Forces unknown have severed Area X from the rest of the land, removing its human life, replacing it with jungle. Eleven expeditions have ventured into Area X, all of which have ended in disaster and violence. Annihilation follows the twelfth into the unknown. The team comprises four women – the Psychologist (the leader), the Anthropologist, the Surveyor and the Biologist (our narrator). There was a fifth but the Linguist had turned back at the last minute. She was the wise one.
While heading towards the known – a lighthouse on the abandoned shore – the four come across the unknown – an uncharted tunnel or, as our Biologist prefers, an inverted tower. Both fascinated and repulsed, the Biologist feels its walls pulse with life, its organic surface etched by letters forming an endless sentence. From this moment, the expedition begins to lose its grip on what may or may not be real, further compromised by the mindgames played by its team members.
Annihilation is a short novel but it is packed full of atmosphere, mystery and dark wonders. As an introduction to the Southern Reach trilogy, it works perfectly, opening up to us this sinister, uncertain world, containing the unknown and the familiar, but all distorted and strange. Intensifying the mystery and mood is the fact that none of the characters are named. Also, the reliability of our narrator is a mystery in itself.
Annihilation is an engrossing, beautifully written and imagined read, often feeling as thick with atmosphere and foreboding as the reeds through which the Biologist struggles. At times it is very frightening and I thoroughly enjoyed the puzzle of what might lie in the inverted tower as well as the significance of the lighthouse and its lost inhabitants. The descriptions of the environment are deliciously creepy. And what caused Area X in the first place and why have so many expeditions ended in inexplicable disaster?!
Alongside this story of the twelfth expedition are clues to the fate of the previous mission, an expedition that holds a special fascination for our Biologist. Many questions are raised about Area X, its explorers and the society that sends these expeditions in, one after another, and when Annihilation ends it left me desperate for Authority, the second part of the series. While I would have much preferred the story to have been self-contained in one large volume, at least there is the satisfaction of knowing that all three books are released in 2014 – Authority on 6 May and Acceptance on 11 September. I can’t wait.