It was just this year that I discovered the genius that is author Jeff VanderMeer. Some of you I’m sure are surprised that someone might just be discovering his writing, but I fully admit to doing so. I began by reading his latest novel which was receiving high praise, and was quickly blown away. I read the novel while on holiday at my cottage, relaxing on the beach, and was completely engrossed. My imagination ran wild and when I heard that the first book of his Southern Reach trilogy was to be made into a movie, I quickly picked up that book, and was equally impressed and enthralled. It was no wonder the novel won the Nebula and Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel.
For those who may not be familiar with him, Jeff VanderMeer is a science fiction author. Or, I should clarify; many of his books are science fiction (some can be considered fantasy as well). Now I know what some of you might say, “I’m not into science fiction, it is too spacey for me.” I understand the notion, from television and movies, well-known science fiction focuses on outer space, space exploration and other planets, but many of VanderMeer’s novels take place on earth or a planet like earth (he doesn’t call it earth) with new or different technologies. The literary quality to his writings allow for a larger audience who may not be quick to pick up a book placed under the genre science fiction (these categories and genres can be troublesome as often books blend genres, especially VanderMeer’s works). Many compare his books to H.P. Lovecraft for the weird and horror elements. Because of this, be prepared for descriptive language in his novels, a trait which is common in fantasy novels to help with world-building, or in this case weirdness building. These types of novels may not be for everyone, if you do end up picking up one of his novels and not enjoying the first 50 pages (give it a chance!) please feel free to put it down and try something else, they are certainly not for everyone. But this is also why I enjoyed his books so much, because they are so out of the ordinary.
I will start with the first book I read, Borne. The title alone intrigued me, the synopsis compelled me to read it, and the cover art messed with my mind (once you read the novel, you will understand the cover). The book takes place in the future, in a city that was devastated by the experiments of a corporation known as the Company. One such experiment is… a giant flying grizzly bear named Mord (I kid you not!). Mord has destroyed the city and controls those living there using his minions, other smaller bears (smaller than him), to do his bidding. The main protagonist is Rachel, a scavenger who collects the discarded experiments from the Company for her companion Wick. It is on one of these scavenger missions where she finds Borne, an anemone-like creature clinging to the fur of Mord, and takes it home with her. Wick wants to initially run tests on Borne as he believes it is most likely an experiment from the Company and therefore doesn’t trust it, but Rachel refuses, and keeps Borne with her and watches as he begins to grow and learn and… let’s just say events happen from there. The world is so vividly described in Borne and it is unlike any story I have read before, you are sure to be hooked from beginning to end.
The Southern Reach Trilogy
Book 1: Annihilation
A biologist, a psychologist, a surveyor and an anthropologist head into an area known only as Area X to explore and to discover what happened to the previous 11 expeditions. Told entirely from the point-of-view of the biologist as she is documenting her experience in her journal, we learn about the place known as Area X, and slowly more of what led her to participate in this expedition. This is the first book in the Southern Reach trilogy, and can be read on its own or, if you are wanting to explore the setting of the novel further, you can continue reading the next two books in the series. The book has been made into a movie starring Natalie Portman, which will be released early next year, something which surprised many as the book itself was believed to be unfilmable (once you read it you will understand why).
Book 2: Authority
This book takes place after the events of Annihilation. Without giving too much away regarding what happens in the first novel we follow the new director of the Southern Reach as he tries to piece together what happened during the 12th expedition.
Book 2: Acceptance
Wow, this is becoming more difficult explaining the plot without giving too much away. I can say that a new team is embarking on an expedition to Area X and… that is about it! Just trust me and continue reading!
Jeff VanderMeer has written other novels which we have in our collection such as Finch a noir thriller/fantasy novel and has edited and compiled short story collections from steampunk to a feminist speculative fiction anthology with his wife Ann. Find all of Jeff VanderMeer’s books here and let me know what you think of his works in the comment section below.