Annihilation is the first book in The Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer. It tells the story of the 12th expedition to Area X, the (fictional) site of a mysterious ecological disaster, located somewhere in the southern U.S. It has been closed for over 30 years at the time this book opens, and access is restricted to occasional groups of scientists.
The Southern Reach is the name of the quasi-governmental/military authority that controls Area X. Expeditions there are fraught with danger; several explorers have been lost, and those who return are physically or emotionally damaged. Do we think Expedition 12 will go any better? Well, with their story entitled Annihilation, what do you think?
There's a lot to like here for fans of the TV show Lost, and those who like to read post-apocalyptic fiction. There's a creepy monster, and some emotional baggage with the biologist, who has an interesting reason for going on the mission. There are double-crosses, mysterious lights and noises and a good old-fashioned shoot-out. While you could argue that VanderMeer is just checking off boxes on a list of sci-fi/horror tropes, he uses them in an interesting way, and I was entertained. I also applaud him for making the Expedition 12 scientists all-female.
Here's my problem: Why haven't I read the two subsequent volumes of the trilogy: Authority and Acceptance? I finished Annihilation months ago, and put off writing about it until I could write about all three at once, but here I am, having not quite ever gotten round to the remaining two books. I think it's because I feel a tiny bit manipulated; the whole thing smacks of clever marketing.
Annihiliation is short, at 208 pages (though the two following books are longer). All three were released within seven months of one another, so VanderMeer clearly had the sequels well in hand when the first was released. Why not wait and release them together as one long book? Why make me pay for three books instead of one?
Why did Peter Jackson carve The Hobbit up into three movies? Why did someone decide to release the Hunger Games and Twilight trilogies as four movies? Let's squeeze as much revenue out of these properties as we can, folks.
VanderMeer sold the Annihilation movie rights for a "sizable" amount, according to Deadline Hollywood. Who wants to bet that the remaining two books will get nice deals, too, and Acceptance will be released as two films? If these novels had been released as one book, could VanderMeer have only sold the rights once? (I am just asking and admit to knowing nothing about how these deals work.)
It's the combination of all these factors (the on-trend post-apocalyptic theme, the trilogy, the movie rights) that has me feeling a little bit like a pawn in someone's media marketing chess game. It's nice to see an author making some money and I don't begrudge VanderMeer his opportunity to do so. I know he's been writing sci-fi for a while and has paid his dues. It just all seems so... calculating. "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!"
I already feel marketed-to in so many areas of my life (what TV shows I watch, products I buy, websites I visit); I don't like it when the same feeling invades my reading. It even makes me worry that VanderMeer's choice of female protagonists was somehow motivated by a reading survey that indicated that large numbers of female readers enjoy post-apocalyptic trilogies.
Look, I know I sound like @GuyinyourMFA
(Newsflash! Just in time for the holidays, Farrar Straus Giroux releases Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy, all in one volume. Could the timing be any better?)