Initiation, Integration, Immolation, Immersion, Dissolution: so go the stages of Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation. As much as these chapter titles appear to signify some type of desolation, they seem to represent something like the steps towards catharsis—and possibly derangement, death, or mutation—for the main character who we only know as “biologist.” It is the biologist’s story, one told with the images and language of nightmare.
At times Annihilation succeeds in oozing an uncanny eeriness, while at others there is a sparseness of feeling and atmosphere. This sparseness is not necessarily a fault. It can be effective, like a minimalist staging of a tragic play. What is compelling, however, is always the biologist—her thoughts, her feelings, her state of mind, her experience of her environment. The literal events of the story can be read as a manifestation of her experience of herself, her failures, the result of her inability to navigate the demands of objectivity as a scientist and subjectivity as a human being. Her world is out of control, consuming her, like a will-o-the-wisp which once approached explodes with the energy of collapsing stars.