Book Review: AUTHORITY by Jeff Vandermeer


Jeff Vandermeer is back with book 2 of the Southern Reach Trilogy, Authority. In Annihilation (review here), Vandermeer introduces us to a team of nameless scientists who investigate an inhabited Gulf coast region called Area X. What follows is a psychological thriller as the scientists begin to lose their grips on reality. The key to understanding the strange phenomena lies with a biologist, who must defend herself against an unknown enemy, her friends, and even her own mind.

Authority picks up where Annihilation leaves off, focused on a team that is investigating the previous expedition. Where Annihilation is action-packed and filled with strange horrors, Authority slows the pace down. It is more cerebral and procedural than its predecessor, featuring the brainwashed biologist and a new set of characters. Leading the cast is Control, who drifts between jobs within government channels. He has a career full of mixed results, but demonstrates a cunning nature and resolve in his approach to solving the mystery of Area X. In short, he is a fixer. As a child, he was nicknamed Control by his grandfather for his sole usefulness in moving a tv antenna to get better reception. As an interim director at Central, Control appears to be little more than a temporary clean-up man, making his name all the more appropriate.

When it seems certain that Control will crack the biologist’s standoffish behavior, he encounters bureaucratic roadblocks from his superiors. Stranger behaviors within Central ensue and we quickly discover that the boundaries of Area X are anything but sacred.

While Authority brings a history and understanding to the strangeness introduced in Annihilation, it reads much slower. It does not share in the previous novel’s expediency, delving into the backstory of Control and some of the previous events at the site. From an informational standpoint, it was fulfilling, but the slower pace tempered my excitement.

The horrors that take place at Central parallel the research team from Expedition 12, but they manifest themselves in a subtler way. In Annihilation, the story takes place in the overgrown wilderness with danger lurking at every corner. In Authority, the story largely takes place in the office — a believed safe haven outside of the borders of Area X. It’s in the minutia of the text that we see that there is more awry than office politics. Despite Control’s efforts to avoid forming a relationship with the biologist, their bond becomes one of common circumstances, each uncertain of who to trust as those around them fall under the influence of an external force.

I appreciate that the second book of the Southern Reach trilogy was told in a different style with a unique viewpoint. Even though the slower pacing made for a more demanding read, I can’t fathom a better direction the series could have taken. We now share in the knowledge of the inner workings of the Southern Reach and I suspect that the third novel will tie the first two books together. Fortunately, I only have a few months to wait.

The final novel, Acceptance, is scheduled for release in September of this year.


peter 100x100Peter Snede – AISFP Contributor

Peter is a husband, father of twin boys, and an engineer who grew up on a steady diet of Narnia and Dragonlance books. When he’s not working, wrestling his toddlers, or writing fiction, he often can be found blogging or on Twitter.


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