BOOK REVIEWS FROM A CURIOUS MIND: I read a lot. Books and the data/stories contained within them are my oldest friends. My wife suggested in her wisdom that I should write up short summaries/observations on the books I've been reading, since people might be interested, so I did. 5+ years running. Comments are welcome.
If Volume 1 is this unnerving, I cannot wait for the rest!
The Southern Reach Trilogy, Vol. 1:
Annihilation – Jeff Vandermeer (2014)
One of my people over at the Sonic
Youth Gossip Forum and I were discussing weird books and he turned me on to
this trilogy, which Severian stated was a cerebral horror/science fiction
oddity that scrambled his brain and, if I so liked, I could let it scramble
mine as well.It is a fairly recent
publication so I ran over to the campus library and checked out a hardback
volume containing all three novels.It
is good to work near a high quality library!
I had never heard of this book series
or the author, but I am always open to new weirdness.This book did not disappoint.What seems like a fairly straightforward
exploratory science fiction tale quickly gets deeper into weird, dark
corners.In this first book of the
trilogy, Annihilation, a botanist shares her story as she heads out with
several other specifically chosen professionals to explore a wild and nearly
mythical expanse known as Area X.As the
expedition arrives at their base-camp in Area X, the story reveals details about
the protagonist’s life and her reasons for volunteering to join such a risky
expedition.We find out that her husband
had gone on a similar expedition to Area X, and what returned from it was not
exactly right.The intense and lengthy
preparations for this undertaking are also described, while we learn more and
more about our protagonist’s prior relationships with her family, career, and
husband.As the story progresses it
begins to take on a form of delirium, as if it is I, the reader, that is being
mentally “annihilated.”I wish I could
describe the details more but I do not want to ruin anything for those that
wish to read this weird and quietly disturbing book.
What is found in Area X and the
situations that arise from these discoveries could have been treated as a
simple, if bizarre, science fiction tale, but Vandermeer is more interested in
exploring the effects such things have on one’s mind.One of the scary aspects to me is that the
discoveries and facts are not what become critical in this tale, but the
suggestion of meanings behind the discoveries.There is no omniscient narrator to explain things to the reader, and we
are along for the ride, as if we sat in a corner of the protagonist’s mind and
shared in everything she feels and experiences.It really feels as if one is losing control, especially since none of
the people in this book are given names.That is one of the requirements for joining the expedition.None of the participants was to know each others names.They are referred to by their profession; botanist, psychologist, linguist, etc.Giving things names helps us humans feel as
if we are in control. Too bad almost nothing in Area X can be named. At one point the people discover a large structure that seems to go deep underground. While the expedition takes to calling it a tunnel, our protagonist refers to it as a tower. That may seem like a small thing but it touches on what we humans like to imagine as our shared consciousness. It really does not exist. One persons tunnel is another persons tower. The world we live in is created in our own mind. It is for us and us alone.
Some parts are so specific, so true to
what relationships can be, that it feels as if the writer wrote them after
examining me and my life for a few years!That is a very odd feeling, and one I hope continues as I begin the
second part of this trilogy which is titled Authority.I hope I don’t go nuts!