The Southern Reach Trilogy begins with Annihilation, the Nebula Award-winning novel that "reads as if Verne or Wellsian adventurers exploring a mysterious island had warped through into a Kafkaesque nightmare world" (Kim Stanley Robinson).
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; the second expedition ended in mass suicide; the third expedition 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 weeks, all had died of cancer. In Annihilation, the first volume of Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy, we join the twelfth expedition.
The group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain, record all observations of their surroundings and of one another, and, above all, avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.
They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X deliversthey discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understandingbut 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.
About the Author
Reading Group Guide
In Jeff VanderMeer's haunting Southern Reach trilogy, an American wilderness has become a shadowland, concealed by the government for more than thirty years. An environmental disaster zone, Area X is home to strange biological forces that have begun gathering strength. The secret agency known as the Southern Reach has sent in eleven expeditions to discover the truth about Area X, but each team succumbed to violence or illness. Our story begins as a twelfth group is attempting to succeed where all others have failed. Comprised of four women, the team includes a psychologist (the de facto leader), a surveyor, an anthropologist, and a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself. But those who venture across the border bring their own secret histories, creating a world where trust is a fool's game.
This guide is designed to enrich your discussion. We hope that the following questions will enhance your journey into Area X.
1. What were your initial theories about the psychologist's motives and the whereabouts of the anthropologist? How did the ways they approached the expedition compare to the approaches of the surveyor and the biologist?
2. Did you envision the core of Area X as a tower or a tunnel? In your mind, is it a living creature or a product of engineering?
3. How did you interpret the phrases that emerged in Area X? Did you read them as prophecies? Poetry? Delusions?
4. Was the biologist's introverted, analytical temperament an asset or a hindrance on the expedition? How did the experiences of her youthparticularly her study of the neglected, dazzling swimming poolprepare her for this fieldwork?
5. As the biologist recalled her husband and his role in the eleventh expedition as a medic, what did you discover about her vulnerabilities and about the strength of their relationship?
6. Are there any real-world figures today who take on a role like the Crawler'sa producer of words who controls an audience? What is the source of the Crawler's power?
7. What do you predict for book 2, Authority?