be, because Area X is your home, it’s always been your home. You just didn’t know it, because you thought “home” meant “familiarity.” It doesn’t. “Home” means 4.4 billion years of evolution on a warm, wet speck of dirt in an unknowable universe. Struggling, squirming, little bags of meat, absorbing, growing, breeding, fighting, destroying, dying. Starting over again. And again. As with what will be the endless expeditions into Area X, marching into the unknown, hoping to learn, but ultimately facing the unknowable. Area X gives enough clues so that you can see, hear, touch… but what you’re experiencing is something completely unexpected. Foreign. Dizzying. If and when you reach the other side and found you’ve survived, it’s only because Area X infected you. Its germ kept you alive, so that you may serve it. And now you have no choice but to carry the germ back into civilization, where you shrug your shoulders and shake your head. So that others should venture home to Area X.


Other versions and reviews of Annihilation can be found here.