The first book in a horror SF series the Southern Reach trilogy.

Publication year: 2014
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2015
Format: print
Page count: 224
Translator: Niko Aula
Publisher of the Finnish translation: Like

I’ve read two books from VanderMeer before I liked them a lot so when I saw his new book’s translation in the local bookstore I snatched it up without knowing what it was about. In retrospect, starting to read it late at night might have been a mistake. I’m not a horror reader, or watcher for that matter, and I had to listen to some Terry Pratchett before I was able to sleep again.

The whole Southern Reach trilogy is horror more than SF. This first book is a journal written by the first person narrator whose name we don’t find out.

Area X appeared decades ago and it’s deserted. All around it is a boundary which can be passed through only by people who have been prepared for it. The government (US, I presume) sends ex-pedition parties into it from time to time. The current expedition is the twelfth and has four people: a biologist (the narrator), an anthropologist, a surveyor, and a psychologist, who is the team leader. Their mission is the collect specimens, observe everything (including each other), and map the area. They have access to the map the other expeditions have compiled and before leaving they saw video interviews of the previous members. They all say that Area X is an untouched paradise. All the pre-vious members have also died.

However, right from the start our group realizes that the map is wrong. They come to a tunnel lead-ing down to the ground but the narrator thinks of as a tower. On its walls they find a terrifying text which seems to be made from strange life forms. This isn’t a group of friends by any means and they start to disagree with each other right from the start.

The Finnish cover

The training they received before going inside trained them not to use names and so we don’t find out the names of any of the characters in the book. It sounds weird at first but I got used to it pretty soon, even in Finnish where we don’t have gendered pronouns so if the translator isn’t careful, he can write pretty unclear sentences. Not so here. The group is required to write a journal of every-thing they experience.

This was an unsettling book. Besides the horror elements, it has an unreliable narrator in a strange environment. Over half of the book is devoted to learning about the biologist’s life, including the events which led her to volunteer going into Area X. She’s a quiet, introverted woman who is more at home doing scientific research all by herself than with any people. Sometimes her remembrances where a bit frustrating when they interrupted the flow of the present storyline. On the other hand, they also kept the horror at bay which I was grateful for.

Annihilation doesn’t end in a cliffhanger. The ending is very much open but it can be read as a stand-alone. I have the next book so I’ll be continuing with the series, but not late at night.