The Southern Reach Trilogy

There’s a Lovecraft short story called “The Colour Out of Space” that describes a strange series of events following the impact of a meteorite in a stretch of rural Massachussetts farmland. It being a Lovecraft story, a whole bunch of eerie stuff happens and then pretty much everyone involved goes insane. But fundamentally it was a story about alienness. Lovecraft was specifically responding to the popular science fiction of his day, in which extraterrestrials were depicted more or less like humans with slightly different morphology, and with “The Colour Out of Space” he was trying to imagine an interaction with a truly incomprehensible “other.”

Jeff VanderMeer seemed to have the same concerns in mind when he was writing his Southern Reach trilogy, which pulls in the same exceptionally creepy tone that characterizes Lovecraft’s work, but in a modern style and without all the racism. In his series, VanderMeer tells us of a stretch of coastline in what appears to be a backwater part of Florida, in which some sort of “event” in the past has created a mysterious region known only as “Area X.” In the first novel we follow the 11th expedition into Area X, an expedition that sets out knowing that every previous group that has entered has come out insane, died of cancer, or not come out at all. And with each new chapter and new novel, things get more and more strange, and the mystery becomes deeper.

It’s not the kind of story for people who want happy endings, or even much of a sense of closure. But VanderMeer is a master of establishing atmosphere, and the books are very skillfully written. I’m still not sure, having had nearly two months to think it over, exactly what happened in these books, but the experience of reading them was breathtaking.

Started: 5/28/2015 | Finished: 6/11/2015

Annihilation: Purchase from Amazon | Purchase from B&N | GoodReads Page

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