Today we look at Authority, the second book in Jeff VanderMeer’s extraordinary Southern Reach trilogy. Since I raved about Annihilation in February, it has only grown in my estimation, and Authority lives up to the high standard set by the first novel, while wisely strikes out in an utterly different direction.
As I mentioned in my first review, VanderMeer plans to wrap up the trilogy within six months, with the final book due out in September. And based on Authority, the rapid pace of publication hasn’t affected the quality of the work at all. This is a fantastic literary Science Fiction trilogy–the kind of books that you want to press into someone else’s hands immediately, so you can talk about them (in fact, I did just that this weekend, forcing them both on my brother)–and I, for one, can’t wait for the final book.
VANDERMEER, Jeff. Authority. 341p. (The Southern Reach Trilogy). Farrar. May 2014. Tr $15. ISBN 9780374104108. LC 2013041337.
This second title in the trilogy avoids all of the usual pitfalls of the “middle book syndrome” by taking on the story from a completely new angle. The central enigma of the series remains the mysterious Area X: the strange, abandoned region explored by the narrator of Annihilation (Farrar, 2014). But in Authority, readers get to view Area X from the outside, with the new director, John “Control” Rodriguez as the focal point. Control has almost as much personal baggage as did the biologist narrator from Annihilation, who has returned from Area X with much more knowledge than she is willing to divulge. The interviews between Control and the biologist—and the former’s increasing fixation on her—serve as the heart of the narrative, as these broken people try to outwit each other, even as they form a tentative connection. The rest of the novel is taken up by Control’s attempts to wrest command of the Southern Reach from the assistant director and learn the secrets of his predecessor. The politics are Orwellian—Control must give daily reports to a disembodied “Voice”—but the research into the previous director’s files yield the same level of creeping dread that was so palpable in the first novel. Though VanderMeer gives readers a few crumbs of knowledge, the mystery remains as strong and intriguing as ever, as does the author’s prose. Teens who loved the previous volume should find this sequel equally powerful and will be clamoring for the finale.—Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA