Authority by Jeff Vandermeer

Book Two of the Southern Reach Trilogy

Farrar, Straus and Giroux Originals
340 pages

Authority begins with John Rodriguez, or Control as he names himself, taking over a directorship at the Southern Reach–the shadowy quasi-military organization nominally “in charge” of Area X. While it is perhaps a little too easy to see where this will go–especially with the protagonist’s name literally spelling out the theme of the book–watching everything unravel, including our own understanding of what’s happening, is really enjoyable.

There are two sort of travelers: those who like to bring their world with them wherever they go, and those who like to discard everything as they go. This novel is certainly more for the second sort of adventurer. As Control takes over at Southern Reach, we learn of his own unknown handler, the machinations of his arch-spy mother, and are introduced to the somehow saudade scientists inhabiting the facility. We are also reintroduced to the biologist from the first novel which simultaneously acts an anchor to the last book and calls into question what we think we have learned about the nebulous area’s history.

Despite the looping, fracturing content of the novel, the structure is fairly straight-forward. Like the first novel, Annihilation, the narrative swirls around one central character who finds himself surrounded by dubious colleagues and a menacing and strange environment. And again, both books give us protagonists who spend a great deal of time in memory (and thus exposition) and are more curious than sensible. Both the biologist and Control are shaped by failed relationships, both are almost clinical in their reactions, and both choose to seek knowledge more than safety.

Authority requires Annihilation to be read first, and is a fast read. That said, readers of strange fiction will certainly enjoy it, as will readers of more “literary” story-tellers like Don Delillo, Angela Carter, and Thomas Pynchon. Those patrons who are looking for more swash-buckling fantasy may not care for it as much and nor will those readers who like to have more footing in their reading.

Age range: 16+ through adult.

Genre: Adventure, Alien Contact, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Weird fiction
Series: Southern Reach Trilogy |

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