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 our narrator, a biologist. 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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Not what I expected, but then, that’s what happens when you only ever go into books blindly. It was creepy and undoubtedly gothic, and while I found it to be really boring in parts, clearly I was engaged by something in the story because I needed to get to the end and find out what happened.
What I was expecting was a mysterious forest that picks people off one by one until there is no one left and in the end it’s almost as if they were never there at all. All of this happens in Annihilation, of course, but what I didn’t expect was the unsettling feeling of wrongness that seeps through the page as you’re reading. There’s the unreliable narrator and the vague and almost dreamlike way in which she tells the story of the expedition, the weird (and for the most part, boring) flashbacks, and then the revelation that not only have they been hypnotised, but there is also some brainwashing and major lies going around. No wonder other expeditions ended in a hail of bullets.
Nothing makes sense for a long while, and this is what kept me reading. The whole descent into the tower/tunnel creeped me out in a way only Stephen King has managed previously, and the revelations in the second half of the book gave me answers, yes, but also a whole host of other questions. I’m not interested enough to continue with the series, even if I do want to know whether my theories on the tower and the “animals” in the Area is correct, but I am glad to have read a story that, if nothing else, was different to anything else I have ever read. Anyway, a generous three stars to this weird but engaging book.