Annihilation_by_jeff_vandermeerArea X is a contaminated region of the continent of the Southern Reach. It has been quarantined for seemingly decades, the human presence of the region has been nearly erased for the exception of a small, crumbling township and an ominous lighthouse. Otherwise, nature has completely eradicated the memory of civilization. The government of the Southern Reach has sent twelve unsuccessful exhibitions into Area X to gather information, and all of have either disappeared, degraded into paranoid violence, or have abandoned the exhibition entirely and returned to civilization shadows of their former selves and eventually succumbing to a radical form of cancer.

Annihilation is the story of the thirteenth exhibition, a group of four women who have been all stripped of their identities, and for the purpose of the exhibition, simply go by their job titles: The anthropologist, The surveyor, The psychologist, and the narrator of Annihilation, The biologist. Like the previous exhibitions, they’re charged with surveying the region, collecting specimens, recording their observations of the region and of each other, and most importantly, avoid the trappings of Area X that the previous exhibitions fell to. But like the prior parties, the thirteenth exhibition is destined to fail and be devoured by Area X.

Annihilation marks the return of Jeff VanderMeer as a novelist after a long stint acting as an editor and publisher, and it is a very much welcome return to form. VanderMeer hasn’t lost his touch as a storyteller, and if anything, has actually improved. VanderMeer’s voice through the biologist is clear and engaging; the character has a near autistic detachment from her strange surroundings, with chapters alternating between the events of the exhibition and glimpses of the biologists previous life and what led her to Area X. VanderMeer instills an intense sense of dread and claustrophobia from word one as the story of the thirteenth exhibition and their predecessors unfolds and the long established lies of the Southern Reach are exposed.

If you’ve never read VandeerMeer before, Annihilation is the place to start and is easily his most accessible novel to date. Annihilation is the first book in the Southern Reach trilogy, all of which will be published in 2014, and I am chomping at the bit for the next two volumes