Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy

Nyquist covers

Are There Lesbians? Yes

What Happens?
Area X has been cut off from the world. It’s existence only known to a few, it is hopelessly researched by the Southern Reach – an organisation that soon proves just as unknowable and strange as Area X itself.

The Verdict:
If you’ve seen the movie of Annihilation and aren’t sure whether or not to read the books, content yourself with the knowledge that the books are different enough to warrant a read. They’re also just as good as the movie – each stands up extremely well on its own.

The word “Lovecraftian” gets bandied around a lot, but it is my personal belief that Jeff Vandermeer and his Southern Reach Trilogy are truly Lovecraftian successors. Only without the incredible amounts of racism. Vandermeer instills a sense of fear through an emphasis on the unexplainable other, however, that other, far from being racially stereotyped, is barely explained at all. Personally, I found this much more terrifying as I am often more afraid of the unknown and unexplainable than horror-made-flesh, no matter how big or how many tentacles said horror may have.

Each of the three novels in the Southern Reach Trilogy are told from different points of view, each with their own ways of looking at the world. The first, Annihilation, is from the point of view of the Biologist – the woman who journeys into Area X and falls in love with the silence and solitude it gives her. Authority is from the point of view of Control, the new Director of the Southern Reach who is trying to maintain his position even as the Southern Reach descends into its own branch of insanity to mirror that which occurs within Area X. The third and last novel, Acceptance, is from alternating points of view that cross time, from the very beginning of Area X to the place that it becomes. Throughout all of this however, Area X remains a true mystery to the reader. We do not know where it came from or what it is for, all the niggling questions that humans really like to have comfortably answered in order to go on with life.

Vandermeer is truly a fantastic writer. His characters are relatable without being overly likeable as people and his descriptions of place are lush and beautiful as much as they are haunting. The Moaning Creature and the Biologist are viscerally and terrifyingly introduced – Vandermeer creates both a sense of urgency and a slow, creeping horror somewhere in your gut until you cannot bear to turn the page for fear of what will happen, and yet you know you must, because you have to know.

There are a handful of LGBT+ characters scattered throughout the trilogy, although their romantic partners are not as important to the plot as the way these characters conduct their interpersonal relationships. The way that people in the novels respond to one another is just as important as they ways in which they respond to the environment both in and out of Area X. One of the big questions the series asks is “What makes us human?” or, at the very least, what is it that makes us “real”? Because it is not just memories or perceptions – the novels devote a lot of time assuring us that these senses can be tricked and falsified. It seems that in the end, it is our knowledge of ourselves and the ways in which we relate to other people that define us.

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