BOOK REVIEWS: Annihilation & The Book of Strange New Things..

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I’m too scared to see ‘It’. I know it involves an evil clown and sewers and things that float down there – and of course that it started out as a book by Stephen King.

Recently, I’ve been reading books that are being adapted for the big screen, and one such pick was Annihilation, the first volume in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach series, a novel that King himself called ‘creepy’…

Annihilation (Southern Reach #1) by Jeff VanderMeer

Four women are sent by a secretive government agency to investigate Area X, a quarantined coastal zone in the USA.

The Biologist, the Psychologist, the Surveyor and the Anthropologist (no names are given in the book) uncover a terrifying force writing on the walls of an uncharted subterranean tower: “Where lies the strangling fruit that came from the hand of the sinner…”

As if I had breathed in the spores from the cover, Annihilation is immersive, sinister, and genre-defying. It is part of a trilogy, but it can definitely be read as a standalone story.

One problem I had is that it takes the Biologist’s field journal as its source material, and while she may be happy spending hours observing lifeforms in tidal pools, I’m not! (The novel also flashes back to her life with her husband, who volunteered for the previous, doomed Area X expedition.)

I hope the movie doesn’t end up feeling like Alien Covenant – scientists behaving stupidly while trudging through the wilderness and wrestling with weird mind-bending phenomena.

Luckily, it’s directed by Alex Garland, who proved he knows a thing or two about creepy tension with Ex Machina, and it stars Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson and Oscar Isaac.

The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber 

From a woman of science to a man of faith. The King of the North has gone interstellar in the Amazon pilot ‘Oasis’.

It takes as its veeery loose inspiration Michel Faber’s (author of Under the Skin) melancholy novel The Book of Strange New Things, which was published in 2014, before the Netflix phenomenon!

The good book focuses on Chaplain Peter Leigh, who leaves his beloved wife for a job with a shadowy multinational, who task him with ministering to the native inhabitants of a distant colonized planet named Oasis.

Peter’s new congregation were introduced to the Bible by his (missing) predecessor, and they’ve taken to it enthusiastically, calling themselves Jesus Lover One, Jesus Lover Two, etc. Their ‘faces’ resemble “a placenta with two foetuses…nestled knee to knee.”

To speak their language, Peter would “need to rip off his own head and gargle through the stump.” (Any linguists want a challenge?!)

It’s not a mystery or a religious satire, but a tale of grief and failure of communication – interplanetary email can be a bitch.

The Amazon pilot is very different. It’s a budget sci-fi, and the sad heart of TBOSNT is gone. There’s no word yet on whether it will go to series, but the book is certainly worth the near-600 pages.

I’m currently slogging through the latest Zadie Smith, but I should be back with a Wind River review soon……

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