Monday, April 6, 2015

Book Reviews: Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

So I have the extreme fortune of knowing the author of today’s book. Jeff Vandermeer is one of the founders of Shared Worlds, the creative writing camp I attended for three years during high school. He saw the earliest versions of HOUR OF MISCHIEF and was an excellent mentor. I have him to thank for making me stop my characters from ‘growling’ and ‘setting my ellipses free.’ I could talk about how awesome he is all day, but we’re here to talk about his work. The shoe is on the other foot Mr. Vandemeer. Now I shall critique your work and expose it’s failings to the world! Just kidding… it’s kind of awesome. Let’s hop right in!

The Plot- 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; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died 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 months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.
This is the twelfth expedition.
Their 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 and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to 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.

The Characters- What’s that? Is that four female main characters that I see? Four main characters who are women but not defined by their gender? I believe it is! I was very excited to discover this when I first heard about the book. There really aren’t enough books who say ‘the gender of our characters doesn’t really matter but let’s make them all women’. So A + for that. It’s really hard for me to talk about the characters otherwise, however, for fear of spoiling it. As the summary says, all of the expedition members are keeping secrets. We have access to the biologist who is an interesting character herself with a rich back story and intriguing world view. But the other three characters become known to us gradually. I don’t want to spoil it but I must say, the psychologist is interesting J

The Good Points- Jeff Vandermeer's imagination is weird. That’s always been the wonderful thing about him as a writer. He’s weird and excessively creative. This suits him quite well when writing a horror type story. There are many parts of this story that shock you to your core. But none of the scares are cheap thrills. Its all very otherworldly and fascinating, like something you’ve never read before. And really, I think that’s the biggest reason I would encourage people to read this book. You haven’t read something like it before. Its just… such an interesting dive into the explainable and into the often disturbed psychology of human beings. But don’t read it late at night. For the sake of sleep, just don’t.

The Bad Points- There aren’t really critiques I can give this book that aren’t matters of personal preference. For instance, I can’t quite give this book my highest rating because, while the characters were fully fleshed out and interesting, they weren’t the kind of characters I can emotionally connect to. That’s nothing against the writing. It’s just my taste. Other than that, there’s no reason you shouldn’t read this book. Unless you’re easily scared… Just kidding, you should read it anyway.

Overall, Annihilation is frightening, thought provoking and unique in the best sense of the word. One might think I’m biased since I know the author but, you know what, Stephen King recommended this book too. So there. Read it. You will not regret it, even if your sleep schedule does.

Final Rating- 4.5/5

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