Ever read a book and think, wow…this is super a lot like something else I’ve read, but also super different and they might be cousins or maybe it’s more like the Fibonacci sequence in a sunflower and a seashell meeting in a constellation.
Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
This was my second time reading the book. All I had remembered from the first reading was that it was a big book and the creepy-alive writing. Not the author’s writing, but the Crawler’s.
Imagine my shock when I revisited the book and found it a slim volume! I had remembered it as thick because this story mimics the structures the author describes within it. It has depth and density that go deeper and deeper as you read. It also made me think of the old Myst game where you’re stuck on this weird, kinda creepy island solving mysteries, but always feeling like that shadow around the bend will be the full answer to the riddle.
The main character is a bit unlikable. The first time I read it, in my review on Goodreads, I complained that by the end of the story I greatly disliked her. I didn’t mind her so much this time around, and I wonder if that’s because I appreciated her regret. I wanted her to be less accepting of her own faults, not to shame herself or anything like that – not to break apart with regret- but to try a little harder to be proactive in her emotional agency.
Here is this woman who defeats herself at every turn. Even in the tunnels, she can’t help but do the wrong thing even knowing it’s a bad idea. She is unable to open herself to others, but this voyage forces her open. She does the best at resolving her shadow work as she can under the circumstances, and I haven’t read the sequel but I suspect this shadow work will be her arc – assuming the books continue with her narrative.
The language is focused through the lens of a biologist, so there are lovely sentences to ground you in the beauty of the landscape, but this heightens the tension because all is not as it seems.
Rosewater by Tade Thompson
I’ve only read this one once, so far. The new Julie-Rule is that my first impressions are usually shallow and possibly not to be trusted. Two reads are required for full comprehension. With that disclaimer, I loved this book.
The premise of this story is similar, but the unfolding is more grounded. The idea of an “alien” thorn buried deep in the earth affecting the area around it. A main character who’s distant and recalcitrant and a loner, but who must open up to others to survive the conflict of the story – even if that other is only a memory. The danger of being assimilated or absorbed by something foreign and calculating runs through both books.
Like Annihilation, the mysteries within Rosewater only get weirder and deeper as you read more. While I had trouble connecting emotionally to Rosewater’s main character, Kaaro, I think Thompson does an excellent job of layering larger philosophical concepts within the fiction. This felt less like sci-fi or fabulism, and more like magical realism. The subtle messages here felt broader and less inter-personal, and thereby seemed to carry more weight – as if an entire nation were at risk, or the entirety of humanity, rather than one person.
The language of this book is through the lens of a stubborn, no-nonsense man who is suspicious and trying to assert control in impossible situations. The sentences are clipped and immediate.
Both books resolve without a full ending, but both also have sequels. Because of the drastically different settings, one of these books is much smaller in pages than the other. The voices in both books are also night and day. Annihilation is describing a lot of natural beauty while grappling with inner horror and revelation while Rosewater builds an entire world through the eyes of a man who is discovering the dangers and horrors caused by the choices others have made around and through him. Both grapple with invaders and boundaries and identity. And, both are excellent and enjoyable reads I highly recommend.