Authority: A Novel by Jeff VanderMeer


My Review for the first novel in the trilogy can be found here.

Authority: A Novel is the second novel in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy. The first novel, Annihilation, chronicled the disastrous 12th Expedition into Area X, a region mysteriously cut off from the rest of the world where strange and terrible things have been reported. Authority picks up where the previous novel ended. In the aftermath, John Rodriguez, also known as Control, has been sent to figure out what went wrong. Control is a fixer, a government spy with family connections and a checkered past. He finds the Southern Reach organization in shambles filled with secrets and people as strange as the Area they study.

This novel is twice as long as Annihilation and builds the tension more slowly. While the first novel was claustrophobic even in a vast, transformed landscape, in Authority Control is enclosed in a scientific base under siege in strange and uncertain ways from without and within. Jeff VanderMeer creates a palpable sense of unease, a sense of incomprehensible answers just out of reach. Control’s failed attempts to grapple with the mysteries, and his deteriorating mental state are the backbone of the novel and its greatest strength. Control is clever but woefully and deliberately unprepared, contending with shifting agendas on the one hand and the secret of Area X on the other. He faces the growing realization that as he tries to solve the puzzle of Area X, it is trying to solve him.

Authority builds on its predecessor, deepening the mystery into new and unexpected places. VanderMeer, however, avoids answering any of the major questions. This makes for an engrossing story in itself, but leaves the final part of the trilogy with a tremendous task, one I hope VanderMeer is equal to. In fact, I’m not entirely certain how many answers the final novel will provide, or even how many it should. In the Southern Reach Trilogy Jeff VanderMeer has constructed a tapestry of the uncanny, too many answers might spoil the effect.


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