Review: “Authority,” Jeff Vandermeer

Pros: Lovecraftian horror and madness for modern readers
Cons: Didn’t like the main character
Rating: 4 out of 5

Jeff Vandermeer’s Authority (Book Two of The Southern Reach Trilogy) follows on the heels of his Annihilation, in which the Biologist’s journal took us on a journey through madness in a mysterious Area X. Now we get to find out much of the behind-the-scenes as we concentrate on The Southern Reach itself, the secret government agency that oversees research into Area X. “Control” (John Rodriguez) is the new acting director of The Southern Reach, and he’s our central figure here. He’s an odd protagonist, seeing as in most books he’d be an antagonistic or even enemy character, not the main character. Three out of the four expedition twelve members have returned, and Control believes he’s likely to get the best answers from the Biologist, so he concentrates on questioning her. Some of the strange characters that populate The Southern Reach aren’t friendly to the new authority figure, so he has to fight their attempts to undermine him at every turn–all the while attempting to reconstruct the details behind the scenes of Annihilation.

This book is a fascinating autopsy of the rotting corpse that is The Southern Reach. Control ends up researching the previous Director of the agency as well as the twelfth expedition, seeing as she was also the head of that expedition. What he finds indicates that the madness that infects the pristine wilderness that is Area X may have infiltrated the agency as well. And the Director might not have been its only outlet.

Control is a weird character. I wasn’t entirely fond of him and his strange family history, which dampened my enthusiasm for the book a bit. His mother and grandfather are spies, and he’s the black sheep of the family who keeps screwing up assignments. His mother seems to have his best interests at heart, but does she really? And just how much is she manipulating him anyway? She certainly has an interest in The Southern Reach that she hasn’t expressed to him. Through her he also has a connection to a mysterious person he only knows as The Voice, to whom he reports by phone. This strange character berates and swears at him at every turn as he fails to learn enough to satisfy.

The story is intense, with plenty of vividness and detail. The Southern Reach is a character in its own right, made up of many pieces of the normal turned on its head. And as for Control, he’s becoming obsessed with the Biologist and her place in things. Even though I didn’t adore this installment in the way I did Annihilation, it’s still quite worth reading if you enjoyed the first novel.

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