ANNIHILATION by Jeff Vandermeer. Plot: 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; the second expedition ended in mass suicide; the third expedition 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 weeks, all had died of cancer. In Annihilation, the first volume of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, we join the twelfth expedition. The 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, record all observations of their surroundings and of one another, and, above all, avoid being contaminated by Area X itself. They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers. Narrated by Carolyn McCormick on audio, the stand-alone novel is not your typical scifi listen, but has been picked up for a movie adaptation starring Natalie Portman and directed by Alex Garland, who did Ex Machina. It is a subjective account told through the protagonist’s viewpoint. Sensations are key, and the almost stream of consciousness revelations seem like diary entries. There are no Predator creatures hunting them down, using invisibility shields. It’s more cryptic, moody, the influence on the scientists more like the supernatural. And like “The X Files,” not everything can be explained. Which is the whole point. You can see why Garland was attracted to the material. The mystery lingers, and the purpose of such books and films is not to do a neat little Hollywood feel-good wrap-up, complete with one-liners, but to present the dilemma. To incite debate while stimulating the imagination.
For a change or pace, the video below is classical violinist Sarah Chang talking about ethics. Sarah is one of the best musicians in the world, a prodigy who grew into one of the most demanded performers. What is special about her, outside of music, is her honesty and dedication to kids and learning. No diva with a massive ego, she is the real deal. She once showed up in a tiny club in Buenos Aires, just out of love of Latin fusion tango music, although she has played with every major orchestra, including (as a child) with John Williams at the Hollywood Bowl. Our interview with her is HERE.