Annihilation is a tough book to review, likely because it’s difficult to know how you feel about it, even while you’re reading it. The prose is majestic, the story strangely beautiful, and yet there’s this forced and quite purposeful detachment which can make connecting with it a different experience than most reads. I can see how a lot of readers have struggled connecting with the story. As for myself, I really dug what VanderMeer both attempted and accomplished, though I believe they’re both two very distinct things.
About a group of scientists who go into a defined “Area X,” where unnatural changes have been occurring, this is quite possibly one of the most unique “alien invasion” novels you’ll ever read, and one that is more likely to occur than the majority of what the science fiction genre has to offer. Just the premise that we simply can’t fathom life beyond what we know is unquestionably deep. Is it even an “invasion” or does there have to be a source for what’s begun these transformations? There are far more questions posed than answers here, and like Area X itself, they only seem to grow and metastasize, transforming from their original inception into something far greater (and perhaps darker).
If you’re looking to try this out, set your expectations to the side. Don’t expect a lot of answers (or any, really), don’t expect to connect with the characters on an emotional level, except to see yourself through some of their reactions and struggles in a quite cerebral way. But as for challenging the status quo of what can or should be a done in a novel, this is a great place to enter and just let your thoughts roam around within the framework of the story.
Halfway through I didn’t think I’d be picking up book 2 in the trilogy, but after finishing the novel, I’d like to see where it continues to go (or rather, where it doesn’t). Bring on the weird, the strange, the unique. I’ll take it any day over a paint-by-the-numbers story with a plot that’s been painted over so many times the initial shades are beginning to peel.