Annihilation : Southern Reach Trilogy

  • by Jeff VanderMeer
  • Narrated by Carolyn McCormick
  • Series: Southern Reach Trilogy
  • 6 hrs and 0 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

If J. J. Abrams, Margaret Atwood, and Alan Weisman collaborated on a novel…it might be this awesome.
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; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.
This is the twelfth expedition.
Their group is made up of four women: An anthropologist, a surveyor, a psychologist - the de facto leader - and a biologist, who is our narrator. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.
They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers - they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding - but it's the surprises that came across the border with them and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another that change everything.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

I Feel Like I'm Coming Down From Peyote

I want to be very clear about something: VanderMeer is a beautiful writer. I was transported to Area X and remained there for the duration of the story. The imagery and psychological development and devolvement... just beautifully done.

That being said: This book is really, really weird. I just finished the book about 20 minutes ago and am still on edge. It is very much a bizarre dreamscape- one that verges into a nightmarescape more than once. In fact most of the book could be classified as slowly being wound tighter and tighter into the surreal. There honestly wasn't anything I would find particularly terrifying or graphic... but I am left feeling disturbed nonetheless.

If you are looking for a classic "beginning/middle/end"... don't listen to this book. If you are looking for a satisfying resolution after listening... don't listen to this book. If you are looking for "Lost" on drugs... this is the book for you.

There are gaps in the story (intentional I am positive), gaps which may be filled in the following two books of the trilogy. I agree with other reviewers thoughts that this could be a stand alone book- in fact I am really intrigued what on earth the other two books are going to be about.

I was not particularly impressed by the narration- quite frankly she put me to sleep a few times with the monotone reading. But, the story carried it through where I might have tossed this into the return queue otherwise.

In closing, that's just about all I can say without doing the unthinkable and putting spoilers in the review (something that continually stuns me when reviewers do on this site).
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- Charlie

Don't sample the communicating fungus

I'd never read anything by Jeff VanderMeer before, but I found this tight, haunting science fiction novel to be an enjoyable mix of Lovecraftian horror and Roadside Picnic-like paranoia, revolving around an alien environment that calls into question reality-as-we-understand-it. The initial setup is intriguingly sparse and mysterious; all we know at first is that some vaguely-described government body named the Southern Reach has been sending research teams into a abandoned region called Area X, in which things turned weird years ago. Most of these expeditions, as one would expect, have come to bad ends, but a 12th, composed entirely of women, is on its way in.

Why things are as they are -- or even what time, place, and world we're in -- isn't explained at first. Instead, VanderMeer provides us with a pinhole view into an enigma, metering out information (and tension) in the form of journal entries written by the 12th expedition's biologist. She, as we learn, hasn't been told everything known to the Southern Reach, and may not be a wholly reliable narrator herself. As the team explores a strange, unmapped structure that communicates portentous, Biblical-sounding messages through fungal writing, its members -- known only by titles such as the Psychologist, the Linguist, or the Surveyor -- begin to vanish, die, or turn on each other. And things are out there in the dark. Things alien, but not altogether so.

As the situation unravels, the biologist's detached, protocol-driven observations give way to more personal reflections and memories. We find out that her semi-estranged husband was a member of the 11th expedition and wasn't quite himself when he returned, and that the biologist had her own reasons for volunteering.

VanderMeer's tight, crafted writing contributes much to the book's cinematic, shifting, just-out-of-focus feel, as does audiobook narrator Carolyn McCormick’s well-controlled reading (I’d thought she’d overacted a little in The Hunger Games, but she’s great here). The biologist, who seems more comfortable viewing the world through a magnifying glass than a wide-angle lens, tries to hold back from impossible conclusions, yet appears to circle around them. Her oddly clinical response to events only heightens the disquieting atmosphere of the story, as her mental viewscreen jumps between familiar, intimate observations of the natural world, weird, incongruous imagery, and her own doubts about why she's there and what's real. As in the best science fiction, the answers seem to be there in a fragmentary way, but elusively. I think this is an effect Lovecraft aspired to, but lacked the prose gifts to really pull off.

Altogether, a strong entry in mind-bending speculative fiction, echoing past works of note (Christopher Priest's The Islanders and Peter Watts' Blindsight also come to mind), but showcasing VanderMeer as a fresh and capable voice unto himself. The spores, it seems, have infected me, and I'm looking forward to the next entry in this trilogy.
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- Ryan

Book Details

  • Release Date: 02-04-2014
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.