Annihilation (VanderMeer novel)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
AuthorJeff VanderMeer
CountryUnited States
SeriesSouthern Reach Trilogy
PublisherFarrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date
February 2014
Media typePrint
Followed byAuthority 

Annihilation is a 2014 novel by Jeff VanderMeer. It is the first entry in VanderMeer's Southern Reach Trilogy and follows a team of four women (a biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, and a surveyor) who set out into an area known as Area X, which is abandoned and cut off from the rest of civilization; they believe they are the 12th expedition, with all previous expeditions falling apart due to disappearances, suicides, aggressive cancers, and mental trauma.[1]

Annihilation won the 2014 Nebula Award for Best Novel[2] and the 2014 Shirley Jackson Award for best novel.[3] A film loosely based on the novel was released by Paramount Pictures in 2018.[4]


The inspiration for Annihilation and the Southern Reach Trilogy was a 14-mile (23 km) hike through St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. Many of the animals and vegetation that VanderMeer saw on this hike over the 17 years before he wrote the book are featured in it. He has said that someday he hopes to do a "Weird Nature" anthology as well.[5] In March 2014, as part of a piece on VanderMeer and Annihilation, he visited the St. Marks Lighthouse that inspired one of the settings in Annihilation.[6]

Plot summary[edit]

Four armed and unnamed women—a biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, and a military-trained surveyor—cross the border into Area X, an unspecified coastal location that has been closed to the public for three decades. They believe that they are the 12th expedition into Area X. The story is narrated through the field journal of the biologist, who gradually reveals that her husband was part of the previous expedition, from which he had returned home unexpectedly without the memory or ability to explain his reappearance. The other members of the 11th expedition showed up similarly, and her husband and the others all died of cancer a few months later.

In Area X during the present moment, the four women come upon an unmapped bunker with a staircase curving deep into the ground, which the biologist feels oddly inclined to think of as a "Tower". Entering, they discover cursive writing that begins "Where lies the strangling fruit that came from the hand of the sinner I shall bring forth the seeds of the dead" and extends down the Tower's stairway wall into a seemingly endless sentence. The biologist is amazed to see that the words bloom out of a fungal material along the wall, which she examines closely, accidentally inhaling some spores. She returns to the surface and notices the psychologist, the team's leader, using specific sayings to trigger hypnosis in the other women, making them more obedient and tranquil. The biologist realizes that she herself must have undergone earlier hypnotic conditioning too, but is now immune—probably an effect of the spores. She remains silent about her realization, suspicious but going along with the team. They return to their base camp and hear an ominous moaning across Area X, which repeats nightly.

By the next day, the anthropologist is missing, which the psychologist ascribes to her abandoning the mission. The three others make their way back to the Tower. The psychologist guards the entrance while the surveyor and biologist descend, soon finding the mutilated corpse of the anthropologist, whom they deduce was killed by the unknown entity also responsible for the writing on the wall, which the biologist privately names the "Crawler". This implies that the psychologist lied to them and, returning to the top, they find that she has disappeared. The biologist is conscious of a "brightness" growing within herself, which she attributes to the spores, and she leaves to explore a distant lighthouse; the surveyor stays behind to protect their campsite.

Inside the lighthouse, the biologist discovers copious bloodstains and a large hidden pile of hundreds of past expeditions' journals, some detailing battles against a monstrous presence from the sea. She pockets an old photograph of a lighthouse keeper and the journal of her late husband. She suddenly finds the psychologist dying next to the lighthouse, having jumped from the top. The psychologist perceives the biologist as a glowing "flame", repeatedly screaming the word "annihilation" in the hopes of hypnotically inducing her to commit suicide, though the biologist remains unaffected. Before dying, the psychologist reveals that Area X's border is slowly expanding every year. Traveling back toward base camp, the biologist senses the nightly moaning creature approaching; she narrowly escapes but is shot twice by the surveyor who, like the psychologist, is terrified of her "glow". Unable to convince the surveyor she is not a threat, the biologist shoots her dead using newly enhanced instincts that have resulted from her "brightening". Miraculously, her own gunshot wounds begin to heal.

The biologist analyzes plant and animal samples she has gathered, observing nothing strange except that some of them contain human cells. She also reads her husband's journal, which explains that he and a teammate were surprised that they could never find the faraway coastal border of Area X, then returned to the lighthouse to find the rest of their expedition slaughtered. They also witnessed doppelgängers of the whole team (including themselves) walking to the Tower, which caused them to abort the mission.

The biologist returns to the Tower to confront the Crawler directly, meeting it on the spiral staircase and finding it almost impossible to describe; it is a rapidly shapeshifting entity of blinding lights and shattering noises, which paralyzes the biologist in an agonizing loop of losing and regaining consciousness. It tosses her down the stairs and a fuzzy white door appears before her but, after over an hour of walking towards it, it remains out of reach. She goes back up the stairs, where she is amazed that she can now pass by the Crawler unharmed. Looking back at the Crawler one final time, she sees the face of the lighthouse keeper from the photograph trapped inside its glow. She escapes the Tower but decides to remain inside Area X and follow the coastline to see where it ends, as her husband once tried to do.


The reviews for Annihilation have been generally positive.[7][8][9] 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."[10] named it book of the week[11] while GQ Magazine recognized it as one of the top books for the month of February and said that it was "a book about an intelligent, deadly fungus [which] makes for an enthralling read."[12] The Washington Post said that it was "successfully creepy, an old-style gothic horror novel set in a not-too-distant future"[13] 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".[14] Entertainment Weekly gave Annihilation a B+ rating.[15] The novel won the 2014 Nebula Award for Best Novel[2] and the 2014 Shirley Jackson Award for best novel.[3]

Film adaptation[edit]

In 2014, Paramount Pictures acquired rights to the novel, with writer-director Alex Garland set to adapt the script and direct the film.[16] In May 2015, Natalie Portman entered into talks to star in the film.[17] In November 2015, Jane the Virgin star Gina Rodriguez was in talks to co-star in the film with Portman.[18] In March 2016, it was announced that Oscar Isaac would join the cast of the film.[19]

Garland stated to Creative Screenwriting that his adaptation is based solely on the first novel of the trilogy as it was the only one released at the time.[20] Filming occurred throughout late April 2016 in the South Forest area of Windsor Great Park in England.[21][22][23][24] The film was released on February 23, 2018, receiving positive reviews and grossing $43.1 million.[25]


  1. ^ Spiegelman, Ian (28 February 2014). "Jeff VanderMeer: 'Power of Nature' Inspired New Sci-Fi Novel 'Annihilation'". USA Today.
  2. ^ a b "SFWA Nebula Award Winners Announced (2015)". 6 June 2015.
  3. ^ a b "2014 Shirley Jackson Awards Winners".
  4. ^ Annihilation (2018). Retrieved 7 February 2018.
  5. ^ VanderMeer, Jeff (4 February 2012). "Annihilation: 'Weird' Nature : What's Your Favorite 'Weird Nature' Story?". Weird Fiction Review.
  6. ^ Schardi, Katie (29 March 2014). "Exploring 'Area X': Local author has hit with book series based on St. Marks Wildlife Refuge". Tallahassee Democrat. Gannett.
  7. ^ Millet, Lydia (30 January 2014). "In Jeff Vandermeer's 'Annihilation,' fungal fiction grows on you". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  8. ^ Alexander, Niall (10 February 2014). "Fungus Among Us: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer". Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  9. ^ Ings, Simon (5 March 2014). "Annihilation review – 'You'll find yourself afraid to turn the page'". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  10. ^ Sheehan, Jason (7 February 2014). "You'll Get Lost In The Haunted World Of 'Annihilation'". National Public Radio.
  11. ^ Miller, Laura (23 February 2014). "'Annihilation': Doomed expedition into the unknown". Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  12. ^ Merrigan, Tara Wanda (February 21, 2014). "The 8 Books You Need to Know This Month". GQ.
  13. ^ Sklaroff, Sara (25 February 2014). "Books: Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer". The Washington Post. Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  14. ^ Kincaid, Paul (4 March 2014). "Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer, review". The Telegraph.
  15. ^ Franich, Darren (19 March 2014). "Books: Annihilation (2014), Jeff VanderMeer". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  16. ^ McNary, Dave (31 October 2014). "'Annihilation' Movie Gains Momentum at Paramount with Alex Garland". Retrieved 7 February 2018.
  17. ^ Kroll, Justin (May 7, 2015). "Natalie Portman in 'Annihilation': Star Eyes Alex Garland's Next Movie". Variety. Retrieved June 7, 2018.
  18. ^ Kroll, Justin (November 10, 2015). "'Jane the Virgin' Star Gina Rodriguez in Talks to Join Natalie Portman's 'Annihilation'". Retrieved 14 November 2015.
  19. ^ Kroll, Justin (March 30, 2016). "Oscar Isaac Joins Natalie Portman's 'Annihilation'". Variety. Retrieved June 7, 2018.
  20. ^ McKittrick, Christopher (6 January 2016). "Alex Garland on Screenwriting". Creative Screenwriting. Retrieved 6 January 2016.
  21. ^ Williams, Phillip. "Construction of location set in Pond,..." Geograph Britain and Ireland.
  22. ^ Williams, Phillip. "Track sign during filming". Geograph Britain and Ireland.
  23. ^ "Lighthouse Pictures". Retrieved June 7, 2018.
  24. ^ Kroll, Justin (April 29, 2016). "Natalie Portman's 'Annihilation' Adds Containment' Star David Gyasi". Variety. Retrieved June 7, 2018.
  25. ^

Further reading[edit]

  • Prendergast, Finola Anne (2017). "Revising Nonhuman Ethics in Jeff VanderMeer's Annihilation". Contemporary Literature. 58 (3): 333–360. doi:10.3368/cl.58.3.333. S2CID 165581423.

External links[edit]