Annihilation (VanderMeer novel)

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Annihilation by jeff vandermeer.jpg
AuthorJeff VanderMeer
CountryUnited States
SeriesSouthern Reach Trilogy
GenreScience fictionhorrorweird fiction
PublisherFarrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date
February 2014
Media typePrint
Followed byAuthority 

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.[1] They are the 12th expedition. The other expeditions have been fraught with disappearances, suicides, aggressive cancers, and mental trauma. The novel won the 2014 Nebula Award for Best Novel[2] and the 2014 Shirley Jackson Award for best novel.[3]

A film based on the novel, starring Natalie Portman, was released by Paramount Pictures on February 23, 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 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.[5]

In March 2014, as part of a piece on VanderMeer and Annihilation, VanderMeer visited the St. Marks Lighthouse that inspired one of the settings in Annihilation.[6]

Plot summary[edit]

A team of four women (a fifth woman abandoned the team before entering) cross the border into an uninhabited area known as "Area X", an unspecified coastal location that has been closed to the public for three decades. The group consists of a biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, and a surveyor. None of the team members are ever identified by name. The story is told through the biologist's field journal, written after the bulk of the novel's events. 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 structure containing a set of spiral stairs descending 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 the psychologist's influence. 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 biologist 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, the biologist finds a large pile of journals from the past expeditions, indicating that there have been many more expeditions than they had been told about. One of the journals is her husband's. 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. Later this is revealed to be a phrase designed 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 that the team 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 designated "11G". 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 "tower". 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 "tower" 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 continues down the stairs until she comes in sight of a door. Unable to continue she returns and passes the Crawler without further incident, but looks back to see the un-aged face of the lighthouse keeper within it. 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.[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 "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 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."[20] Location filming by Lighthouse Pictures Ltd occurred, starting in late April 2016 in South Forest, Windsor Great Park.[21][22] Lighthouse Pictures has a charge arrangement registered with UK Companies House regarding the matter.[23] Production was confirmed to begin as David Gyasi was added to the cast.[24] The teaser trailer for the film premiered in September 2017, and the film was released on February 23, 2018, to very positive reviews.[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)".
  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. "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. ^ Hipes, Patrick (August 3, 2017). "Alex Garland's 'Annihilation' Gets 2018 Release Date". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved August 4, 2017.

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.

External links[edit]