The first of the Southern Reach Trilogy is probably very familiar to most Cannonballers, so I won’t spend too long summarizing. A group of four women experts are sent in to investigate Area X, an environmental anomaly that has subsumed and remade a section of coast and wilderness and seems to be expanding. Theirs is the latest in a string of failed expeditions, after previous groups of men have either never returned, or come back changed. The women are given no names, only titles, and we follow The Biologist as they all attempt to discern both what’s happening around them, and the purpose behind sending them through in the first place.
The film adaptation is definitely an elephant in the room for this book. I used to make a point of always always reading a book before I saw the movie, and I’m happy it’s a habit I’ve given up. Reading this book before seeing the movie would have definitely ended in a lot of frustration, as the two stories are only loosely similar, and I would have felt cheated losing much of the details of the original in the adaptation. But by going backwards, I ended up pleasantly surprised as the scenes I thought I was waiting for were replaced by much more eerie situations (which admittedly would have been next to impossible to film well), and in a way I ended up with two completely different, but still very satisfying, stories.
Area X is dangerous and frightening and confusing, but all the more so because it’s mirrored with the inevitable creeping of nature and unknowable intricacies of even the most familiar environments through The Biologist’s recollections of her old life as a researcher. The subtle horrors of what the biologist encounters as she becomes more and more entwined with Area X burrow deeper and deeper into her consciousness and existence and the book burrowed into me along with them. I couldn’t put this down, and finished it in two sittings. This was creepy, and weird, and inexplicable, and everything I love in horror sci-fi. I was drawn completely into this book, and I’m looking forward to more unexplored territory in the sequels.