Thirty years ago, a mysterious border appeared, cutting off an isolated area of coast and swampland which has come to be known as Area X. Area X appears normal from the outside, but it’s not. Expeditions are sent in regularly to gather samples and to try and understand the changes taking place in this landscape. Sometimes they return, sometimes they don’t. Those who return are changed.
Annihilation is the first book of the Southern Reach trilogy. It focuses on the 12th expedition, made up of four women: a biologist (our narrator), a psychologist (the team leader), a surveyor, and an anthropologist. The Southern Reach is the agency that puts together these exploratory expeditions. They do not allow the members to use names, only referring to each other by job title, believing that removing personalities and identities from the members will make them better able to withstand the strange forces at work in Area X. In a sense, the reader is also a member of the expedition. We are not given any place or country names, we don’t know if this world is Earth or not. Despite referring to time periods like “the nineties” it is all strangely divorced from a sense of place or time and this continues into the second book.
Area X is defined by certain landmarks such as a lighthouse and a tower/tunnel full of strange writing. It is continually described as “pristine” a place without human contamination. Exploring Area X with the biologist doesn’t really let us into any of its secrets, it only reveals more. We start to suspect what may have happened to the human inhabitants of the area…or do we? Is Area X working to confuse us, the way it does to the expedition members? We gradually learn about the biologists life before Area X and why she is perhaps the ideal person to explore it, becoming immersed as she does in natural environments, slowly forgetting about any job she was supposed to do. We learn that Area X is not the only place full of secrets; Southern Reach has been keeping many of its own. But why? Tune into books 2 and 3 to find out!
This book would have got 5 stars except the biologist refers to “poisonous snakes” twice and the fact that a biologist would not know the difference between venomous and poisonous was more unrealistic to me than any of the wackadoo stuff she finds in Area X. Any other science/grammar purists, be forewarned.