‘Annihilation’ by Jeff VanderMeer [Review]

esther s.
3 min readMay 3, 2021


Banner of the cover of Annihilation.

(‘Annihilation’ is part 1 of the Southern Reach Series)
NB: This is less of a review but more of a collection of my thoughts.

Annihilation is a novel that teases the part of our brain that fears the unknown. The story tells of a place named Area X, which is occupied by an inexplicable phenomenon. Expeditions into the area have bore little fruit, and it is now on a team of female scientists to follow in their footsteps.

“Some questions will ruin you if you are denied the answer long enough.”

Our fear of the unknown is so common that it has breathed life into the very Lovecraftian horror that is sprinkled in this story. But Annihilation does not read like a horror, it is sprawled with a sense of wondrous terror as we follow our main character — known to us only as The Biologist — who guides us through the terrifying beauty of it all. Her sense of fear trumped by curiosity. Our desire for knowledge has always conquered all, even when that desire leads to self-destructive results. There in that area, there is a phenomenon that behaves like an organism, in a seemingly desperate quest to understand itself. Replicating, duplicating, and deforming all that it encounters. The same way our mind bends reality through our subjective experiences, this organism is interpreting its surroundings the only way it knows how: through mimicry and through fragmentation. There is a question of whether it has an evil nature, or whether its nature can even be evil if it was designed as such. Destruction, in some sadistic sense, is simply the transformation into something new. Endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful… What happens when we are confronted with matters that exceed the confines of rationality?

Nothing that lived and breathed was truly objective — even in a vacuum, even if all that possessed the brain was a self-immolating desire for the truth.

One downside to adulthood is that your imagination starts to fail you. I wish I could return to a child’s imagination, untouched by society. When we could simply perceive without distortion, to process without judgment. Perhaps the reason none of the expeditions ever succeeded was precisely because they were only sending in scientists. All they ever could focus on was the why’s and the how’s and the when’s. This is because their brains were conditioned to not accept things at face value, to view them through the lens of rationality and scientific accuracy. If only they had just stopped and looked, they would have seen so much more.

“You saw something that wasn’t there.” She wasn’t going to let me off the hook.
You can’t see what is there, I thought.

I think Annihilation is a very thought-provoking novel that takes advantage of our human curiosity. In all of that confusion there is also a sense of comfort. You don’t have to explain your existence, you just — belong. I can only imagine how terrifying it must be to have all the answers in the world.



esther s.