Jeff VanderMeer’s “Annihilation” : a gripping, very imaginative sci fi and horror mystery.
“Annihilation” is the first book of the “Southern Reach Trilogy.” Area X is a mysterious coastal area that has been cut off from civilization for decades. Southern Reach is a government agency that controls access and exploration of Area X.
“Annihilation” is the story of the 12th expedition sent to Area X. The team is made up of four women: a biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, and a surveyor. It is a dangerous mission.
Past expeditions sent to the area have ended in disasters and suicides. There is an abandoned lighthouse and unmistakable signs that people once lived in Area X. It’s a complex and varied ecosystem of forests, swamps, salt marshes, the ocean; birds of all kinds; wild animals on land and in the waters.
The biologist’s husband was a member of the eleventh expedition. He and his team members had returned suddenly to their homes, unable to describe how they had made their way back from Area X. They spoke of their expedition in calm tones, as if from afar. All died of cancer shortly afterwards.
The fate of the 12th expedition is narrated by the biologist. In their exploration of Area X, they make an unexpected discovery: a spiral staircase, an underground tower, going deep into the earth. On the walls there is cursive writing, continuous ominous sentences, biblical in tone.
The biologist accidentally inhales spores of phosphorescent plants growing from the walls. She senses a growing “brightness” within her. She realizes the psychologist can control the team through hypnosis. She becomes resistant to the hypnosis.
Area X reveals its bewildering and deadly nature. Deep in the tower, the biologist and the surveyor find the anthropologist, dead. She was attacked ferociously by the Crawler as the biologist comes to think of the script writer. The biologist has a terrifying encounter with the Crawler in the Tower: a living creature, somehow alien, complex and transforming Area X into a different world.
The biologist is the sole survivor. At the abandoned lighthouse, she discovers innumerable journals left by many past expeditions, including her husband’s journal. She writes of the Crawler in the Tower. She leaves her journals and her husband’s journal with all the other journals for future expeditions.
In his journal, her husband had written of an island farther along the shore. She decides to remain in Area X and to explore what lies beyond the Lighthouse.
“Annihilation” won the 2015 Nebula Award for Best Novel and the 2014 Shirley Jackson Award for best novel.
(2018: Paramount Pictures released a movie based on the novel ).
The Southern Reach Trilogy books:
“Annihilation” (book 1); 2014.
“Authority” (book 2); 2014.
“Acceptance” (book 3) ; 2014.
Peter Cawdron: “Retrograde” (c) 2016
Set on Mars, Peter Cawdron’s sci fi novel “Retrograde” is a gripping story about survival, sacrifice, compassion and friendship; and a fascinating and thought-provoking story about what defines life and consciousness.
The story is narrated by Liz, a micropaleobiologist.
The Mars Endeavour international colony is thrown into a deep crisis, struggling with grief, fear and distrust when nuclear war breaks out on Earth.
The 120 scientists, engineers and doctors are from the US, China, Russia, UK, Israel, and India. The colony’s modules are built deep into the bedrock of Mars, in the vast labyrinth of caves, caverns and lava tubes. In many ways the colony has become self-sufficient and supplies from Earth are sent on a regular basis.
When war breaks out on Earth, the colonists from the different countries lock themselves into their separate modules. Liz, a member of the US team, is convinced that for the colony to survive, they must think as Martians, to somehow rebuild a spirit of co-operation and to continue their scientific research and exploration of Mars.
However, very soon, a tense and undeniable feeling grows that Earth’s war has arrived on Mars. As Liz talks to the Chinese and Russian colonists, questions arise about the supply spacecraft from Earth. Has it landed on Mars or not? Liz sets off to the landing site of the supply spacecraft. Her Mars rover malfunctions, and she is nearly killed. The crisis at the colony deepens when environmental controls fail in the medical hub and in one of the modules, killing several colonists. With a shock, they realize that someone has tampered with the computer data feed, the rover and the environmental controls.
Someone is playing off the colonists against each other. But the colonists decide to work together, to find their elusive, unknown and very dangerous enemy.
“A Gathering of Shadows” is book 2 of the trilogy “Shades of Magic” by V. E. Schwab.
The trilogy is a very imaginative, fascinating and captivating fantasy of magicians and four parallel Londons, existing at the same time: Red London, Grey London, White London, and Black London. The four Londons are interconnected by magic. Once any magician could travel between them but now only a few have that power.
“A Gathering of Shadows” is the story in particular of three magicians:
Lila (Delilah) Bard is from Grey London. Kell is one of the most powerful magicians, an Antari magician, who lives in Red London, but he has no memory of his family or his original home. Alucard Emery is from Red London.
The story is set at a time when magic is widespread in Red London. A devastating struggle to control magic has left White London in a chaotic state, its king and queen have been killed. Grey London was once a place of magic. Black London apparently no longer exists, and is presumed to have been destroyed by magic.
Kell is one of the few magicians who can travel between the parallel Londons. He is a royal emissary for Red London. His path crosses that of Lila Bard in Grey London.
Lila Bard speaks with a royal accent, she is a street thief, and very capable, dangerous and ferocious in defending herself. She is unstoppable when she takes on a challenge. She discovers she has a magician’s gift when she follows Kell into Red London, and ends up fighting with him to save Red London from the White London king and queen.
Lila is a restless soul, and she sails as a crew member on board Captain Alucard Emery’s ship “Night Spire”. Alucard Emery is a royal privateer for the Red London royalty, and a magician. Lila learns from him more about magic, the skills, the mindset, to control and shape magic, to see, feel, and think of magic as a living thing.
Master magicians can summon the powers from the elements air, earth, water, oil, and bone. In Red London, excitement and tension rises as the “Essen Tasch” or the Element Games approach. The Games are a competition in which magicians fight their opponents using the elements of air, water, earth and oil as weapons. Magicians from the empires of Arnes (Red London), Vesk and Faro converge to compete.
Alucard Emery is one of the competitors. Kell is an Antari magician, a powerful magician, and cannot compete. Or can he? Lila is not on the list of competitors but she is determined to find a way to compete.
The trilogy “Shades of Magic” by V. E. Schwab:
A Darker Shade of Magic (2015)
A Gathering of Shadows (2016)
A Conjuring of Light (2017)