Jeff VanderMeer has been around for a while, but I hadn't read one of his books until I read someone give a favorable review of Annihilation. The premise of the novel sounded pretty cool, the book appeared to be lightweight, and it's a trilogy that will be published within six months, from start to finish. I figured it was time I gave this guy a shot.
I was surprised that I liked the book as much as I did. It's a story of exploration and discovery, viewed through a very dark lens. The story is about an expedition of four women trekking into Area X, a strange, demarcated area of the US that sort of sprung up overnight. This expedition is the twelfth so far to enter into Area X, and with most of them ending in disaster, we start the story off thinking that this isn't going to end well.
The story is narrated by the nameless biologist of the group (the others in the group are also nameless, and referred to only by their role: the psychologist; the surveyor; the anthropologist), and the story is taken from her journal, which all members of the group are supposed to keep. At first, I was afraid that the journal idea would prevent me from enjoying the story as much -- I always feel like people who write in journals aren't as detailed in recounting events as is necessary for a novel, and I think some context is taken for granted when writing in a journal -- but VanderMeer did a good job of explaining those concerns away. In the story, folks are selected for expeditions based in part on their observational/writing skills, and they're instructed to write about the expedition as if the future audience would have no idea about what Area X was.
The book was lacking in dialogue, but it didn't slow the pace of the story down. It probably helped that VanderMeer wrote it in the first person, since it still felt like reading dialogue, but the book had a lot of lengthy narrative sections. It makes sense -- she's having to describe a strange place to us -- but I sometimes get apprehensive about reading a book that's more narrative than dialogue (See Also: Lovecraft). Luckily, that wasn't a concern here.
Speaking of Lovecraft, I can see why the book is called "Lovecraftian," but I wouldn't go so far as to call it such. It's certainly odd, but I'm not sure I would go so far as to call it weird. It actually reminded me more of Darwinia, another book with a strange, uncharted territory that just sort of showed up one day. When I think "Lovecraftian," I think of otherworldly beings, incomprehensible horrors, and fevered imaginations. Annihilation comes very close, but it didn't have that cosmic theme that I've come to associate with Lovecraftian fiction. So I don't see this book being a part of that class.
The book is fascinating, compelling, and interesting, which is what I look for in the fiction I read. Also, like most good books, it's about more than just the premise, as the narrator delves into her life outside of Area X even as she's part of the expedition. I'm eager to read the rest of this trilogy to see where VanderMeer takes us on the remainder of the journey.