Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

annienebulaMany years ago, when I was merely an egg, I decided I would read all of HP Lovecraft. It was a rude chore. I enjoyed the first story or three–I must have, because they made me decide to read the rest–but I quickly wearied of his idiosyncratic, relentless style, and the undeniable fact that all Lovecraft stories are essentially the same damn story.

Lovecraft never scared me. Books rarely do. More disappointing was that I was never even creeped out. Maybe I’m too modern for Lovecraft, maybe it’s just not my thing. Maybe I burned out early. I dunno. What I do know is that I have a tendency to reject books that share certain characteristics with Lovecraft, particularly the Cthuluic treatment: an amorphous, unseen terror that haunts the narrator beyond reason or words.

Annihilation fits firmly into the Lovecraftian category for me, but for some reason, I could not put it down. It’s a weird, creepy, sculptural novel, a Venn diagram of Gothic horror, SF, and mystery. And it was a difficult novel; I was constantly having to reevaluate the reliability of the narrator, but the narrative itself is compelling. Obviously, because I found myself carrying my phone into the bathroom, the kitchen, reading while brushing my teeth or making tea. Hours, sucked away.

I count myself fortunate that I’ve read two excellent books, in two days. Two very, very, very different books, but both enjoyable and engrossing. And, I am smart, because I put all three of Mr Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy on hold, so now I can download the second (after reading a teaser on the publisher’s website) without the guilt of downloading without reading. That always feels a bit dishonest, like I’m cock-blocking another patron on the hold list, while I try to make up my mind about whether I really want to read the book or not.

The Nebula voters got it right, I think, when they nominated and awarded Annihilation for Best Novel. I wonder if it would have made this year’s Hugo ballot, as well, barring previously discussed asshole behavior on the part of those who shall not be named? We will find out in August. In the meantime, for those who like enigmatic, ambiguous puzzle novels, liberally strewn with superficially unrelated detours and circumlocution that end up being entirely straightforward road-signs if you can twist your brain inside out, Annihilation is highly recommended by yours truly.

What have you read lately?

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