Jeff VanderMeer's Annihilation Destroyed Us!
Ridley Scott's Alien and John Carpenter's remake of The Thing both prove that a sci-fi horror movie can be a real masterpiece if due credence is given to both its horror side and its sci-fi side. Luckily for us, there is now Jeff VanderMeer's Annihilation to remind us that this combination works in books as well.
The story follows four scientists, all female, who are the twelfth group sent on expedition to the mysterious Area X. All of the previous expeditions have been failures, and have caused the deaths of practically everyone involved. This includes the late husband of the biologist in the group, the unnamed protagonist who also narrates the story.
Area X is a sort of parallel dimension that seems to have just popped up. People can travel between Area X and Earth by crossing a vague border, but it appears to be its own sort of pocket universe. The previous dozen groups to try and explore the area have only found a mysterious lighthouse and a strange tunnel, but the majority of the information salvaged from the previous groups is incomplete and not all that helpful in figuring out what the heck is going on.
Despite the fact that the narrator of the story goes without a name, she is developed very well and feels very real. She is a strong, independent, intelligent, and somewhat introverted scientist who volunteers to go into Area X if only to discover what exactly happened to her late husband, who showed up from the expedition seemingly alive and well, only to die suddenly a short time later.
Exploration sci-fi can be some of the most interesting and entertaining there is, and it works really well here. We're not really sure what we're seeing, which fits with what is going through the heads of the characters involved, too. Whether it's another dimension or a universe or simply a strange planet that just so happens to be merging with our own, it's hard to wrap our minds around and that's kind of the point. We're learning about what's going on along with the biologist, which makes it feel more real and creates a much more immersive reading experience.
The horror elements are downright creepy. It's not a splatter fest with a lot of blood and guts, but gets to you in a much more psychological way. Most of the really bad things that happen to the crew happen "off-camera" as it were, with more mystery being added as the biologist tries to figure out what is happening to her cohorts. There's this really intense sense of danger around every corner as they explore every nook and cranny, but it's the sort of thing where someone mysteriously disappears as opposed a description of them getting graphically disemboweled.
Annihilation is a really excellent novel by a writer who seems to be growing in popularity with each year. Naturally, being the first book in the trilogy, it ends up bringing up more new questions than it answers. Luckily for us, the other two books in the series are coming out later this year, with Authority on May 6th and Acceptance on September 2nd. HOORAY!
What's your favorite sci-fi/horror hybrid?