Some Quick Thoughts on Annihilation
I picked up Annihilation on a whim while I was in the library the other day. I remember hearing about the Southern Reach Trilogy and not thinking much of it, but I saw the trailer for the new Netflix movie and it looked like something I’d enjoy. Weird secrets and forbidden zones, very Stalker or Ballard, the kind of stuff I inevitably enjoy. And enjoy it I did, finishing it in a couple of sittings and finding myself enraptured.
I haven’t read the other books in the trilogy yet, and doubtless my opinion will change when I do, but what has really stuck in my mind about Annihilation is how little resolution it affords the reader. It would have been easy to go “ayyyy, government experiment gone wrong,” or, “ayyyyyliens”, but it resists this. In some ways this is mirrored in the plot. Area X resists interpretation, and it changes whatever it comes into contact with, including the reader. You begin burning to know answers. You come to hope the biologist can find some resolution regarding her husband’s death. She is changed, she comes to accept that Area X doesn’t need to be interpreted. It’s just different. You feel similarly about the novel.
Annihilation reminded me pleasantly of Ballard. I’m thinking of The Crystal World, and The Drowned World. There are probably others, but I haven’t read all of Ballard’s stuff, or even all his elemental apocalypse stuff. I love Ballard’s work, and I love stuff like it, but it does leave me cold. Ballard’s heroes (haha) always enter some kind of Forbidden Place and are changed by it, but they are only changed in the sense that it allowed their innate animality to act out. Structures break down, but then they reform, and the most willing and able to be violent are left on top. Annihilation subverts this, and I am so happy it does.
For starters, the very crux of the story is that a woman wants to know what happened to her husband. A mix of curiosity and hypnosis drive the biologist on, but the main motivation is always her wanting to know what happened to her husband, her feelings of regret over the last few weeks they spent together, her insecurities about their marriage. This is a very human story, and doesn’t reduce this humanity to something that can have its animal nature brought out. I think about how those Ballard novels end up being westerns set in The Forbidden Zone, and how, in Annihilation, the biologist’s one act of violence is not just out of necessity but also enabled by Area X itself. It wasn’t something that was in her already.
Annihilation is horrifying, it’s fascinating, and it will subvert your expectations. Maybe my expectations have been warped by reading a lot of Ballard, but it’s something I can’t help thinking about. I look forward to seeing the film.