My Whole Expanse I Cannot See…

I formulate infinity stored deep inside of me…

Review: Annihilation

February 13th, 2014 | Category: Opinions,Thoughts on Writing

An unknown biological catastrophe claims a chunk of the world, cuts a clear border between the tainted and the untainted. This tainted place is called Area X, named so by an unnamed government, a government not at all above sacrificing lives to unlock the mystery that is Area X. This government charges a cloak and dagger agency, The Southern Reach, with the handling of Area X, infiltration; training personnel to cross the border and study Area X.

The very first team reported a place once inhabited by people living in modest homes, a lighthouse off the coast, then, somehow, nature took it all back. Life became death, grass, vines, spread over the homes, forests grew thick, marshlands swelled, the people apparently swallowed by nature growing unabated. Loss of life aside, the early reports described Area X as beautiful, peaceful, pure. This picture didn’t last long. Then came the mass suicide of one team, another self-destructed in a hail of gunfire, blasting each other to fleshy mounds of former colleagues. The eleventh expedition came home, only to die of a very rapid terminal cancer. Despite the early reports, Area X is dangerous, its beauty, false. Answers, however, are more important than lives, The Southern Reach is willing to spill as much blood as necessary in order to know what they need to know.

Enter the twelfth team, four women; a surveyor, a psychologist, a biologist, and an anthropologist. Teams are chosen by various statistics, skill-sets and variables known only by The Southern Reach. Team twelve is tasked to study Area X, and each other. Any member who might behave oddly or appear “changed” by Area X is to be shot on sight, lest the mission as a whole be compromised.

Thus, the stage is set for Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer, Book 1 of the Southern Reach Trilogy.

The novel is narrated by the biologist, teams leave their names and lives behind. It’s much easier to remain impartial to each other if everything is impersonal. It’s also easier to shoot a “changed” colleague in the face if they don’t have a name, or a story. The biologist is a flawed character, a woman more comfortable around frogs and dragonflies than people and their conversations and desire for closeness. Yet, through her story, her struggles, we do care about this detached woman of science. This is part of VanderMeer’s skill, he makes us care about characters whose general lives are incomprehensible, as there’s always still some relatable spark in them.

Immediately, VanderMeer sets a tone of dread, we’re told early that members of the team will die, one very quickly. From the start, we know the mission is damned, there’s no heroic happy ending. We don’t know the hows, we only know that the biologist is looking back from the ruins of a wrecked ship. We read, desperately at times, because we want to know the hows, and more urgently, the whys. Why does The Southern Reach send people to Area X like cattle to a killing floor? Why is such a beautiful place so full of death? So many whys, but I won’t reveal them here. There’s also a what, a most important what. What ultimately becomes of the biologist? We don’t want Area X to claim her, but there’s a constant fear that in her final sentence, it will.

VanderMeer uses perfect words to paint images of gorgeous landscapes, macabre dark, hidden places, and images of death and decay that will disturb readers long after the final page is turned. His use of descriptive imagery, quick plotting, and rich character development is spot-on, perhaps the best balance he has ever struck.

Annihilation is a short, fast-paced novel that is really the beginning of a much deeper narrative. For those who have never read Jeff VanderMeer this novel is a perfect introduction, and for those who have, his brilliance will only be further demonstrated.

Buy Annihilation, it absolutely won’t disappoint, and I’m sure the rest of the trilogy will be just as spectacular.

Oh, if you hurry, you can win a copy of Annihilation here!

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Fight Club: Film vs. Novel

May 06th, 2010 | Category: Opinions

Until the Kindle for Mac app was released, I’d never actually read Fight Club, but I’d always just figured it was amazing. I mean, the film version sounds like Chuck Palahniuk at his best. It sounds like Survivor, and Invisible Monsters, and Choke. Fight Club is one of the movies I turn on just to listen to the writing, it’s practically an audio book. The film version of Fight Club is edgy, and smart, and entirely plausible in a violently surreal way. Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden is fucking brilliant, and totally fuckin’ cool. You want to be him, or at least hang out with him. It’s obvious why Edward Norton’s Narrator created him for an alter-ego. The film’s ending, all those corporate offices crashing down, Norton’s Narrator and Helena Bonham Carter’s Marla Singer holding hands while everything burns, it’s beautiful and perfect. They’re two fucked up people, but they found each other and in that moment, they’re happy.

If I had to pick a single word to describe Fight Club as a novel, that word would be “juvenile.” If I had to pick a second word, it’d be “tedious.” I found reading it to be painful. Palahniuk is so over-the-top, so obviously trying to shock people, that the novel reads like a ridiculous farce. The Narrator isn’t likable, he reads like a bitter seventeen year-old walking around in a thirty year-old body. We get more of his back-story, but his story isn’t endearing. Throughout the novel, one doesn’t get the sense that he’s evolving, growing up, learning anything from his experiences. He isn’t learning anything from Tyler because Tyler isn’t teaching anything genuinely valuable, he’s just an angry kid throwing a violent tantrum at the world. The Narrator and Tyler are just different degrees of bitter teenager, Tyler being more prone toward violence. Pitt’s Tyler is definitely irreverent, absolutely an Anarchist, but when he speaks it’s intelligent. He makes sense, in a dark sort of way. The same can’t be said of Tyler’s book-bound counterpart.

The novel contains various themes; losing everything makes one free to do anything, material possessions are an empty measure of one’s worth, paternal abandonment, destruction as a form of creation, all interesting for one to consider.  Unfortunately for the novel, these ideas are buried under a ridiculous story in which Tyler is making soap from stolen lard liposuctioned from Marla’s mom’s ass, lard Marla was saving to use for her own future lip and ass enlargement injections. A story in which Tyler and Marla constantly refer to each other as “buttwipe.” A story in which Marla and a bunch of cancer patients, some in wheelchairs, race to the top of a building to stop Tyler from killing himself. Fight Club as a novel smacks of immaturity and blatant attempts to shock readers with useless, crude dialogue. I’m sure at seventeen, Fight Club would have been taboo and amazing, but I’m not seventeen, and I’ve experienced too much to be able to relate to so much fluff.

The film version of Fight Club manages to distill the best elements of its source-material into a thought-provoking, intelligent story that’s ultimately beautiful in all its darkness. Maybe I’d feel differently if I’d read the novel first, but I doubt it.