Book 2, The Southern Reach Trilogy - A Novel
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After thirty years, the only human engagement with Area X—a seemingly malevolent landscape surrounded by an invisible border and mysteriously wiped clean of all signs of civilization—has been a series of expeditions overseen by a government agency so secret it has almost been forgotten: the Southern Reach. Following the tumultuous twelfth expedition chronicled in Annihilation, the agency is in complete disarray.
John Rodrigues (aka "Control") is the Southern Reach's newly appointed head. Working with a distrustful but desperate team, a series of frustrating interrogations, a cache of hidden notes, and hours of profoundly troubling video footage, Control begins to penetrate the secrets of Area X. But with each discovery he must confront disturbing truths about himself and the agency he's pledged to serve.
In Authority, the second volume of Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy, Area X's most disturbing questions are answered . . . but the answers are far from reassuring.
From Publishers Weekly
© Publishers Weekly
A perfect bridge
Authority by Jeff VanderMeer is the second novel in his Southern Reach Trilogy, the link between beginning and end. Authority takes place not long after the events in Annihilation. The obscure top-secret government agency tasked with monitoring Area X, The Southern Reach, is in a state of chaos. Their body count is high, their funding is spent, their insight into Area X amounts to a little less than nothing. Almost every agent they've sent into Area X has never returned. Almost. Some have returned only to die of a rapidly killing form of cancer, others suffered severe memory loss. The Southern Reach is a ship that needs righted before it sinks. Enter John Rodriguez a.k.a. "Control," a man who's been in the covert-ops game his entire adult life. Control is a "fixer," he's used to being dropped into situations that need corrected, sorting out the Southern Reach isn't his first rodeo, though, it definitely could be his last. People involved with Area X have trouble maintaining a heart-beat.
Authority is a very different novel compared to Annihilation, don't pick it up expecting Annihilation II. While Annihilation showed readers Area X from within, the way it maims, kills, Authority shows readers Area X from the outside, how it destroys the lives of those simply trying to understand what happened, trying to understand how the place even exists. We see this destruction through the eyes of Control, newly assigned as the acting-Director of The Southern Reach. Control is our narrator, he's quick-witted, hard-working, with an amusingly dark sense of humor. It also becomes apparent soon enough that Control is in way over his head. The further he digs into The Southern Reach, Area X, the more he realizes that he is completely lost. He knows only two facts; Area X is lethal, and those who work at The Southern Reach, those with the highest level of clearance with the deepest connection to Area X, they don't get to keep their sanity. With each question answered, Control is punched in the face with ten more. He doesn't have to wonder why his colleagues are ready to bust out butterfly nets. It's not terribly long before Control's ready to grab a net and join in the chase. The story needs its moments of gallows levity, otherwise readers might end up not far off from Control's state-of-mind. The novel is that immersive. As Control loses control of the situation, so does the reader. We feel what he feels, confusion that becomes fear that becomes abject terror. Authority is a psychological horror story, it's about trying to comprehend an evil that's incomprehensible. Area X is an evil that shows no mercy, it only demonstrates death, cold and unwavering.
VanderMeer creates an intense feeling of dread that grows with each turn of the page. We know that something bad is coming, but we don't know what, or when. The novel gives readers fear of something malevolent that destroys one's mind long before one's body. The loss of self is something terrifying, it's a fear that VanderMeer taps into with subtle grace. Authority really showcases Jeff VanderMeer's talent for scaring the Hell out of people, lights on or off. Authority is slower-paced than Annihilation, it's richer in psychological horror, character development, at the sacrifice of action. This isn't a minus, it merely shows VanderMeer's range of craft.
To me, The Southern Reach Trilogy is a literary chess match. With Annihilation, VanderMeer put his pieces on the board with efficiency and speed. With Authority, he methodically arranged his strategy, letting us capture just enough of his pieces to clear the board so he can show us that we've been wrangled into his devastating checkmate, The Southern Reach Trilogy's end, Acceptance.
I totally can't wait to see this thing through.
This book is the second in a series and I am more lost than after the first one. It's awesome. Read it.
I have really enjoyed reading these books, despite being a little annoyed with Authority. Of the three, I found the second somewhat tedious, with me always wanting to skip 3 or 4 sentences ahead in a paragraph, going back to reread them, then realizing I didn’t miss anything with the skipping. The story seemed erratic, always teetering on giving explanation, but stopping just short of it. Mostly with a lot of very wordy dialogue from Control. This book doesn’t seem to be as esoteric as the other two. It served as background, mostly about Control, a little about Central and the Southern Reach, but mostly it just served a bridge between the first and the third books. There was a lot of alluding to what was seen and experienced in Area X. But, just that, allusion; stopping short of description. I have very much enjoyed how this author teases out experiences with, and possible origins of, Area X, and then actually follows up with some kind of explanation from the characters own experiences instead of leaving the reader hanging. Authority was mostly just the tease, obervations from an outsider with no clue, just like the readers. I found the really good writing and supurb story telling in the first and third novels. In all, I will not say it was a terrible read, but not the best volume in the series.