annihilation (embroidery no. 21)

embroidery from annihilation

I know we just had St. Patrick’s day, but in my house, it might as well be Halloween. Everything I watch or read lately has been super creepy, and Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (Kindle here) is near the top of the creepy list.

Annihilation is the diary of a woman, known only as the biologist, as she goes on a mission to explore Area X. Every member of the mission is required to make a record of their findings, and to keep it private so they don’t contaminate each other’s results.

Area X is a section of land that’s been blocked off by the government. Each team member on a mission brings a certain skill set: The biologist’s teammates are the psychologist, the surveyor, and the anthropologist. The linguist backed out at the last minute. No one uses their names, referring to each other only by their occupations.

I’m not totally sure which government is in charge, or what year it is, or where they are. Area X oozes weirdness almost immediately, when the biologist and her team happen upon a tower with a long, winding staircase. As they walk down the stairs, the biologist starts to see the writing on the wall–literally, and it’s made of plants.

embroidery from annihilation

This super creepy vine-and-moss scrawl inspired my embroidery. It begins “where lies the strangling fruit” and only gets weirder and more nonsensical as it spirals down into the darkness.

The biologist’s story is deeply unsettling. Between hallucinations, new forms of life, and plenty of death, she’s not sure what she’s exploring, dreaming, or seeing. And when plants learn how to write, and no one has a name, and you can’t trust what’s alive or dead, holding on to your humanity may be impossible.

Annihilation is the first of three books in the Southern Reach Trilogy. The next book comes out so soon! The publishers decided to do an expedited publication schedule–which I think is really cool–so you can pick up the second book, Authority (Kindle here), on May 6 or preorder it now. The third book, Acceptance (Kindle here), comes out on Sept. 2, and you can preorder it, too. Annihilation was a quick read at just less than 200 pages, so get to it! And watch for plants creeping in to your nightmares.

embroidery from annihilation

I am working on a project to sew some of my favorite quotes and images. You can see the other pieces of my embroidery project here:

(I picked this book out on my own and was not being paid to write about it. But if you buy through my links, I’ll receive a little bit of money for it.)

never let me go

never let me go by kazuo ishiguro

(The, um, situation that Kathy and her friends are in is slowly and smartly revealed throughout the book. The reader is a bit in the dark, just as Kathy was herself. I had no idea what this book was about before I read it, and I truly enjoyed going in blind. It’s several years old, so I expect most of you know what makes Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth different. But if you don’t know and don’t want to be spoiled, go read it and then come back and read this post because I talk about it up front right away.)

Just be yourself.

Such simple, honest advice. It’s easier said than done, but being honest with yourself and true to who you are is one cliche we all should want to follow.

But for Kathy H. in Never Let Me Go, being herself also meant being another person. Because Kathy, the narrator of Kazuo Ishiguro’s ghostly beautiful novel, was a clone made for the sole purpose of growing organs to donate to people who needed them.

Kathy was created to give body parts to humans.

Let’s try that again: Kathy, a young girl in love, was forced to have operations until she died so that other people–people who she never met, who were deciding her life–could live instead of her.

The worst horror in this book wasn’t about clones. It was about how people could treat other people as less than human. As a separate species, like a lab rat. That slow despair creeps in like poison fog* until you can’t feel anything else. And when it existed, hope–hope for a different destiny, hope to find out where you came from, hope your life means anything at all–was almost as cruel.

Our story starts when we meet a grown-up Kathy reminiscing about her time at a boarding school, Hailsham. She tells stories of her friends, Ruth and Tommy, that could be anyone’s stories while they are away at school.

But something is a little off. No one ever mentions parents or siblings. No one seems to have a last name. No one has any money, and no one ever seems to leave school grounds.

But the kids there are like any other kids. They fight and gossip and play. Ishiguro does an incredible job getting into the minds of young girls. I recognized myself and my friends–and sometimes people I didn’t like. He captured the insecurity of growing up, and what it’s like to fight with a close friend. Kathy can see Ruth’s hope, fears, and passive aggression as well or better than her own. And when they get older, they grow and learn, and try to fit in just as we do.

Except I imagine it’s much harder to feel comfortable with yourself when you have no family and no history. I kept trying to imagine what it would be like to not have anyone to help ground you, and I couldn’t. To have no idea where you came from or why. No one to care where you end up. And not even the knowledge that you were born because two people somewhere out there came together–if only one time, to make you.

So it’s no surprise, really, that the students at Hailsham became obsessed with finding their “originals.” This story is full of jargon to make it easier to swallow the horrors of this life: “donations” were operations to give organs, “completion” was dying from these procedures, “donors” were the people undergoing operations. But searching for your “original,” the person you were created from, is the scariest one of all. Can you imagine not being the original you?

Favorite character: Kathy, I think. Tommy was sweet but broke my heart so much I can’t think of him without cringing.

Subtly saddest line: “It would have made a nice spot in the summer for an ordinary family to sit and eat a picnic.”

Would I recommend it: Yes! Go read it right now and let’s talk about it.

Movie?: Yes! And I watched it right after I finished the book. It was also quite good, and I just really like Carey Mulligan.

New obsession: I guess I’m into clone stories now. I read this, immediately watched the movie, and I just started watching Orphan Black on TV, which also has to do with clones. Except they call them “genetic identicals,” which I like. Are clones the new vampires? You decide. (No, probably not.)

*I saw Catching Fire last week. It was good!

(I bought this book on my own and am not being paid to write about it. But I am a part of the Amazon affiliate’s program, so if you buy through my links I’ll make a little bit of money off of it.)