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Publisher's Summary

Nebula Award Winner, Novel, 2014

If J. J. Abrams, Margaret Atwood, and Alan Weisman collaborated on a novel…it might be this awesome.

Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.

This is the twelfth expedition.

Their group is made up of four women: An anthropologist, a surveyor, a psychologist - the de facto leader - and a biologist, who is our narrator. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers - they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding - but it's the surprises that came across the border with them and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another that change everything.

Cover artwork ©Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

©2014 Jeff VanderMeer (P)2014 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

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What makes a good audiobook series? There are as many answers to this question as there are listeners. For some, it might be epic battles. For others, it might be ongoing romantic twists and tensions. For still others, it might be elongated character studies or an in-depth analysis of a particular time and place. But the universal element of a truly great series is that it sticks with you long after the last word. These are our favorites from every major genre.

Editor's Pick

Perfect if you want something weird
"This is my one pick that I feel I need to stand up for, because if you check the title page you’ll see some mixed reviews. Annihilation is profound literary sci-fi that doesn’t fit any formula. So a lot of people looking for the same old story might not find it here, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t an amazing series. It will blur your sense of reality and make you question the alien nature of language itself."
Michael D., Audible Editor

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Great story, bad narrator

See title. Mispronounced homographs, odd inflection, and no perceivable differentiation where there ought to be (quotations, italics, narration, etc.)

125 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Narrator Ruined it for me.

Maybe she has done well with other books, but I thought my ears were going to bleed after listening to her drone. Her strange phrasing made it seem like she was reading the book for the first time. If she was trying to sound clinical, she missed the mark. The story itself was interesting and I would have enjoyed it with any other narrator. I only bought the second book when I made sure she wasn't the narrator.

124 people found this helpful

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Down the rabbit hole into Heironymus' Garden

Cheers for the new sub-genre of Weird Fiction: Fungal Fiction (although John Wyndham may have planted the seeds in 1951 with The Day of the Triffids). Lost, down the rabbit hole, through the mountains of madness, into the Garden of Earthly Delights where you might find H.P. Lovecraft tending the plants with a potion mixed by the likes of Ambrose Bierce and the Strugatsky brothers. You've only to go to the novel cover artist's site (Eric Nayquist) and see the animated cover to get your first chilling warning that the primordial lush beauty of the environment belies what lurks beneath the expanding Area X -- the mysterious target area of the *Southern Reach* program, controlled by a cloaked branch of the government. This is the 12th expedition sent into the *contaminated* area, a team comprised of 4 unnamed female scientists, with a vague protocol: a surveyor, a psychologist, an anthropologist, and our narrator, the biologist.

"Our mission was simple: to continue the government's investigation into the mysteries of Area X, slowly working our way out from base camp."

The story unfolds in a series of objective journal entries by the biologist beginning at the point of entry into Area X. The rusted remains of equipment and the husks of tents left by the previous 11 expeditions appear deceivingly untroubled. Listening is experiential, a bit like trekking by way of helmet cam... your field of vision limited to each step of your boots as you proceed into the terrain, all senses dependent on the observations of the biologist. Personal observations begin to seep into the narrative: her husband was a member of the ill-fated 11th expedition; there was a fifth member, a linguist that pulled out of the mission for reasons known only to the psychologist; there is a prominent tunnel/tower that is not on their map. The narrative seems to slant and erode the listener's confidence in the biologist. Even in the carefully chosen words to be recorded, you can hear the unraveling.

VanderMeer excels in rationing out this story with tortuous control, intensifying the doubt, dread, and sense of impending doom by degrees, as much as he does in spinning a fantastical tale with some real merit. The sense of an unearthly foreboding reminded me of Algernon Blackwood's The Willows (Lovecraft's favorite). So often the story span of a trilogy is dependent on its parts, but this may be the exception, as well as exceptional. Annihilation is a strong independent read, definitely one of those exciting and rare species that you race through and want more. With the release of the second installment expected in June, the third in September, this coming summer already has a bright spot. This was a great choice -- just way too short.
*Some of the power of this novel is in the unfurling of the events -- knowing too much could be a spoiler.

54 people found this helpful

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Tough Listen with No Pay-Off

I wanted to want this book more. It took weeks for me to finish it - because the story is so . . . . odd. Perhaps in print I could have better made sense of Area X - but as an audio experience, I could never fully grasp much of anything. I felt only that I (living vicariously through "The Biologist") was swallowed up by a never-fully-revealed organism. The long passages of clinical description were only interrupted by recollections of an unhappy marriage. These recollections became more and more intrusive as the plot continued.

In the last hour, I finally felt like I there might be hope that the story would take me somewhere, that The Biologist might actually do something other than observe, that her motivation might move her to strive for a conclusion. Then - repeatedly - The Biologist tells us that she (and by extension we) will never understand this place, her experiences - or basically anything we have spent the last several hours exploring. Really?? After all this, the author has chosen not to fully reveal this strange world or its mysteries. Why else were we invited into this story if not to at least make sense of it in some way?

It felt very much like a cheat. And in the end I found the story to be an utter waste of time.

40 people found this helpful

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Great!! And Narrator is not as bad as other reviewers led me to believe.

I held off getting this book on 3-4 separate occasions due only to the other reviews citing the narrator as terrible. I know a narrator can make a huge difference.

I didn’t think there was anything wrong with this narration at all. I think the narrator was playing to the otherworldly and somewhat oneiric aspects of this book. She sounds a like a dazed scientist that’s almost wholly lost her sense of self. That is exactly what’s called for! Perhaps if those folks had spent time with high-level scientists out of touch with normal interpersonal nuances, they would appreciate this performance more.

A couple other points in defense of this performance:
1) The experts that enter Area X shed their personal identities and only refer to each other as ‘the psychologist’, ‘the anthropologist’, ‘the linguist’, etc.
2) The biologist and other experts undergo a lot of change even before they enter Area X. Then they must negotiate a great deal of change in a very strange environment.

All in all, don’t let those reviews stop you from getting and enjoying this book as much as I did.

37 people found this helpful

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Alien subversion, deliverance style

Annihilation is the 1st book in Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy. Time and place remain obscure, but a section of the "continent" has been off limits for some time due to some ill-defined overlay. Explained away as some sort of environmental catastrophe, this regional anomaly has been extant for some time. The story begins with the supposed "12th" expedition to venture inside. The story is related by the biologist on the team and some of the backstory is slowly revealed during the expedition.

The sci-fi elements are muted throughout. Alien influence is undeniable, but much of the scope, intent, and meaning remains murky, although bizarre bio-engineering seems likely. Hi-tech gear has problems in the area and earlier teams either killed each other, committed suicide, or returned mysteriously and died of cancers. There is also much information that has been withheld from the team and hypnotic suggestions are used influence behaviors. In then end, it's unclear whether the biologist should be more afraid of Area X or her superiors.

The narration is well done with a good range of character distinction. While definitely within the genre of sci-fi, the tale leans toward horror in tone.

31 people found this helpful

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Fever Dreams in a Strange Land

Any additional comments?

From the very beginning the sense of dissonance, of wrongness seeps into your mind. You try to fit the tale into a category but it just won't fit anywhere. Mystery, adventure, horror, literature, Annihilation is all of these and none.

It is a fever dream set on paper. It is a rationalist's attempt to process the irrational. It is the face you didn't see in your bedroom's darkened window. It is the realization of true love, long after it matters. It is the wonder of the unknown and the dread of the unknowable.

This book will bind you to itself. It will not release you until you have walked the dark stairway to it's end and traced the words written upon the walls with your trembling hand. The journey is not long. This is a short book. But it is a worthy tale that will stay with you, long after you reach the end.

Carolyn McCormick is well suited for this book and her narration adds yet another layer to the eerie atmosphere of Annihilation.

19 people found this helpful

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Don't sample the communicating fungus

I'd never read anything by Jeff VanderMeer before, but I found this tight, haunting science fiction novel to be an enjoyable mix of Lovecraftian horror and Roadside Picnic-like paranoia, revolving around an alien environment that calls into question reality-as-we-understand-it. The initial setup is intriguingly sparse and mysterious; all we know at first is that some vaguely-described government body named the Southern Reach has been sending research teams into a abandoned region called Area X, in which things turned weird years ago. Most of these expeditions, as one would expect, have come to bad ends, but a 12th, composed entirely of women, is on its way in.

Why things are as they are -- or even what time, place, and world we're in -- isn't explained at first. Instead, VanderMeer provides us with a pinhole view into an enigma, metering out information (and tension) in the form of journal entries written by the 12th expedition's biologist. She, as we learn, hasn't been told everything known to the Southern Reach, and may not be a wholly reliable narrator herself. As the team explores a strange, unmapped structure that communicates portentous, Biblical-sounding messages through fungal writing, its members -- known only by titles such as the Psychologist, the Linguist, or the Surveyor -- begin to vanish, die, or turn on each other. And things are out there in the dark. Things alien, but not altogether so.

As the situation unravels, the biologist's detached, protocol-driven observations give way to more personal reflections and memories. We find out that her semi-estranged husband was a member of the 11th expedition and wasn't quite himself when he returned, and that the biologist had her own reasons for volunteering.

VanderMeer's tight, crafted writing contributes much to the book's cinematic, shifting, just-out-of-focus feel, as does audiobook narrator Carolyn McCormick’s well-controlled reading (I’d thought she’d overacted a little in The Hunger Games, but she’s great here). The biologist, who seems more comfortable viewing the world through a magnifying glass than a wide-angle lens, tries to hold back from impossible conclusions, yet appears to circle around them. Her oddly clinical response to events only heightens the disquieting atmosphere of the story, as her mental viewscreen jumps between familiar, intimate observations of the natural world, weird, incongruous imagery, and her own doubts about why she's there and what's real. As in the best science fiction, the answers seem to be there in a fragmentary way, but elusively. I think this is an effect Lovecraft aspired to, but lacked the prose gifts to really pull off.

Altogether, a strong entry in mind-bending speculative fiction, echoing past works of note (Christopher Priest's The Islanders and Peter Watts' Blindsight also come to mind), but showcasing VanderMeer as a fresh and capable voice unto himself. The spores, it seems, have infected me, and I'm looking forward to the next entry in this trilogy.

18 people found this helpful

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Whatever this was, it wasn't for me

The dull narration, the lack of anything resembling a plot, and the rather mundane flashbacks of an uninteresting character just left me cold. I don't think I'll be bothering with books 2 and 3. I don't mind the unexplained, I'm just not thrilled about the overly wrought unexplained.

16 people found this helpful

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My New Addiction: The Southern Reach

It’s a simple, classic set-up: A group of explorers head out on an expedition to the mysterious Area X. They have gone through rigorous training that strips much of their identity in hopes of generating unbiased field reports. Instead, they are referred to simply by their scientific professions: Psychologist, Anthropologist, Surveyor, and Biologist. There was a Linguist too, but something happened to her. They are the twelfth expedition. Some of the prior expeditions have been successful. Others have ended in the death of every member on the team. Pretty soon, this latest expedition comes across something that’s either a tunnel or a tower – something that wasn’t on the maps in their briefings. There is, of course, something very wrong about this tower tunnel. Not long after exploring it, things start to go very wrong for the twelfth expedition.

I’d say the fun starts here, but really – the terrifying fun starts pretty much right away. The expedition is out of its depth from the very first page – before they cross over the border into Area X. It quickly becomes clear that nothing about the expedition or Area X are as these scientists have been led to believe.

It’s a simple, classic set-up, but it’s written by Jeff VanderMeer, so things are a unique level of intensely, wonderfully, WTFery weird. VanderMeer is simply an incredible writer, his prose popping like mushroom spores in your ears as he leads you in a delightful, dangerous daze across the mysterious, unexplainable landscape of Area X. It’s filled with invisible boundaries, spooky doppelgangers, strange creatures, and unexplainable events. It’s a primal story of coming to grips with a place impossible to understand – a place just as strange as ourselves. For all its weirdness, it’s incredibly accessible, and never dull.

Carolyn McCormick was the narrator of the Hunger Games trilogy, and she does very strong work here. The story is told from the journal entries of the Biologist, and McCormick does an excellent job of coming across as a seemingly detached scientist on assignment, but secretly luring you in with just the right hint of inflections that cut beneath the surface, exposing you to a surprising amount of emotion: fear, love, longing, and the struggle for individuality.

Annihilation is my new addiction. It’s as if The Company from Alien sent The Dharma Initiative into the Mountains of Madness. It’s an expedition into the bizarre, and I can’t wait to try and find my way back to the border.

(Originally posted at the AudioBookaneers.)

14 people found this helpful

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