Authority (Southern Reach Series #2)

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Authority follows a similar structure to his predecessor, Annihilation, but this time we learn more about the unexplained phenomena of Area X through the perspective of John “Control” Rodriguez. In this book, the author provides insights into the Southern Reach, the agency responsible for monitoring and understanding Area X.

“Control thought of the theories as “slow death by,” given the context: Slow death by aliens. Slow death by parallel universe. Slow death by malign unknown time-traveling force. Slow death by invasion from an alternate earth. Slow death by wildly divergent technology or the shadow biosphere or symbiosis or iconography or etymology. Death by this and by that. Death by indifference and inference. His favorite: “Surface-dwelling terrestrial organism, previously unknown.” Hiding where all of these years? In a lake?”

Jeff VanderMeer, Authority

Like in Annihilation, VanderMeer goes into painstaking detail to put you in the central character’s mindset, his innermost thoughts, and his impressions of the operatives (and their secrets) of the Southern Reach. While I loved his writing and the way he can craft a great narrative, this book was A LOT harder to read, and it kind of drags on before giving you any answers. Sometimes you’re not even sure what those questions are that need answering.

“If someone is trying to jam information inside your head using words you understand but a meaning you don’t, it’s not even that it’s not on a bandwidth yyou can receive, it’s much worse. Like, if the message were a knife and it created its meaning by cutting into meat and your head is the receiver and the tip of the knife is being shoved into your ear over and over again…”

Jeff VanderMeer, Authority

That narrative style worked with Annihilation because it took place in a remote, isolated location with very few characters. It was as much about Area X as it was about how Area X was changing the protagonist. With Authority, there’s just too much going on around the central character that you’re left hungry to understand what’s happening on that side.

“A circle looks at a square and sees a badly made circle.”

Jeff VanderMeer, Authority

On the other hand, the story continues to be compelling and intriguing, and I will obviously read the next one. Reaching the end of the book leaves many open questions, but you leave feeling you’re following a story arc that’s going somewhere. I’m hoping the next installment of this trilogy, Acceptance, continues to convey that feeling of satisfaction and closure, even if many ties remain loose at the end.

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