Hysteria for the Area: A review, meaning a pan, of Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Christopher Willard
7 min readJun 8, 2021


Day, I mean page, 1. I keep this journal as a record of my reading Annihilation so that those who consider plunging into this novel, meaning word-smear, will be forewarned and perhaps learn from my error. I bear no responsibility for those who trudge into this swampy, pulpy, rut of writing, meaning something of a world filled with hacks and carcasses.

Day, I mean page, 9. What did they ever do with the brain of Stephen Keeler?

Day, I mean page, 9. “That night we talked about the tower, although the other three insisted on calling it a tunnel.” Pay attention, reader, this is very important, because it allows us to understand passages like, “Before we explore farther. It’s like an enemy at our backs otherwise, if we press forward.”

Day, I mean page, 10. We might call the tower a pit or a mine shaft.

Day, I mean page, 13. Bad omen. The quote is, “I want you to know that I cannot stop thinking of it as a tower,” I confessed. “I can’t see it as a tunnel.” My mistake. The quote I meant to type is my own — a shocking realization only four pages in: “I want you to know that I cannot stop thinking of this as overripe and underwritten,” I confessed. “I can’t see it as a well done novel.”

Day, I mean page, 15. “A tower,” [meaning tunnel meaning circular staircase down into a cave] “which made this level not so much a floor” [by which maybe a ceiling is meant] “as a landing or part of the turret” [by which maybe a hole is meant.” “Their very blankness mesmerized me.” Oh, you don’t need to convince me, I’m equally mesmerized by the blankness. Maybe this is tween-lit, they don’t require much.

Day, I mean page, 21. There are a lot of descriptions like this one, “There was also something else….I could not tell what it was, and after a while…I lost track of it entirely.” You know — you know — the thing,” to quote Joe Biden from March 2, 2020. Terrifying.

Day, I mean page, 33. Questions are fast and furious. “Did they come from longer accounts of some sort, possibly from members of prior expeditions? If so, for what purpose? And over how many years? Listen, I’m the reader, not the writer so stop asking me. I. don’t. know.

Day, I mean page. 33. Here’s a line to chuckle over, meaning to rewrite. “All of these tiny remnants I was stuffing into glass tubes with tweezers…what would they tell me? Not much, I felt.” There have been many times I’ve asked tiny remnants, or glass tubes, or even my pair of tweezers to tell me meaning of life, and they don’t tell me anything. So the narrator is lucky to at least get something, if “not much” out of them, whichever group was asked.

Day, I mean page, 48. I suspect that any story from the old magazine Weird Tales would beat the pants off this novel, meaning word-smear.

Weird Tales magazine

Day, I mean page, 50. I’m already damn tired of this tower meaning tunnel meaning a circular staircase down into a cave, like the catacombs of Paris, like a ripoff of Mark Danielewski’s unending spiral stairway. The unnamed people keep going into the tower meaning tunnel meaning spiral staircase down to a cave as though it’s all there is in this pine forest. If there weren’t a secret to find out, this read might be pretty boring. Let me correct myself. This read is pretty boring. By pretty I mean largely. Button, button, who’s got the button does get tedious.

Day, I mean page, 52. Perissological.

Day, I mean page, 57. I thought for a second I felt the possible presence of an editor but that soon passed. How could there be an editor? An editor wouldn’t let a lot of this stuff pass a rewrite. Perhaps I’m haunted by the Great Pumpkin from a shitty old cartoon.

Day, I mean page, 61. “Despite my attempt to sustain the aria in my head, I experienced a jarring return to reality as I worked through these possibilities.” So to be clear, the narrator tries to sustain a line of thought, by which she means an aria for which the definition is a solo vocal piece with instrumental accompaniment, and cannot, and thus is forced away from the thought except the narrator still sustains the supposedly unsustained thought by working through possibilities.

Day, I mean page, 62. There is a pressure, coming from somewhere, for critics to simply tow the line and say that something, a book? is good if it sells. But with agents who only want works they think will sell, with publishers that only want books they think will sell, and what must be masses of either toady editors or long lines of editors at the unemployment offices, …you see the contradiction.

Day, I mean page, 65. There is glowing writing on the wall, meaning my laptop on which I’ve brought up an amazon.com review of Annihilation by Barry Sultana who gave the book a one star writing, “by page 20 couldn’t take it anymore: something just felt horribly wrong.” Yes, I feel it too. What could this premonition we feel be? Is it bad writing or bad writing by which I mean bad writing? Could it be a plot like a slimy overripe onion? You peel the layers and it remains a slimy overripe onion, although smaller.

Day, I mean page, 73. Yeah, I think I’ll rewrite the video game Myst without the atmosphere, cool gadgets, puzzles, and machines one can get up and running. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

Day, I mean page, 75. Reading Annihilation is like witnessing an author strive to be M.R. James but failing to create suspense or a tight story. The narrator has climbed to the top floor a lighthouse, I mean tunnel, but in finding a trapdoor under the rug, he descends into a tower, I mean cellar. Here our narrator reads in someone else’s journal from a pile of slimy, bug infested journals, “I was almost relieved to be rid of that unnerving repetition.” I’m with you on that train buddy.

Day, I mean page, 85. Here’s the novel’s, I mean word-smear’s, theme in a wink: “Yesterday, upon the stair, / I met a man who wasn’t there / He wasn’t there again today / I wish, I wish he’d go away… “ (from the poem Antigonish by Hughes Mearns).

Day, I mean page, 87. “It was going to continue this way, to the end, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it.” Same train, different day.

Day, I mean page, 96. The accountant, meaning biologist, has become a glow stick while sleeping up in a tree. She is shot (not lethally) but she shoots the shooter (lethally).

Day, I mean page, 99. Silly rabbit, TriX are for kids. Silly reader, AreaX are for kids.

Day, I mean page, 104. The Tower calls incessantly. Back to the future, I mean Tower, now capitalized in the novel, meaning word-smear. Hey kids, did you love Fortunately (1969) by Remy Charlip? If so, you’ll looooooovvvveee this plot.

Day, I mean page, 106. It’s all human-hybrid, as if we didn’t see that coming.

Day, I mean page, 112. It’s back to the tunnel, I mean tower, wait I mean Tower capitalized, I mean spiral staircase down into the cave. Let’s see, we’ve been to the abandoned village, check. We’ve been to the lighthouse, check. Yep only one place left, back to the tunnel, I mean tower, wait, I mean Tower, I mean spiral staircase down into the cave.

Day, I mean page, 113. Scare alert: “I did not linger but continued farther down.”

Day, I mean page, 123. Apparently the old lighthouse keeper has become a blob that the narrator has nicknamed the Crawler. Yeah, I remember The Blob (1958) written by Kay Linaker and Theodore Simonson. A spacecraft crashes, an ever-growing and ever-hungry blob emerges. Who can forget Steve McQueen who played teenager Steve Andrews?

From The Blob (1958)

Day I mean page, 127. “There is nothing much left to tell you, though I haven’t quite told it right.” It’s always nice when an author provides their own review. Let’s see, first there’s plot, that is often helpful in telling it right. There’s more, but I fear I’m beginning to get too complex.

Day, I mean page, 128. Will the unnamed narrator/biologist “melt into the landscape or look up from a strand of reeds[?]” i.e. become one of the human-eyed dolphins, because all people become flora or fauna and nobody returns except those who return.

Day, I mean page, 128. The end. There was a lot of stringing out of barely enough plot for a short story. Trifles, mere trifles. Hey kids, can a cash cow can be sustained? What further adventures will occur in the tunnel, meaning Tower, meaning spiral staircase down to a cave? Is there more to see at the old village and the lighthouse. Will our narrator continue to glow? Is it possible to sustain this unappealing level of writing over many more pages? I believe I may be speaking for agents and publishers everywhere when I say, drop your dollars on the next book and find out!

Day, I mean page, epilogue. If this novel, meaning word-smear, sucks the life out of you as it did for the characters in it, and you want a recommendation for a really excellent novel (and movie) about human contact with a large, unfathomable, sentient non-human entity that seems to take control people’s minds? Then head to Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris, and Andrei Tarkovsky’s brilliant movie Solaris (1972).



Christopher Willard

Novelist, poet, a post-studio visual artist, and the founder of The Invisible Art Collective International. Recent novels include “Sundre” and “Garbage Head.”