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.2 comments
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