Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
So I went to the Natural History Museum in NYC and watched a wonderful IMAX film about the wonders of the ocean world, the horrors of a living coral reef, and animals that more properly resembled plant life. One life form slowly devours another, using all the myriad tricks of evolution, from symbiosis and natural selection, to rise, unerringly, to be the top of the food chain.
I felt like I just read a SF/Horror hybrid that was just narrated by Jacques Cousteau, full of even and progressive prose, leading me inexorably to a great change. I can't quite place it as either the end of a feeding or the opening sequence of a brand new symbiosis.
Either way, this was definitely an awesome Biopunk novel, and I don't see any reason why it shouldn't have won 2014's Nebula. (And it did.)
I was reminded, of course, of Ballard's Crystal World, so many of Greg Bear's novels, but especially his novel Legacy. I can't ignore Perdido Street Station either, or any of the other great bio-enhanced SF that's out there, but I'll check my nostalgia at the door right here.
I was actually very impressed at the way Ghost Bird was handled, as a character, jumping back and forth from her past to her present regularly. Mr. VanderMeer purposefully turned his characters into cyphers, placed tons of limitations on them, and then set them loose to have their own life in this horrible place, but instead of staying limited, they broke out of their bonds like little expressions of fungi and animal-like protoplasms to slither across the page in unexpected ways. Ghost Bird, herself, was like a great ocean of denial, always telling us that she was no more than her surface appearing, and yet, every step of the way, she reflected back to us a great unconscious drive that kept pounding at us until she met the lighthouse keeper, and after.
Oddly enough, I had a horrible reaction while reading this. Does anyone know the music from Clockwork Orange? The one with the ditty about "I wanna marry a lighthouse keeper and keep him company?" Well, I kept hearing that tune throughout my reading of this novel, and what a counterpoint it was. I heartily recommend finding it and listening to it a dozen times while reading or rereading the awesome trippy crawler scenes. It opened up my experience in wonderful ways. :)
Horror is absolutely not dead, and thank god for it! It's just gone underground into New Weird and SF titles. It's been a good while coming, I know, but life changes. I'm just not certain whether horror is being consumed or becoming symbiotic. Who knows? It's the same thing with me. I come away from this novel feeling a bit infested. A bit glowy. Have I jumped the fence? I don't know. Maybe I'll never know.
There is one thing that I do know, though. I have to read the two sequels. It's too good not to.
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