Saturday, June 14, 2014

Book Review: Authority

    The second book in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy pulls out of the first person, expanding the world beyond the borders of Area X, and taking us into the workings (not workings) of the shadowy Southern Reach.  Following Control, a man with plenty of skeletons in his closet, as he is brought in to assess and fix the entropic decline of the people in charge of holding back Area X’s advance (is it advancing?).  That’s right.  Office politics.  Mixed with an almost Cold War paranoia and the alien horror of …whatever it is that’s happening beyond the Border.  Mystery piles on mystery.  Riddle on riddle.  And revelation upon Revelation.

    This is certainly the kind of thing that could be stretched out too far.  Knowing that there’s a third book made me a bit nervous that this book would simply create more and more questions, only to have them half-heartedly resolved in a third book.  However, VanderMeer doesn’t seem afraid of shaking things up, of defying expectations.  And by the end of the book, nothing is the same.  I have no idea where he’ll go with the third, and I love it.

    Several interesting characters pepper the weirdness, and Control himself is quite a ball of human frailties.  Like a Kafka character, or one of those dupes in a spy novel, he’s in over his head, working with too little information, running to keep up, and almost certainly being used and lied to at every turn.  But that doesn’t mean he’s passive or weak.  He’s curious and driven, and has a very interesting arc.  And what of the Biologist?

    This is definitely a must for fans of cosmic horror and weird fiction.  It’s Lost done right (look, I loved the show, but they dropped a lot of balls through the seasons).  For tabletop gamers, this is excellent Delta Green material.  It’s a quick read, but gets to you.  I found myself slack-jawed at several spots along the way.  And after reaching the end, I can not wait to see what the deuce happens in the final book.  I have NO idea what’s coming.  By the end of the book, I was reminded of some of the coolest apocalyptic stories, of the sense of rolling dread, of things winding down.  There’s a disquieting sense of doom hanging over everything, until it isn’t hanging anymore.

“Thank you for your service, for your many years. Now take your weird art and get the fuck out.”

(See Annihilation review: here).

Author: Jeff VanderMeer
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0-374-10410-8

-Matthew J. Constantine

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