Annihilation

by

Jeff VanderMeer

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Annihilation Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Jeff VanderMeer's Annihilation. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Jeff VanderMeer

VanderMeer was born in Pennsylvania but grew up in the Fiji Islands, where his parents worked for the Peace Corps. He then spent later years in Ithaca, New York, before attending the University of Florida for three years and finishing his college education in 1992 at Clarion University. His first book was the self-published collection The Book of Frog (1989), which he wrote while he was in college. He continued to publish short story collections through the 1990s, publishing his first novel, Dradin, In Love, in 1996. One of his first early successes was his 2001 short-story collection City of Saints and Madmen. He then married his wife Ann, a publisher and editor, in 2002. VanderMeer gained widespread success in 2014 by publishing the Southern Reach Trilogy in quick succession: Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance. Annihilation won the Nebula Award, recognizing the year’s best work of science fiction or fantasy published in the United States. More recently, VanderMeer has published Borne, The Strange Bird, and Dead Astronauts. He has also collaborated with Ann on numerous anthologies of science fiction and weird fiction. VanderMeer currently lives in Tallahassee, Florida.
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Historical Context of Annihilation

VanderMeer has stated that part of his inspiration for writing Annihilation is the fact that humans live on a planet filled with sophisticated organisms that we still only partially understand. He cites that humans have only recently discovered that plants engage in quantum mechanics during photosynthesis (a 2007 discovery published in the journal Nature) or that the sunfish and the albatross have a complex symbiotic relationship (discovered in 2012). These discoveries continue to this day; in the year 2020 alone, 213 new species were discovered. However, these discoveries are also coming at a time during mass ecological change and destruction, driven by humans, and Annihilation provides an interesting alternative commentary on ecological destruction. From 2010-2019, 467 species have been declared extinct due to the effects of climate change, habitat loss, and overharvesting. Annihilation hints at that same destruction, as the biologist makes oblique references to the ways in which humans have changed the environment beyond Area X’s border, in contrast to the pristine nature preserved inside the border. Depicting the organisms inside Area X as complex and even incomprehensible organisms communicates the kind of power and complexity that VanderMeer referenced, while also suggesting the biodiversity that humans are at risk of losing. Interestingly, in contrast to much eco-fiction, nature is quite powerful, complex, and destructive towards the humans in the book. This flips the dynamics between humans and nature; in the book, it is humans, rather than non-humans, who take on the perspective of having their lives ripped apart by forces that they cannot control or understand, just as plant and animal life in the real world are losing their lives and habitats to organisms that they cannot control or understand.

Other Books Related to Annihilation

Annihilation is the first book in the Southern Reach Trilogy; the other two books are Authority and Acceptance. VanderMeer has stated that Annihilation drew inspiration from Michael Bernanos’ novella The Other Side of the Mountain and Leena Krohn’s “Tainaron,” both of which contain unique views on humanity’s place in the natural world. VanderMeer’s work has also been compared to the works of H. P. Lovecraft, who was emblematic of “weird fiction,” a subgenre of speculative fiction originating in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. VanderMeer’s works are often categorized as part of the “New Weird” movement. Other works in that category include Perdido Street Station and The City & the City by China Miéville, The Etched City by K. J. Bishop, and Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. VanderMeer and his wife, Ann VanderMeer, have also compiled a short story and novella anthology entitled The Weird, which explores similarly uncanny environments and themes in literature and includes staple authors of science fiction and fantasy such as Ray Bradbury’s “The Crowd,” Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild,” and Neil Gaiman’s Feeders and Eaters.
Key Facts about Annihilation
  • Full Title: Annihilation
  • When Written: 2009-2014
  • Where Written: Tallahassee, Florida
  • When Published: February 4, 2014
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Science Fiction/Horror
  • Setting: Area X
  • Climax: The biologist decides to remain in Area X
  • Antagonist: Area X, the Crawler
  • Point of View: First person from the biologist’s point of view

Extra Credit for Annihilation

Lighting the Way. VanderMeer has stated that his inspiration for Area X comes from the St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge and the inspiration for the lighthouse is St. Mark’s Light in Tallahassee, Florida, where VanderMeer lives.

Adaptation. Annihilation was made into a film in 2018 starring Natalie Portman (but the film contains significant plot changes from the book).