Jeff VanderMeer : “Annihilation” (c) 2014; book 1 of the “Southern Reach Trilogy”.

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.