Beer & Book Club | Annihilation & Double Helix Wild Blonde
Welcome to the next installment of Beer and Book Club! Today, my good friend Ben and I discuss Jeff VanderMeer’s genre-bending, science fiction-ish novel Annihilation (buy it here). Along with it, we’ll drink Double Helix, a Belgian-style blonde ale produced by Twin Leaf Brewing out of Asheville, NC.
**WARNING, LIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD**
Annihilation is the journal of an unnamed biologist who is one of four women on an expedition into the inexplicably bizarre Area X. Everyone who has entered has died or gone mad (or both). You learn early on they are just the latest of many such expeditions to Area X.
As far as they know, their mission is to investigate a lighthouse, the supposed epicenter of curiosity in Area X. But on the way, they’re diverted by extra-ordinary encounters. Before long, the team starts to behave erratically while Area X grows increasingly spooky. There’s a moaning just outside camp at night. The animals display eerily human traits. We also learn the psychologist manipulates the team with hypnosis.
Barely a few days in and the expedition members begin to doubt each other, disappearing, turning up in unlikely places. They make shocking and fantastic discoveries that keep you turning pages until you find yourself at the end wondering how you read the whole thing in one sitting.
“A lot of it was too deep for me,” Ben said to open our discussion. “Like it was trying to say something, but I didn’t quite get it.” I thought that was fair, but I’m not sure there was anything specific to get. I felt like the author intended to conjure a vague sense of foreboding, like you’re being watched constantly
He pointed out much of the story goes unexplained, like what in the world is going on!? But this seems fitting. No one in the story understands what’s going on, so the reader is in the dark too. That said, what little we do know is fascinating. Life in Area X is changing
We thought the hypnosis was a bit of a stretch, especially with trained, educated individuals like those on the expedition, but it’s believable enough. Ben also noted the narrator’s emphasis on seemingly mundane details while apparently neglecting the broader aspects of the story. Having degrees in biology ourselves, we chalked that up to the biologist being a biologist.
Overall, he said, “Knowing there was a highly anticipated sci-fi movie based on it colored my expectations. I was ready for a mass-appeal, mainstream sci-fi story, but Annihilation was more literary, a thinking-man’s book. It wasn’t what I expected, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it.”
Ben sold me on the book saying it was supposed to be a combination of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and Franz Kafka. That’s a distinct combination of adventure, oddity and psychology; one that hits close to the mark. To be perfectly honest, I was sucked in right away. Actually finished the book in two or three sittings tops, and I eagerly anticipate the sequels.
We didn’t cover the movie as Ben hadn’t seen it yet, so I’ll leave a brief comment. It was every bit as fascinating but a little more grotesque than the book. In terms of plot, the movie is a significant departure. That doesn’t mean it was bad. It’s just not the same. So, you can read the book and see the movie in either order and not feel like you’re losing out on anything.
If you’re a sci-fi fan, I expect you’ll enjoy both.
The beer came as a bit of a surprise. It’s a challenge to find a local beer of a style I enjoy with a name that goes with the book. But we found one, Twin Leaf’s Double Helix Wild Belgian Blonde.
Even the drinking experience echoed the book. Meaning it was not what we expected. It looks like an unfiltered cider in the glass while smelling like an earthy, funky brett ale. It drinks very much the same, dank and barnyardy. Like the book, it could be off-putting, but if you’re looking for something wild in your beer, you’ll find it in Double Helix.
And if you’re looking for something wild in your books, you’ll find it in Annihilation.