‘Annihilation’: Why You Need to Read the ‘Southern Reach’ Trilogy

'Annihilation' is a good film, but it just scratches the surface of what this world has to offer.

Paramount Pictures

The release this weekend of Alex Garland’s Annihilation, a very, very loose adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s gorgeous and terrifying fiction novel, has already divided opinion, but one thing is certain, you should start reading the Southern Reach Trilogy.

Annihilation is just the beginning of a story that spans multiple timelines, perspectives, and even realities. Even if your interest in the film or the book is cursory, let yourself get lost in VanderMeer’s beautiful, horrifying world.

The first book takes place nearly entirely within the confines of Area X, an unexplained environmental phenomenon in which a portion of the Florida coast suddenly becomes affected by a mysterious force. Whether it’s alien, natural, or trans-dimensional is unclear. All that’s know for sure is that previous expeditions have caused suicide, murder, and even unexplained cancer within those who embarked.

The second novel, Authority, is a significant departure, and one that would have been arguably harder to adapt into a film (though I maintain it would make a tremendous horror miniseries). The perspective switches from the first-person account of the biologist from the first book, and becomes a third-person thriller following Control, the acting director of the Southern Reach facility. The tone veers, too, from a straight horror to a slow-burn conspiracy. Nevertheless, the oppressive tendrils of Area X are seeping into the facility and the minds of those studying it.

The third and final book, Acceptance, takes us through the time before Area X, a retelling of the first book from a different perspective, and a continuation of the story as a whole. What ties these very, very different books together, more than anything, is VanderMeer’s writing. Again and again, we are invited to explore the unexplorable, to picture the indescribable. There is nothing more unnerving, more effective than the unknown. And when the unknown is staring you in the face, still refusing to betray an agenda or an intention, it’s all the more frightening.

Annihilation is a good film, but it should serve as a jumping off point into one of the most immersive, fully realized worlds modern fiction has to offer.

You can buy the entire Southern Reach Trilogy on Amazon right now:

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