“Annihilation” is a frightening yet exhilarating read

Jeff VanderMeer weaves a compelling dystopian tale with his 2014 novel “Annihilation.”

Photo Credits: book cover courtesy of publisher- Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Gus Beringer, Opinions Editor

Many people fear the dark for no logical reason––the thrill of its obscurity can be intimidating. The only difference between the night and the day is that we sleep in the night, and we see in the day. “Annihilation,” written by Jeff VanderMeer in 2014, captures the mystery of the dark perfectly. As the first book in the Southern Reach trilogy, it introduces the mysterious Area X.

The sci-fi horror reads from what is presumed to be the journal of the biologist. The expedition, which we are told is the 12th endeavour into Area X, is crewed by three other female scientists. VanderMeer never gives the explorers any names, only knowing the explorers as the biologist, the linguist, the surveyor, and the group leader: the psychologist.

VanderMeer develops the character of the biologist in a satisfying way. Although we never learn her name, we still learn who she is–and why she is drawn to Area X. The book heavily focuses on her character. The book reveals that her husband volunteered for the 11th expedition; he returned a shadow of his former self and died of cancer shortly after.

The book is terrifying to read, yet the page practically turns itself.”

— Gus Beringer

At the start of the expedition, everything is normal. Nothing is out of place, but slowly, the unfiltered wilderness of Area X corrupts everyone. Early in the expedition, an unmapped immense tunnel (but the biologist insists on calling it a tower) appears in the middle of nowhere. The expedition hits a crossroads, and eventually people disappear or go insane.

VanderMeer only gives glimpses of explanations. The government that sends the expeditions (The Southern Reach) is only briefly mentioned. We can never fully comprehend the terror of Area X, yet the book gives us an impression of what Area X really is. We are told the first expedition was  successful and mapped out Area X, and then the second expedition committed suicide. The book is terrifying to read, yet the page practically turns itself.

Although the book is frightful, it’s not like typical horror novels; it reads more like a military fiction novel, just something is off. That “something” becomes more indescribable as the book goes on. VanderMeer blends the elements of horror and surrealness immaculately in “Annihilation.”

The book will be adapted into a movie in February 2018, starring Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, and Oscar Isaac.