Authority (2014) – Jeff VanderMeer

The second book in the Southern Reach Trilogy finds its way to the Book Shelf this week as I dive further into the strange realm of Area X first introduced in the book Annihilation, which also serves as the title of the upcoming film adaptation.

This sequel, released within months of the first book takes us deeper into the mystery that is the Southern Reach. One is given the impression that it is a secret government facility placed close to the (ever-expanding?) border of Area X, and is attempting to study the things that go on there.

But like the first book, it raises more questions than it provides answers, and messes with your head every step of the way.

Still feeling vaguely Lovecraftian in its sense of oppression, and indescribable goings-on, there is a sense of menace running throughout the text as we are introduced to the new director of the Southern reach, referred to simply as Control.

Even as we are given glances into Control’s life before he came to the Southern Reach, we are given more pieces of the Area X puzzle, and have intentional difficulty putting them together.

The biologist last seen paddling north at the end of Annihilation has apparently been returned to the Southern Reach, but it doesn’t take too long for Control to come to the conclusion, that whoever is sitting across from him in the interrogation room, she is not the biologist.

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Who or what is she? Are we meant to know? Would we be able to understand even if we did know?

We do learn a few secrets, who the psychologist was, the revelation that there have been so many more than twelve expeditions, and that even taking all of them into account, there are more expedition journals than expeditions – which in turn brings us back to the mystery posed not only by the tower in the first book, but by the lighthouse.

The line between what is real, and what is merely suggested is blurred constantly, even as Control makes some headway in his exploration of the Area X mystery, His co-workers at Southern Reach have been there far too long however, and there are strange things going on as doors are opened, breaches are made, and players are manipulated by forces greater than them.

This book, much like its predecessor mess with your head, takes you deep into a world of science fiction horror that could be the first step towards a first contact, or an invasion (infestation?) that is already too late to stop, or perhaps even something more.

These aren’t books you can walk away from, they get under your skin, and they require your undivided attention as soon as you peel back the cover.

A brilliant and fascinating read, I can’t wait to see how things play out in the conclusion, Acceptance.

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