A Surveyor, an Anthropologist, a Psychologist, and a Biologist Walk into a Bar

Jeff Vandermeer's sci-fi novel Annihilation certainly owes some of its tone and plot to the Strugatsky Brothers cult classic Roadside Picnic, but instead of navigating a mysterious area through the eyes of a Stalker, Vandermeer gives us a weird, gothic, and evocatively creepy tour of Area X through the mind and observations of a biologist, and the passages in which she analyzes the bizarre ecosystem of Area X are the most vivid and memorable in a book which is generally ambiguous and confounding . . . the team investigating Area X, purportedly the twelfth mission sent in to contain and understand the zone, consists of a psychologist, an anthropologist, a surveyor, and a biologist . . . but nothing is as it seems, everything goes awry, and the group spirals deeper and deeper into an area that has more to do with the Wallace Stevens poem "Of Mere Being" than an actual location on earth; the book is short and the first of a trilogy, and I liked it enough that I will probably read the other two, but be warned: the plot is more like a dream than a linear sequence of events, and the nature of reality is constantly eroded and called into question-- this is exemplified by the biologist's husband, who went into Area X on the 11th expedition, and came out as the walking dead . . . this was a man who thought he had been abused as a child, but when-- as an adult-- he saw a classic horror film, it "was only then that he realized that the television set must have been left on when he was only a couple years old" and his memories of abuse were a fake and a forgery, and "that splinter in his mind, never fully dislodged, disintegrated into nothing" and the looming menace, that all of our consciousness is faulty and false and misguided, takes root on every page of this book, and colors every detail of the lush, variegated environment of Area X and whatever lies beyond and below it.

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