In City of Saints and Madmen and its sequels, science fiction and fantasy writer Jeff VanderMeer created one memorable world, Ambergris. He's now well on his way to creating another in Annihilation, the mesmerizing first novel in what he calls the Southern Reach trilogy.

In this dream-like world, our narrator, a biologist (no names here), and three other women--a psychologist, a surveyor and an anthropologist--have been ordered by a clandestine government agency to investigate and bring back information from an abandoned, mysterious coastline called Area X, where something happened 30 years ago. All the previous expeditions have failed; this is the 12th. "Looking out over that untroubled landscape," the biologist says, "I do not believe any of us could yet see the threat."

In flashbacks, we learn about our narrator: she's married (her husband went on the 11th expedition), obsessive, anxious to classify everything. The group comes upon a circular concrete tower with a small rectangular opening that reveals a staircase going down. Inside, they discover words on the wall, raised letters that somehow contain a growing fungus. Breathing in its spores affects you. Could the border be growing, moving ever closer to the Southern Reach? Our narrator believes the psychologist has hypnotized them. Members start dying off. The tower now has a "heartbeat."

This enigmatic and eerie novel repeatedly answers our questions with more questions as it spirals into a vast unknown, leaving us begging for more answers which the next novel in the trilogy, Authority, may or may not provide. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

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