Annihilation is the first in a trilogy about the mysterious Area X; cut off from the rest of civilization for decades, nature is taking over the landscape and hiding the area’s many secrets. An expedition of four women is sent to investigate, and they realize very quickly that all is not as they’ve been told. For one thing, there’s a mysterious underground tower that’s not marked on any map and what they find there will quickly divide the group as they try not to be contaminated by Area X itself. None of the characters have names, they’re identified only by their professions; there’s the psychologist and leader who uses hypnosis to control the group, the meek anthropologist, the surveyor with military training, and the biologist, who narrates the story but quickly proves that she can’t be trusted.
When I first heard the description, I thought Annihilation was going to be a typical sci-fi adventure. But the most distinguishing feature of the book is its spooky tone and it reads more like a horror-mystery. Even though the narrator never mentions any, I imagine thick fog blanketing the ground throughout the novel. Area X is known to have a psychological and perhaps biological influence over people, so the biologist is never sure if she can trust her senses or her memories. Compounding on that, as the reader I never knew if she was holding back information so there’s a overarching sense of uncertainty throughout, and it is never fully resolved.
Some readers I’m sure will be very frustrated by the book’s ending, which answers the biologist’s questions but leaves many mysteries unresolved. It’s a fair complaint and if you’re looking for concrete answers you will not be satisfied (although I hold out hope that at least a few more questions will be answered in the rest of the trilogy). But I simply put I just wasn’t bothered. The mechanics of what, exactly, is affecting people is not as interesting as why they’ve come, who they are, and how they respond in the face of it. This is a vague novel to be sure, but it’s also haunting and gripping and I devoured it in a day.