Annihilation (VanderMeer novel)
|Series||Southern Reach Trilogy|
|Genre||Science fiction • horror • weird fiction|
|Publisher||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
Annihilation is a 2014 novel by Jeff VanderMeer. It is the first in a series of three books called the Southern Reach Trilogy. The book describes a team of four women (a biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, and a surveyor) who set out into an area known as Area X. The area is abandoned and cut off from the rest of civilization. They are the 12th expedition. The other expeditions have been fraught with disappearances, suicides, aggressive cancers, and mental trauma. The novel won the 2015 Nebula Award for Best Novel and the 2014 Shirley Jackson Award for best novel.
The inspiration for Annihilation and the Southern Reach Trilogy was a 14-mile (23 km) hike through St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in northwestern Florida. Many of the animals and vegetation that VanderMeer has seen on this hike over the past 17 years appear in the novel. He has said that someday he hopes to do a "Weird Nature" anthology as well.
A team of four women cross the border into an uninhabited area known as Area X. The group consists of a biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, and a surveyor. None of the team is ever identified by name. The story is told through the biologist's field journal. They are part of the 12th expedition into Area X, and it is revealed that the biologist's husband was part of the previous expedition into the same area. The narrator's husband returned unexpectedly from the expedition, showing up in their kitchen without any recollection of how he got there. The rest of his expedition show up similarly. A few months later, he died of cancer along with the others in the 11th expedition.
After the first night spent at the base camp, the 12th expedition come upon a set of spiral stairs into the ground. Inside the staircase (which the biologist repeatedly calls a tower), they find cursive writing that begins with the words "Where lies the strangling fruit...." The writing appears to consist of a plant material growing several inches from the exterior wall. While the biologist is examining the writing, she accidentally inhales spores from one of the script-defining growths. After returning from the tower, the biologist discovers that the psychologist, who is the appointed leader, has programmed the group with certain triggers via hypnosis. By saying the phrase "consolidation of authority", the psychologist puts everyone except the biologist immediately into a state of hypnosis. The biologist believes that the spores she has inhaled have made her immune to the hypnotic suggestions and influence of the psychologist. The group decides to return to base camp for the night. At dusk, they hear a moaning noise from far away.
After spending the night at the base camp, the anthropologist is missing the next morning; the psychologist claims the anthropologist decided to leave and returned to the border. The group then make their way back to the "tower" where the surveyor and narrator descend back down the stairs while the psychologist stands watch. Eventually, the surveyor and biologist come upon the body of the anthropologist. It is believed she came into contact with the writer of the text on the wall (which the narrator names the Crawler). When the group returns to the top, they find the psychologist missing.
The biologist and surveyor decide to return to the base camp after a fruitless search for the psychologist. That night the biologist sees a light from the area of a distant lighthouse. The next day she leaves for the lighthouse while the surveyor stays behind. At the lighthouse, she finds a pile of journals from past expeditions, indicating that there have been many more expeditions than they had been told. One of the journals is her husband's. The immediately preceding expedition which included her husband was actually "expedition 11k", with others stretching back to "11a", and so on. She also finds a photograph of what she thinks is the lighthouse keeper from 30 years previously, when Area X had been abandoned. Near the base of the lighthouse, she finds the psychologist seriously injured. The psychologist becomes frightened by the biologist's approach and screams the word "Annihilation" repeatedly, which she later reveals is supposed to induce suicide in the biologist through hypnotic suggestion. The psychologist also reveals she had leapt from the top of the lighthouse trying to escape an unknown entity. Before dying, the psychologist tells the narrator that the border is expanding slowly northward. She also says that the biologist now has started to glow, her body emitting a dim yellow light.
As the biologist returns to base camp, she has a close encounter with the moaning animal she hears every night in the reeds. She is able to escape, but she is ambushed by the surveyor. They exchange gunfire. The biologist manages to outflank and kill the surveyor, but is wounded in the process. She learns that being injured impedes the process of her "brightening", but that as she recovers whatever it is continues to take over her body.
Being the only surviving member of their expedition, the biologist takes time to analyse material she found on her way to the lighthouse and realizes that certain moss and decayed "animals" have human cells. She also finally reads her husband's journal of his expedition, an all-male team of eight explorers. The biologist's husband's team found the "tower" on their fifth day but did not explore it, moving to the lighthouse first. After discovering the huge pile of journals, the team of explorers split up with two members choosing to explore the "tower", four deciding to remain in the lighthouse and the biologist's husband and his team's surveyor choosing to explore the land beyond the lighthouse. Finding that Area X seemed to stretch out indefinitely, they returned to the lighthouse, only to find that their team's psychologist had been murdered by a beast and then had somehow been resurrected, and the rest of the men had turned on one another. Returning to the tower, the biologist's husband and the surveyor were unable to find the other two men. They later see doppelgängers of all the men (including themselves) except the psychologist, entering the tunnel. At this point the two remaining men decide to abandon their mission. The surveyor tries to return to the border via the way they crossed; however, the biologist's husband decides to repair a boat and try to cross back by following the shore.
Having read her husband's journal, the biologist decides to return to the tunnel to see if she can find the Crawler. She makes her way down the spiral staircase and eventually finds the Crawler. After a nearly fatal encounter, she looks back to see the un-aged face of the lighthouse keeper within it, focused on the writing on the wall. The book closes with the biologist stating she does not plan to return home. Instead, she decides to stay in Area X and find perhaps any part of her late husband's presence, which she believes remains somewhere in Area X.
The reviews for Annihilation have been generally positive. Jason Sheehan of National Public Radio described the book as page-turning and suspenseful, saying, "about three hours later, I looked up again with half the book behind me and wondered how I'd gotten from there to here." Salon.com named it book of the week while GQ Magazine recognized it as one of the top books for the month of February and said that it was "about an intelligent, deadly fungus [which] makes for an enthralling read." The Washington Post said that it was "successfully creepy, an old-style gothic horror novel set in a not-too-distant future" while The Daily Telegraph said that it "shows signs of being the novel that will allow VanderMeer to break through to a new and larger audience." Entertainment Weekly gave Annihilation a B+ rating.
In 2014, Paramount Pictures acquired rights to the novel, with writer-director Alex Garland set to adapt the script and direct the film. In May 2015, Natalie Portman entered into talks to star in the film. In November 2015, Jane the Virgin star Gina Rodriguez was in talks to co-star in the film with Portman. In March 2016, it was announced that Oscar Isaac would join the cast of the film.
Garland stated to Creative Screenwriting that his adaptation is based on only the first novel of the trilogy, saying, "At the point I started working on Annihilation, there was only one of the three books. I knew that it was planned as a trilogy by the author, but there was only the manuscript for the first book." Location filming by Lighthouse Pictures Ltd occurred, starting in late April 2016 in South Forest, Windsor Great Park. Lighthouse Pictures has a charge arrangement registered with UK Companies House regarding the matter. Production was confirmed to begin as David Gyasi was added to the cast. The teaser trailer for the film premiered in September 2017, and the film was released on February 23, 2018, to very positive reviews.
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