Dystopian tril­ogy’s sec­ond vol­ume brings more ques­tions than an­swers

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Alan MacKen­zie

EAR­LIER this year, Florida-based au­thor Jeff Van­der­Meer re­leased An­ni­hi­la­tion, a sur­real sci-fi/hor­ror tale that fol­lowed an all-fe­male ex­pe­di­tion into a lush, mys­te­ri­ous zone called Area X, a space cut off from the rest of the con­ti­nent for three decades fol­low­ing an “Event” that left the area to be re­claimed by na­ture. This wor­thy fol­lowup, Book 2 of the South­ern Reach tril­ogy, picks up shortly af­ter the first book left off, but has a com­pletely dif­fer­ent feel to it. Where An­ni­hi­la­tion was writ­ten in the style of a found jour­nal, Author­ity switches to a third-per­son nar­ra­tive, fol­low­ing a brand-new pro­tag­o­nist and tak­ing place al­most com­pletely out­side of Area X’s omi­nous in­vis­i­ble bor­der. The big­gest dif­fer­ence, though, is a switch in the over­all tone. While An­ni­hi­la­tion was fairly fast-paced and heavy on hor­ror, Author­ity is more of a slow-burn­ing con­spir­acy thriller. John Ro­driguez, who prefers to go by the name “Con­trol,” is hired — by his mother — as the new di­rec­tor of the South­ern Reach, a govern­ment agency in charge of study­ing Area X. He’s brought in af­ter the pre­vi­ous di­rec­tor went miss­ing dur­ing the 12th ex­pe­di­tion into the area — the one chron­i­cled in Book 1. Sur­pris­ingly (es­pe­cially for those who read An­ni­hi­la­tion), three of the four mem­bers of the 12th ex­pe­di­tion have re­turned, each be­ing found in a dif­fer­ent place. Like those who re­turned from pre­vi­ous mis­sions, none has any rec­ol­lec­tion of how she got there. But while the an­thro­pol­o­gist and sur­veyor (each mem­ber of the ex­pe­di­tion was only known by her job ti­tle) re­turn to lo­ca­tions that held im­por­tance in their pre-mis­sion lives, the bi­ol­o­gist — and nar­ra­tor of the first book — is dis­cov­ered in an over­grown lot, star­ing at a brick wall. The sur­vivors are placed into cus­tody in the South­ern Reach and through a se­ries of in­ter­ro­ga­tions with the bi­ol­o­gist, Con­trol tries to learn what hap­pened. Un­for­tu­nately, the bi­ol­o­gist has lit­tle to say, and is a shell of the char­ac­ter from the first book. Con­trol also be­gins to run into trou­ble with his co-work­ers, par­tic­u­larly Grace, the as­sis­tant di­rec­tor, Whitby, a jack-of-all­trades who is the group’s long­est-serv­ing em­ployee, and the Voice, whom he must re­port to reg­u­larly by phone. Soon he is ques­tion­ing his fam­ily his­tory, the South­ern Reach’s real pur­pose, and the true na­ture of Area X and its bor­der. Oddly, he is the only one com­fort­able us­ing words like “alien” or “ex­trater­res­trial” to de­scribe the anom­alies. Van­der­Meer an­swers some of the mys­ter­ies of An­ni­hi­la­tion, and pre­sents new ones as well, while tak­ing sev­eral twists and turns — some are pre­dictable, while oth­ers are gen­uinely shock­ing. But while the first book could have worked as a stand-alone, Author­ity def­i­nitely feels like a mid­dle chap­ter, build­ing to an in­evitable cliff-hanger to set up Ac­cep­tance, which will com­plete the tril­ogy this fall.

Alan MacKen­zie is a Win­nipeg-based writer.

Author­ity

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