An unknown biological catastrophe claims a chunk of the world, cuts a clear border between the tainted and the untainted. This tainted place is called Area X, named so by an unnamed government, a government not at all above sacrificing lives to unlock the mystery that is Area X. This government charges a cloak and dagger agency, The Southern Reach, with the handling of Area X, infiltration; training personnel to cross the border and study Area X.
The very first team reported a place once inhabited by people living in modest homes, a lighthouse off the coast, then, somehow, nature took it all back. Life became death, grass, vines, spread over the homes, forests grew thick, marshlands swelled, the people apparently swallowed by nature growing unabated. Loss of life aside, the early reports described Area X as beautiful, peaceful, pure. This picture didn’t last long. Then came the mass suicide of one team, another self-destructed in a hail of gunfire, blasting each other to fleshy mounds of former colleagues. The eleventh expedition came home, only to die of a very rapid terminal cancer. Despite the early reports, Area X is dangerous, its beauty, false. Answers, however, are more important than lives, The Southern Reach is willing to spill as much blood as necessary in order to know what they need to know.
Enter the twelfth team, four women; a surveyor, a psychologist, a biologist, and an anthropologist. Teams are chosen by various statistics, skill-sets and variables known only by The Southern Reach. Team twelve is tasked to study Area X, and each other. Any member who might behave oddly or appear “changed” by Area X is to be shot on sight, lest the mission as a whole be compromised.
The novel is narrated by the biologist, teams leave their names and lives behind. It’s much easier to remain impartial to each other if everything is impersonal. It’s also easier to shoot a “changed” colleague in the face if they don’t have a name, or a story. The biologist is a flawed character, a woman more comfortable around frogs and dragonflies than people and their conversations and desire for closeness. Yet, through her story, her struggles, we do care about this detached woman of science. This is part of VanderMeer’s skill, he makes us care about characters whose general lives are incomprehensible, as there’s always still some relatable spark in them.
Immediately, VanderMeer sets a tone of dread, we’re told early that members of the team will die, one very quickly. From the start, we know the mission is damned, there’s no heroic happy ending. We don’t know the hows, we only know that the biologist is looking back from the ruins of a wrecked ship. We read, desperately at times, because we want to know the hows, and more urgently, the whys. Why does The Southern Reach send people to Area X like cattle to a killing floor? Why is such a beautiful place so full of death? So many whys, but I won’t reveal them here. There’s also a what, a most important what. What ultimately becomes of the biologist? We don’t want Area X to claim her, but there’s a constant fear that in her final sentence, it will.
VanderMeer uses perfect words to paint images of gorgeous landscapes, macabre dark, hidden places, and images of death and decay that will disturb readers long after the final page is turned. His use of descriptive imagery, quick plotting, and rich character development is spot-on, perhaps the best balance he has ever struck.
Annihilation is a short, fast-paced novel that is really the beginning of a much deeper narrative. For those who have never read Jeff VanderMeer this novel is a perfect introduction, and for those who have, his brilliance will only be further demonstrated.
Buy Annihilation, it absolutely won’t disappoint, and I’m sure the rest of the trilogy will be just as spectacular.
Oh, if you hurry, you can win a copy of Annihilation here!No comments
So, I met with the Vice President yesterday. He was in town doing a fundraiser for Senator Bill Nelson, who I also met, along with his lovely wife, Grace. After Vice President Biden gave his talk on how backward the Republicans are, the Secret Service led us to a private room, skipping the always tedious receiving-line. The room didn’t have a table, so this fellow from the Secret Service had to hold my MacBook Pro so I could see it, which he did, minus the part about me being able to see the computer. He stands what seems like sixty feet away, at an angle to where I’m looking at my screen from under my glasses. My screen is a big, glowing blur. My mom’s talking about the importance of technology, whilst I can’t see said technology. Fortunately, I’m a spectacular blind typer. I have my keyboard memorized, I have a sense of how to time the locations of my letters and what-not. I made NeuroSwitch look as stylish as it should, while not demonstrating that I’m blind as a ninety year-old man.
I wrote this note to the Vice President…
I have used assistive technology for communication most of my life. After losing my ability to speak four years ago, assistive technology became especially vital. If I can’t type, I can’t talk. If I can’t talk, I may as well not exist. If I can’t talk, I’m furniture, I’m nothing.
For over fifteen years, I tapped a little switch with my thumb to access my computer. This was fine until a routine blood-draw injured my hand, and my thumb. Communication became harder and harder as my muscles got weaker and weaker. I felt trapped, terrified. Then I found NeuroSwitch, the best computer access solution I’ve ever used. NeuroSwitch allows me to access my computer with any muscle in my body via completely portable wireless hardware. With NeuroSwitch, I can communicate any time, any place.
Technology is everything to me, it’s how I live as a productive American citizen, it grants me what our founding fathers promised anyone who makes a home on U.S. Soil, the right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. It’s that promise that makes America beautiful, access to assistive technology, like my NeuroSwitch, is the best way for our government to keep that promise to its disabled citizens.
Also, and I’d kick myself if I don’t say this… I have this unusual collection, a collection of odd and unique neckties. I have quite a few, but I don’t have a Vice Presidential Necktie…
I’ve been reading lots of Sarah Vowell lately, The Wordy Shipmates, Unfamiliar Fishes. Her love of history, the way she talks about America at its best (and worst) is contagious, I think I channeled her in writing my note to our Vice President.
Anyways, Vice President Biden was very generous with his time, and very receptive to the need for providing technology to the disabled.2 comments
The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart by Jesse Bullington is hard to classify, but I’ll call it dark historical fantasy. The story takes place in medieval Europe and follows the ignominious lives of Hegal and Manfried Grossbart, twin brothers, grave robbers, murderous bastards. Hagel and Manfried begin the novel with one goal, journeying from their European homeland to “Gyptland.” Being grave robbers, they see Egypt as their very own promised land, an entire country of graves and tombs loaded with riches almost too numerous to even imagine. Their journey will have them cross paths with witches, monsters, demons, mad clergy, royalty, and they’ll murder lots, and lots of innocent people before they reach their end.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t like this book until I actually finished it. The Grossbarts are simply not likable characters, at all. They’re evil, they murder women, children, anyone who gets in their way, and they’re really successful at their evil. It’s not the evil that bothers me, it’s that the Grossbarts are not smart men, they’re lucky. It’s not that the Grossbarts are brilliant, it’s that everyone trying to thwart them just isn’t that bright. The Grossbarts aren’t Richard III, or Iago, they’re just really paranoid with a kill first, ask questions never sort of attitude. When everyone else is screwing up, it’s hard to feel anything but angry at the evil being perpetrated. I so wanted one person to smarten up and take the Grossbarts’ heads. Intelligent evil is, at least for me, fun to read, and it’s completely satisfying when that evil is at long last destroyed. When Hegal and Manfried finally bit it (their demise is revealed early in the novel), I was all, “Finally! Thank you!” I was relieved more than satisfied. Still, as negative as that sounds, I really enjoyed this book when all was said and done. The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart is epic in scope, by the end I definitely felt like I’d been on a journey. I’m not at all sorry I read it, it just wasn’t at all what expected.1 comment
The Habitation of the Blessed: A Dirge for Prester John, Volume One by Catherynne M. Valente is her latest work and her addition to the legend of Prester John. Tales of Prester John aren’t new, they began in 12th century Europe, but Valente’s take on him is definitely unique. The basic story, told for centuries, is that John was a Christian fellow who went East to convert millions and become ruler over vast and beautiful, and even magical lands. Within his kingdom one could find the Fountain of Youth, and countless wonders. Valente takes the basic framework of the Prester John legend and makes it her own.
When I picked up Habitation, I really had no idea what I was getting into. I just saw that Catherynne M. Valente published something new and I slammed my money down. Her books have never left me disappointed, and her latest is really no exception. I don’t want to give too much about the story, I don’t want to rob anyone of that sense of discovery that I experienced. The book is really home to four stories told by four characters, these stories brilliantly intersect and ultimately tie together to create a lush and fully-realized world. As always, Valente’s use of language is gorgeous, she arranges words into sentences, into paragraphs that create life. Early on, the reader knows that the world they’re immersed in is tumbling toward something bad, the “what” isn’t clear, but it’s clearly coming. This sets a sense of foreboding, it causes one to want to turn the page, and turn the page, and turn the page until the last page, the last revelation. There’s this shadow over everything, beautiful scenes take on an ominous feeling, because that fall is coming, it’s so right there. This book is haunting, I still think about the end, it tells a story that stays. Let it visit and stay with you.No comments
I need to actively create some quiet space, just time to focus and write. I’m not doing that, I’m kind of just on auto-pilot, reading, playing World of Warcraft, watching movies. I haven’t had a “going out assistant” since early August, and that never helps anything. Next week should be different. I’m so angry with myself for being… here.2 comments
So, I’ve definitely become a Kindle snob. I do all my reading with the Kindle for Mac app, which’s getting very robust. One new feature is Highlights & Notes, basically you can highlight passages and make margin notes. It seems simple, but I’ve never been able to mark up a book before, yet I’d always liked the idea. It’s really kind of romantic, marking words that feel important, then adding your own words and creating something new. It really helps me focus on the reading too, I’m intently looking for new passages to add to my collection. I feel like I’m building something, and words arranged beautifully are valuable, I like gathering them, keeping them all for myself. I also think creating margin notes is ultimately good for my own writing, it’s good just getting my thoughts out and organized. I can’t write in a vacuum, other people’s work inspires my own, keeping notes is a good way to solidify new ideas.
Eventually, I will start writing again, it’s what I do. It’s been a long slump, and I’m honestly embarrassed, and ashamed. I feel like I’m letting people down, like I’m wasting so much. I’m better than this, I’m going to be me again. In the meantime, I have my margin notes.3 comments
I’ve been reading this book by Catherynne M. Valente, The Habitation of the Blessed: A Dirge for Prester John, Volume One. It’s good, and I’ll write a review after I finish, but one quote caught my attention…
“Distraction is the enemy of perfection.”
I will never be remotely close to perfection, it seems. I’m drowning in distraction, and melancholy, and…No comments
I’ve decided that I need to really examine my life and focus on my writing, as well as reading more. I have so many books piled up. Doing this is going to require some solitude, a good deal of it. To this end, I’ll no longer do any IMing, texting, or social tweeting, until I fix what’s broken in me.
I will still reply to blog comments and e-mail correspondence, and of course, in-person interaction.6 comments
So, I didn’t write anything from Cincinnati… I’ll explain further, but the short version is that my left eye swelled shut, so I couldn’t wear my glasses most of the week. I didn’t get to finish reading The Bluest Eye, or The Red Tree, and I definitely couldn’t write anything. I’ll elaborate soon.
Anywho, right now, I’m leaving Macon, Georgia, en route to Tampa.4 comments