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Publisher's Summary

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.

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

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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.

16 of 16 people found this review helpful

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Great story, bad narrator

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

15 of 16 people found this review 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.

42 of 49 people found this review 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.

8 of 9 people found this review 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.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Win
  • Waterloo, SC, United States
  • 02-27-14

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

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Interesting story, uninteresting reader

I somewhat enjoyed the book. I think I would have liked it better if I'd read the book myself rather than listen to it. The reader didn't add anything to the story with her interpretation of the text but actually took away from it. I feel I missed out on some key parts of the story because the monotone of the reader was extremely forgettable and in interesting. The last 45 minutes have me interested to continue the series since it's about a different character and thus a different reader with the 3rd book supposedly tying everything together. So I'd recommend this book if you can sit down and actually read it. If not maybe look for a different version with a different reader.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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So Not Finch

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

Not the audio version. Perhaps if I'd read it, I would have preferred it. Most of my friends are not fans of speculative fiction or biopunk or the new weird or whatever this book falls into. So I only recommend genre books when I think they are exceptional: Perdido St. Station, The Wind-up Girl, Finch. I don't think this book will be appealing to someone who is not already dipping pretty deeply into the F&SF pool.

What was your reaction to the ending? (No spoilers please!)

Meh.

What didn’t you like about Carolyn McCormick’s performance?

It was very stilted. The character she is performing is an unreliable narrator if ever there was one, someone who has been infected by mysterious spores and undergoing transformation into something probably not human, so I understand what she was trying to do. But as a directorial decision, it failed. One scene in the book is treated pretty much the same as the next, one word in a sentence is treated pretty much the same as the next. It did not draw me in at all. It was especially disappointing compared to Oliver Wyman's reading of Finch, which was so charged and so engaging. Granted, McCormick was reading a very different book.

Did Annihilation inspire you to do anything?

Go back and listen to Finch again.

Any additional comments?

I'm a fan of Vandermeer's and I may well prefer the print version of this book. I loved Finch, LOVED IT. This book? No. We are offered narrator's vision of events which she presents as a biologist's POV. There's a lot of biology speak that doesn't ring true. Perhaps she was never actually a scientist and that is the point. But I don't want to read a book full of pompous delusional blathering. Sure, I want to know the secret, want to know what area X is and what the authorities think they are doing about it. But it's not pressing because I don't care about the character. I don't know that I'm interested enough to continue with the series.

11 of 14 people found this review helpful

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  • Ryan
  • Somerville, MA, United States
  • 03-01-14

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.

13 of 17 people found this review helpful

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  • Jim N
  • Chicago, IL
  • 02-25-14

A Strange, Surreal Delight

Annihilation is the first volume in a planned trilogy but the novel easily stands on it's own. It reminded me of the work of J.G. Ballard in that it's at least as concerned with the psychological state of it's primary character as it is with the strange, mysterious area she and her companions are exploring. There's a dose of Machen and Lovecraft in the book too, which isn't surprising since Jeff Vandermeer is a champion of weird fiction. However, in the end, the novel is unique and original, a beautifully written, sometimes harrowing, exploration of humanity's encounter with something new. There are passages that border on the hallicinogenic and Vandermeer wisely leaves some questions unanswered. Perhaps they will be answered in subsequent books but honestly, I hope not. Some things are best left to the imagination.

I highly recommend Annihilation. I found Carolyn McCormick's reading of the book a little monochromatic but it's certainly not bad and there are moments where the placid tone she uses really works in the novel's favor.

9 of 12 people found this review helpful