Annihilation

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer.

VanderMeer Annihilation

Annihilation is the first book in a trilogy about agents of a clandestine government agency exploring a forbidden territory.

Annihilation is a parable about personal identity, epistemological frustration, and the elastic boundaries of human consciousness.

Annihilation is a short novel structured around themes of exploration, control, and survival. The principal character and narrator, identified only as “the biologist,” is simultaneously de-personalized and carrying out a deeply personal agenda regarding her lost husband. She is part of a small team which experiences catastrophic internal conflict, and she encounters phenomena of evidently non-human origin that are overwhelmingly exotic. The book defies genre, but I might class it as mystical horror, with some science fiction and espionage tropes.

Despite the obvious differences, Jeff VanderMeer’s “Area X” and the “Kefahuchi Tract” of M. John Harrison’s novels (Light, etc.) have more than a little in common. The infection/mutation of characters and their ambivalent encounters with transcendent power are in both cases oriented toward a mysterious region of putatively non-human influence. Protagonists have all-too-human motives working themselves out in shockingly inhuman contexts. VanderMeer’s prose is less writerly than Harrison’s, but it is efficient and engaging, and both manage the sort of impressionistic feat of bringing the reader to identify with the crucial ignorance of the characters, who are themselves not terribly sympathetic in their traits and histories.

I enjoyed this book and intend to read its two sequels. [via]

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