Coming after Annihilation, this book seems to make so much more sense, to be begin with. There are still aspects of mystery, confusion, and not just around Area X — there’s missing time, people who haven’t even been to Area X seeming contaminated by it, etc, etc. But the horror is muffled, the adventure is muffled, and instead it becomes more of a spy story, a sci-fi story. Still a mystery story, but a different kind of drive to the narrative.
Don’t kid yourself for a moment that’s actually going to work out by giving you answers. There are some answers, but they ask questions of your own. VanderMeer carefully avoids really ever explaining what is causing what is happening; I can only hope that we get some more on that in Acceptance. It’s driving me a little nuts not to have even a working theory, because I don’t even trust the evidence.
Still, if you’ve read Annihilation, you know what you’re signing up for fairly well. It’s still really weird. It’s still intriguing. It will still make you yelp “what the hell!?” at your ereader screen/the page of the book. Or the audio, if there’s an audio version. (I’m trying to imagine the right narrator for it. The right casting could really add to the creepiness.)
With most books, I’d adjust the rating down from what I gave the previous book, but since I think the three are working together to build the atmosphere, the mystery, and it’s unlikely anything will be irrelevant, I’ll leave it at a sort of overall rating of 4/5, with just a note that I didn’t like it as much as the first book.