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Cambridge University Science Magazine
In Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, ‘alien’ is not so much extra-terrestrial as it is the staunch refusal to abide by human logic. The series (on which the 2018 film Annihilation is based) takes place in Area X, a vast landscape in the southern United States that has been transformed by an inexplicable environmental change. In this pristine rampant wilderness, nature is too alive. For the protagonists, aptly named ‘the biologist’ and ‘Control’, danger comes not as predictable blood-thirsty monsters, but as disconcerting phenomena of nature. These range from waves full of eyes to word-forming bioluminescent fungi and they haunt the protagonists throughout their separate approaches to explain Area X’s existence.

On a deeper level, VanderMeer describes a fundamental clash between two forces: the all too human desire to comprehend the world from a human perspective and an alien entity that simply refuses to abide by mankind’s rules. Using dialogue that obfuscates and denying readers even the simple comforts of familiar character names, VanderMeer asks the question: are we ‘the biologist’, willing to accept the frustrating reality of a world beyond our comprehension; or are we ‘Control’, clinging on to our fragile sense of humanity until the end? 

William Guo is a first year natural sciences student at St Edmund’s College