The trailer for the forthcoming Annihilation film, written and directed by the superb Alex Garland (Ex Machina (his amazing debut as director), 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go & Dredd (as screenwriter)) landed and definitely peaked my interest. But knowing that it has come from a Jeff Vandermeer novel I was even more interested. As a purveyor of the New Weird style he definitely keeps things interesting, although this novel manages to keep most of that craziness under control for the majority.
The first of the Southern Reach Trilogy, Annihilation follows the story of the 12th expedition into Area X, a region cut off from the rest of civilisation and considered mysterious enough to be explored and, after the initial expeditions, is seen as the source of the serious problems experienced by the previous adventurers.
There is some really great world building in this. The characters are minimal in number (a biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, and a surveyor. All women) but are good, the biologist is the most fleshed out of the four as this in her story. It manages to still be secretive enough to keep some things to be revealed in future novels whilst also giving enough to keep you interested. Limiting the scope of the characters to four keeps things tight and we only really get the biologists storyline as she narrates her experiences and related history through the style of diary/journal entries, leaving these notes behind for someone else on a future expedition to discover.
For all the good in this book it does fall away a little towards the end as it attempts to reveal a little bit of the nature of Area X, I struggled to fully grasp what was going on as it wrapped up the story. But having said that there is so much sterling work in formulating Area X and giving it a tangible feel that it is worth it.
How far it can take this premise is another question, going off this book there is still plenty to be discovered and revealed about Area X but how that will unravel is going to key to the success of this series. I’m not sure that there is enough here to keep this going for another two (larger) books, although whether the main character returns as the focal point is debatable as her story arc feels kind of complete. I am genuinely intrigued as to how it will continue and I guess I will have to read on and find out!