#FridayReads: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

cover for Annihilation, showing an alien-looking flowerWhen Annihilation came out in 2014, the cover caught my eye. It’s pretty and creepy! The trailer for the movie (starring Natalie Portman) ran before The Last Jedi, so I thought what the hell and put the audiobook on hold at the library.

The book is short (only six hours long), but I’m not sure that’s an asset in this case. I didn’t hate Annihilation, but I certainly didn’t love it, either.

The concept is interesting enough. A small team of female scientists is heading into Area X to do research on a supposed “environmental disaster.” Of course weird shit happens almost immediately and the expedition falls apart within days of arriving in Area X. Personally, I’d have preferred a little more buildup and actual discovery before things fall apart.

For most of the novel, I did want to know what was going to happen next, but I never felt satisfied with the answers–when answers were provided at all. Normally I love ambiguity in literature, but this time I was frustrated. The ambiguity didn’t feel like mystery to me. It felt more like the author was purposefully hiding things to get me to keep reading. That gets on my nerves, but I guess it worked, because I kept reading.

The point of view character (who is unnamed and referred to only as “The Biologist”) is a scientist, and yet does almost no science during the expedition. She relies on what she sees and feels to draw her conclusions, which is very un-scientist-like.

(But, you could argue that the weird, apparently sentient fungi in Area X make science hard, if not impossible, and you might be right, so that’s not a total deal breaker.)

The writing itself is functional and leans to the sparse side, but VanderMeer has a tendency to overuse certain words. I think “brackish” appeared 20 times in the first hour (that’s an exaggeration, but it was a lot!).

This is part one in a trilogy, so it’s possible some of my frustrations will be addressed in future volumes. And ultimately, the concept is probably strong enough to carry most people through the trilogy. Despite my lukewarm reaction to the book as a whole, I’ve already put the second volume on hold, because I really do want to know what happens.

Dream writing

Blurry black and white image of bare trees.

Image by Michele Moreau. Used under a Creative Commons license. Click to see more of the artist’s work.

Often at night my mind races. Half awake, half asleep, I write entire essays and stories in my head, revise them, erase them. I never get up to put these pieces down, and by the morning I’ve usually forgotten what they were about, or that I wrote them at all.

This isn’t a loss. I don’t think I believe such a generative process could ever be considered a true loss, even if I forget those exact words in that exact format. I view these night-time screeds as akin to dreams. They are my conscious and subconscious minds coming together to work out kinks in my writing process, blocks I didn’t realize were there, angers and hurts hiding beneath the surface. And who knows? Maybe they are dreams. Maybe I’m asleep after all.

I used to think every word was precious. I thought that if I didn’t chase every story idea I was failing. I clung to everything I wrote, and inevitably arrived at a place where I rewrote and rewrote and never moved forward. Writing an entire novel and never touching it again was unthinkable to me. The idea that a story could just be practice offended me deeply. Now I know better. I’ve got three novels that I never plan to touch again sitting in an actual drawer, and who knows how many short stories sitting in various states of completion on my hard drive.

Those novels and stories aren’t failures. They’re lessons. I wrote them, and learned from the process. I got so far as revising two of the novels, and learned from that process also. That’s enough. That’s more than enough. The process is its own reward.

It’s the same with the writing I do only in my head, when everyone else in the house is sleeping and I’ve finally put down the book I’m reading. It’s not meant to be inspiration or brilliance or a finished masterpiece. It’s a process. My mind composts thoughts and ideas, turns them into fertile soil. And in the morning, when I come to the page, I almost always find words growing rich.

Miss Migraine: A list of things that happen to me when I don’t sleep

Banner that says "The Adventures of Miss Migraine"

The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. A version of this post appeared first on August 13, 2012, on my blog of the same name.

My body is not adjusting well to venlafaxine (brand name Effexor), an anti-depressant also prescribed for migraine patients. I just. Can’t. Sleep. I started taking melatonin every night to help me sleep, and it does, but only enough so that I don’t go crazy.

A List of Things That Happen To Me When I Don’t Sleep:

  • Coffee. Normally, I only drink tea, and only in the morning. Coffee inevitably makes me feel icky and more headachey, but at least it wakes me up a little.
  • Drifting. Somehow I get from one place to another, but I never remember how I did it. Sometimes I think I turn into a ghost or momentarily disappear, or possibly become Shadow Cat from X-Men and start phasing through solid objects. That, or my sleep-deprived self has the ability to manipulate the time-space continuum.
  • Fangs. My filter disappears and everything gets on my nerves. I feel like I’m jumping out of my skin, like I’m the chalkboard and the world around me is made of nails. I snap at everyone and lose patience at everything.
  • Migraines. Ironic that the medication that’s supposed to be decreasing the frequency and severity of my headaches is currently increasing them because it’s preventing me from sleeping.
  • Dark circles. These happen to everyone, so at least I can feel normal about one thing.
  • Rambling when I don’t sleep I sometimes forget to use punctuation or that sentences and paragraphs exist and my brain moves slowly and I’m afraid to stop it because I’m not sure I will be able to start it again…
  • Delusions. While I’m drinking the coffee, I feel like I can do EVERYTHING. And then I start. The coffee runs out, and I forget what I was doing, or get distracted, or just give up. Which is why I’m going to end this blog post here, before I run out of coffee and forget what I’m supposed to be doing.

(I’m no longer taking venlafaxine, but now I’m on a different drug that’s basically doing the same thing. But it at least helps with the migraines, so…??)