Series: Southern Reach Trilogy #1
Published by FSG Originals on February 4th, 2014
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; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died 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 months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.
This is the twelfth expedition.
Their 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 and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.
They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but 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.
I’m not sure what I read here, not sure what I read at all. The only other time I’ve encountered Jeff VanderMeer’s writing is in his informative book about Steampunk and that was kind of dull and boring but full of information (that I already knew). This was a different beast and was meant to be a different beast. But what sort of beast, who knows, perchance a crawler?
Anyway, Area X is an unexplained, confusing place that people travel to in order to do science experiments on it. They are sent in small, precise groups, in order to execute directives to figure out the hows and why of the sudden appearance and functionality of this mysterious geographical anomaly.
Our narrator is “the biologist” a woman who has gone to Area X in order to find closure about her husband who had gone on a previous expedition and returned as a shell of his former self. Secretly, it seemed she was hoping that the rest of his essence was somewhere in Area X or perhaps she’d find answers as to why he came back all blank and useless and full of cancer.
She’s on the expedition with a psychologist, a surveyor and an archaeologist. I think it’s an archaeologist. She dies like almost immediately and didn’t end up being very interesting in the moments leading up to her death. Though, her death is technically interesting? Considering once we see the thing that killed her, it doesn’t have much of a body, more of an impression of a body? I don’t know anymore. This book was redonk.
Mostly the book layers on the dread. No one knows what is going on. The psychologist has trigger words that make people do things via hypnotic suggestion (things like kill themselves). The biologist breaks the first rule of being a biologist and touches things she shouldn’t and then get’s a mold spore up her nose.
The mold spore starts to significantly change her, and as she finds more secrets and riddles and randomness it just starts to jumble together. Honestly, despite people dying and there being melting face monsters and hints that something could possibly have happened at some point… nothing actually happens.
It’s all buildup and then nothing. Absolutely nothing. Nothing at all. She shrugs her shoulder and wanders off into the distance. That’s it.
Overall, this book was short, but felt at least twenty times longer. At one point, I could have sworn I was reading a book that was at least 600 pages long. It’s just so dense and full of boring descriptions of creepy things. Oh no, this tower that descends into nothingness is actually made of creepy flesh! Oh no, there’s mold spores that spell religious propaganda! Oh no, maybe that dolphin has a people eye!
No way I’m reading the rest of this series. I’m done with this nonsense.