I’m not adept at describing great things. Maybe at comparing great things. This book reminds me of some of my all-time favorite science fiction: the unbearable and beautiful encounter with the unknowable in Kubrick’s 2001, the complete experience of organic otherness in Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama, the blissful insanity resulting being in the midst of the majesty of nature and space in Alex Garland’s movie Sunshine.
This book has all of those things, and it’s also it’s own creation. If you’ve ever seen a trailer for the movie adapted from this, you have an idea of the plot and mood. A region of the US called Area X has become uninhabitable due to “the shimmer” – an invisible wall dividing reality as we know it from something else. People have accepted the reality of this bizarre Area X as a military experiment gone wrong, more or less just to put it out of their minds. Nonetheless, small expeditions routinely cross the shimmer to try and make sense of Area X.
Annihilation is about the twelfth such expedition. The expedition members include a psychologist, a biologist, a surveyor, an anthropologist, and a linguist. All members are female, apparently to try a different combination to see whether it impacts the success of the mission.
The book is narrated by the biologist, an admittedly unreliable narrator. She doesn’t have all of the information to confront what’s in front of her. She has her own biases. She is aware that perhaps Area X is impacting her mind and being.