Monday, January 25, 2021

Review: Annihilation - Book 1

I finished listening to Jeff VanderMeer's Annihilation: Book 1 of the Southern Reach Trilogy and I'm so confused. I didn't start that way. The book sucked me in with a Sci-Fi expedition vibe, but by the end I was lost. I see now that the book is part of a series and was turned into a film. Hopefully book two will shed some light on what the heck I just listened to.

In the spirit of the main character of the book, I'm going to record some observations I made during my reading. When I do finally get around to Googling the book, I'll be curious to see how off I was in my hypothesis.

Spoilers Below

The book definitely brings the biblical symbolism. Area X has many of the properties you'd expect from the Garden of Eden. Multiple eco-systems are smooshed together and the boundaries of the space don't behave like physical dimensions.

When the biologist ingests the 'fruit' of the spores, like Eve, she doesn't die but has the vale of her surroundings lifted.

The words written on the wall have a biblical feel to them. The encounter with tower monster recalls the struggle prophets have had as they try to describe an encounter with the divine.

Yet the biologist is having none of this. She comes to Area X armed with a unique perspective. She's used to observing ecosystems from a safe distance, understanding that within an ecosystem chaos may may reign, while a broader view shows a different story. Her description of encountering a 'Destroy of Worlds' starfish encapsulates this well. The night may be calm and beautiful to her, but in the tide pool shared by the starfish, the world is collapsing.

The biologist manages to muster this perspective as she finds herself face to face with her own 'Destroyer of Worlds.' If you drop a philosopher in to Area X, you'd no doubt end up with a religious text. But because of the biologist's discipline, we're left with a series of observations that eschew the supernatural and focus on the facts.

Consider how she looks past the words written on the wall, uninterested in considering their meaning and possible implication as a divine message, and focuses on the biology that makes them possible. That would be like Moses ignoring the text of the Ten Commandments, instead focusing on the mechanism that etched letters into stone.

Philosophical ramblings aside, none of this actually explains what the heck is going on in Area X. Are things what they seem? Is this an alien life form that the government sends expeditions to explore; and does so cautiously because they are so over-matched by the creatures that inhabit Area X?

Surely there's more to it than that.

We know that far more expeditions have operated in Area X than the biologist was told. Are they perhaps in some sort of time loop, repeatedly exploring the same area? This may explain why new technology isn't added to the expeditions; it's the same set of expeditions over and over again.

And the biologist's husband refers to an area within Area X as the Southern Reach. Yet, the explorers are exploring on behalf of the Southern Reach. Is that a critical clue? Is all of the world engulfed by Area X and citizens don't know this yet. Or, is the name simply a coincidence.

Heck, is there even enough information in the text of book one to untangle Area X?

It's tempting to Google this all and find out what the Internet has to say. May plan is to stick with my information embargo until I get through the series. For now, I'm enjoying letting the mystery marinate.

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