A few weeks ago, I praised the first installment of Jeff Vandermeer’s The Southern Reach Trilogy, Annihilation. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long for the second book, Authority, which is equally haunting and confusing and every bit as brilliant.
In Annihilation, we followed four female explorers into the Southern Reach, an area in the southeastern United States that has been drastically altered by some environmental/supernatural/extraterrestrial event. Their journey is a descent into madness and mystery as they turn on one another and struggle to make sense of the world around them.
The second book, Authority, picks up after those events but takes us out of that bubble and into the Authority, the inner workings of the “brains and braun” closely guarding access to and information about the Southern Reach. For readers expecting answers, disappointment will abound. I found myself even more unsure of just what was going on as we follow John Rodriguez (also known as Control), the newly-appointed head of the Southern Reach. Like us, he is trying to make sense of just what the hell happened. To make matters worse, he is surrounded by a motley crew of colleagues, all of whom distrust him to varying degrees, even his closest advisor, the Director, who openly despises him.
Control tries to piece together the history of this event/place. To do so, he interviews the biologist, the lone survivor of the expedition in Annihilation, who mysteriously reappeared outside the contaminated area before Control assumed his new position. She is as guarded and distrustful as his colleagues. Control soon begins to suspect that everything is not as it seems and, potentially, much, much worse.
While Authority is somewhat slower (due to its length) and less explicitly horrific than Authority, it reaches what I think is a better conclusion, which will no doubt prove to be the jumping off point for the third and final installment, Acceptance, later this Fall. Again, in terms of post-apocalyptic narratives, there are few better than this Southern Reach trilogy, thanks in no small part to Vandermeer’s decision to string us along until the bitter end, revealing few, if any, definitive explanations for what’s going on right before our very eyes.