I do far too many things on hope.
At some point last year I went to the film adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation. I didn’t like it. I don’t remember all the specific reasons why I didn’t enjoy the movie, but I do remember feeling that the story presented in the movie was muted in some way, and that it was on the cusp of being an enjoyable story if only it had a little more some unknown ingredient. There was a hope that maybe the book would be better, because books have much more room to explore different things.
Somehow the book gets things even worse.
Annihilation is the story of four unnamed scientists that go into an mysterious area (known only by the silly moniker ‘Area X’) to try to better understand what is causing it. However, this is largely secondary to the story. The four characters could all have been garbage collectors for as much as it was relevant to the story (a flaw I also felt was present in the movie). Their journey into area X, as well as an understanding as to what exactly area X is, is also seemingly secondary to the primary story of the main character’s thoughts and her relationship to her husband who disappeared in a previous expedition into the same area. By the end of the story we know a whole lot about the character and her internal thoughts, but the story might as well have been taking place in a blank room.
My reoccurring question while reading this book was ‘wait a second, isn’t this book supposed to be science-fiction?’ If the book had any virtue at all it is that it made me think about genres, a topic that I often like to revisit. Before I read it, I would often see it in bookstores and found myself annoyed at the fact that it was never filed under science-fiction. More often and not I would find it under the general fiction section. This annoyed me greatly, largely because of the (entirely unwarranted) dismissive attitude people still have towards science-fiction and other forms of para-literature. Oddly enough, while reading it I came to agree with the idea that the book wasn’t science-fiction, or at least not principally. If you had to give the book only one label, that one that most accurately describes it surrealism. The book’s vague, murky narrative wherein the characters do not seem to know what is going on with any kind of confidence and nothing seems to be concretely described seems to lend it more to that surrealism than anything else.