“Annihilation” is a Thrilling Descent into Science Fiction (Book Club Pick)

Here at Pressboard, we believe in few things more than the power of a great story. Stories inspire us, galvanize us and move us to tears. They change the way that we view a particular issue or society as a whole. But most importantly, they bring us together.

This passion for storytelling is what originally inspired us to design a platform that allows brands and publishers to connect and craft outstanding content together; now, it’s the driving force behind our book club, which delivers our favourite reads — fiction, non-fiction and everything in between — to your inbox every month. With that said, here’s our pick for November 2018: Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation.

If, like me, you came to Annihilation after watching the 2018 film starring Natalie Portman, one of the joys of the book is that it’s very different from the movie. Just like the screen adaptation, the novel follows four women — a biologist, an anthropologist, a surveyor and a psychologist — as they explore a mysterious expanse of forest and marsh flats dubbed “Area X.” We’re quickly made aware that Area X has a strange, potentially dangerous effect on visitors; the last explorers to make the journey disappeared, only to materialize back home with no knowledge of how they got there.

Annihilation cover art. Image: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

While both the film and the novel explore the same world, however, the events that take place diverge in the very first chapter. Rather than heading for the lighthouse on the coast as they originally planned, the team finds themselves at the entrance of a dark staircase that descends into the earth, which they ironically call the “tower.” During the descent, they’re confronted by events that shake their understanding of time, place and themselves.

Jennifer Jason Leigh and Natalie Portman in Annihilation. Image: Paramount Pictures

In the space of around 200 pages, VanderMeer conjures a world of great beauty and depth, but also unrelenting peril. As the story unfolds, we make discoveries alongside the characters that propel us forward, hoping to find new revelations with every flip of the page. While this is modern science fiction at its finest, the piece also acts as a work of political and environmental commentary. As the lines between the characters and their surroundings blur, the book raises questions about humanity and our relationship to the world. For a novel that you could easily conquer (or more aptly, devour?) in a single weekend, Annihilation promises to leave you pondering long after you finish the final chapter.

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