February 7, 2018 10:36 AM - by Jeff VanderMeer - Subscribe

The Southern Reach Trilogy begins with this Nebula Award-winning novel that "reads as if Verne or Wellsian adventurers exploring a mysterious island had warped through into a Kafkaesque nightmare world" (Kim Stanley Robinson). Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; the second expedition ended in mass suicide; the third expedition...

The film of Annihilation will be released February 23rd.
posted by CheeseLouise (19 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Having just finished the book and watched the movie trailer for the first time, it looks like they've made a lot of changes for the film version. The book was delightfully unsettling. For the most part it was much more low-key than the movie seems like it's going to be. The Biologist in my mind doesn't match up with Portman's giggling, baby talking wife character in the trailer. I'm looking forward to getting into Authority soon, but I'll probably skip the movie.
posted by CheeseLouise at 10:47 AM on February 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm a big VanderMeer fan and loved Annihilation. Warning to those reading the whole trilogy: each book is very different from the one before, so don't go into Authority expecting Annihilation II (I think many people did and were disappointed).

It didn't feel to me like a book that could easily be made into a movie, so I'm curious to see what they do with it.
posted by dfan at 12:05 PM on February 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

This comment is more of a take on the overall trilogy but I felt like VanderMeer is a lot better at really just gorgeous writing than making any kind of sense really. These were the only books I’ve read by him though so maybe his others are different?
posted by LizBoBiz at 1:48 PM on February 7, 2018 [6 favorites]

Oh and this is the first I’ve heard of the movie but I’m definitely looking forward to seeing it.
posted by LizBoBiz at 1:49 PM on February 7, 2018

I'm interested in the movie because the book had such a weird feel to it, so much of it is tone and feeling instead of things actually happening. The whole thing was much more like a half-remembered dream than anything else to me. It seemed semi-unfilmable.
posted by biscotti at 1:52 PM on February 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

These were the only books I’ve read by him though so maybe his others are different?

The plotting in Shriek and especially Finch is much more conventional. The Southern Reach literally started as a fever dream (which is where VanderMeer claims he got The Words), so I think it reflects that. My take is that it's a deliberate style choice, kind of a throwback to the experimentation he was doing in City of Saints and Madmen, especially in Acceptance.

Yes and no, is what I'm saying, which is of course an extremely helpful answer. :)
posted by tobascodagama at 2:01 PM on February 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

I need to read the next two-I read the first for my sci fi book club, but haven’t gone on. I liked it? I think? I am unsure-it was well written but made me deeply uncomfortable. I’m fact, one of the big points of discussion was “is this sci fi or horror”
posted by purenitrous at 4:08 PM on February 7, 2018

I've read Borne and it doesn't make all that much sense, either, but in a similar way to the Southern Reach Trilogy, where it doesn't matter because the plot isn't really the point.

Annihilation blew me away with its completely unique brand of unsettling horror, and I'm one of the few, it seems, who loved that the second one didn't even attempt to capture that same feel. He quite clearly did that on purpose and I totally bought into it. I love you, Jeff Vandermeer.
posted by something something at 6:25 PM on February 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

I wouldn't really describe City of Saints and Madmen as more experimental than Shriek. It's just not a novel; it's a collection of independently written short stories and it has tonal shifts that go with that.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 7:04 PM on February 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

This comment is more of a take on the overall trilogy but I felt like VanderMeer is a lot better at really just gorgeous writing than making any kind of sense really.

Gotta be honest, this is a good chunk of why I so enjoyed Annihilation. Makes it feel more of a piece with plotless non-fiction nature or landscape writing. Thinking of Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek or The Peregrine, even if it doesn't reach those heights. The section about the pool in her childhood and other unloved or otherwise unnoticed semi-natural spaces was beautiful. Making the natural world seem utterly unfamiliar and alien without obscuring the beauty.

In addition to the dream source that tobascodagama mentions, Vandermeer apparently wrote all three books in the space of a year. It led to something like a nervous breakdown afterwords but it feels like that could account for the feverishness to an extent.
posted by ocular shenanigans at 1:31 AM on February 8, 2018 [4 favorites]

A loved Annihilation. I enjoyed Authority. I put Acceptance down within like ten pages. I just couldn't do it. Not sure why.

I will definitely see the movie, but can't imagine that it will be as effective as the book.
posted by Literaryhero at 4:41 AM on February 8, 2018

yeah I absolutely loved annihilation in large part, I would guess, because I came into it not at all expecting it to make a ton of sense or tie up all loose ends

my take is that it's really above all a wonderful meditation on its POV character's hang-ups and obsessions; horror as character study. this works best in this book than others in the trilogy, I think, because of the limited perspective but also because so many of the themes and motifs of the Southern Reach world (organic growth/decay, falling inwards into a loss of coherent self, rot under a controlled/apparently perfect surface) align really well with the biologist as a character

it's also full of absolutely stunning and horrific set pieces (just to highlight one, the moment when you learn the significance of "annihilation" shook me hard) and gorgeous, lyrical, aggressively weird prose.
posted by Kybard at 8:46 AM on February 8, 2018 [4 favorites]

It's been a while since I read this so I went back to my goodreads review to remind myself:

"...VanDermeer creates a very vivid world, but one that is viewed through a very strange lens, and immediately makes the reader question the reliability of the narrator.
I found the lack of scientific rigor from the biologist a bit off-putting. I just never felt that she spoke or acted like a field scientist (who packs a microscope to travel?). and I found the author's sense of scale to be too far off for me to suspend disbelief, e.g. when he describes descending the 'tower/tunnel' for hours -- going downhill for hours carries you miles and there are few places on earth that are truly miles deep...and then it takes twice as long to ascend.
The book is an acid-trip of wildly alien creatures and landscape, and bizarro behavior that reminded me of 70's sci-fi.
I enjoyed it, but maybe not enough to read further."

I never did read the sequels. I'm on the fence about the movie.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:33 AM on February 9, 2018

I hated this book with a passion which is why I find myself very surprised by the fact that I'm actually looking forward to seeing the movie.
posted by hoodrich at 12:44 PM on February 9, 2018

For reasons, I know that the book and the movie are pretty different. No Awler-cray. No Ower-Tay.
posted by kimdog at 6:03 PM on February 9, 2018

The book reminded me of the Soviet sci-fi film Stalker more than anything. The film looks considerably more explosive.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:28 AM on February 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

I definitely got a horror game feel from reading Annihilation. It reminded me of the game Soma, which also deals with loss of self and body horror, and also climaxes with a sequence involving getting past a horrible, inexorable creature. I feel like you could make a much more faithful video game adaptation of Annihilation than a movie adaptation.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 2:48 PM on January 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

At one point when she's describing the lighthouse, she makes reference to not finding any more bodies on a level. And I had to go back and check that I hadn't missed a previous finding-bodies-in-the-lighthouse (as far as I could tell, I had not).

Which of course emphasized the unreliableness of the narrator. I want there to be a satisfying explanation, some conherent reality of the thong, even if it's just in the author's head, but I watched The X-Flies (and Lost...and Galactica) at too formative of an age to have confidence in that.

I put a hold on the next one anyway.
posted by DebetEsse at 10:54 AM on November 19, 2021

Didn't she find a couple bodies in the room under the trapdoor in the top level of the lighthouse?

There is an explanation for Area X, but not until near the end of the third book. You get a lot more info on what's going on in the next book, which gets into the previous expeditions.
posted by InfidelZombie at 5:33 PM on November 19, 2021

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