Dystopic trilogy offers few answers
IN this final book of his Southern Reach Trilogy, Florida-based author Jeff VanderMeer returns to the central location and, mostly, the fastpaced terror of the first instalment while answering many of the mysteries that have shrouded this gripping series. But that’s not to say Acceptance ties the trilogy up in a nice bow. VanderMeer did something rather unique with this series, releasing all three books in the same year, only months apart. While this created a feeling that the story had a true end game planned and that all of its mysteries would be resolved, there are times reading Acceptance when it feels like the whole thing may fall off the rails. But then it all comes together in the second half — or at least somewhat. In keeping with the paranoid atmosphere of Annihilation and the conspiracyladen Authority, Acceptance offers no easy answers. In fact, every answer just comes with more questions. Annihilation was a tight, nearperfect sci-fi horror story that, despite its open ending, worked as a standalone story. Authority also could have worked as a stand-alone as well, though perhaps not quite as intriguing. Acceptance certainly doesn’t work on its own, though; it feels more like watching the finale of a TV series like Lost or Twin Peaks without the context of the previous episodes — and with its doppelgängers, surreal imagery and theme of terror found in the outdoors, there’s some shared DNA with those programs. In Annihilation, an all-female expedition travelled into a lush, enigmatic zone called Area X, a space reclaimed by nature and cut off from the rest of the continent for three decades following a mysterious event. It was told as a first-person account of one of the team members, the biologist, and felt like an Earth-bound version of Ridley Scott’s Alien. Authority took a completely different take on the story, focusing on the people working at the Southern Reach, the government body that oversees all expeditions into Area X, and was set mostly in an office building outside of the mysterious zone. In Acceptance, Vandermeer brings the two worlds together, weaving together three separate storylines told over different time periods. In one narrative, Control, the Southern Reach director who was the main protagonist of the second book, travels into Area X with Ghost Bird, an inexplicably created twin of the biologist from the first book. Another follows Control’s mother when she was a Southern Reach director — just before the expedition in Annihilation. The third, and perhaps most compelling, storyline introduces Saul Evans, a lighthouse keeper in what would one day become Area X, and someone who may have played a major role in the creation of the area. The stories weave together, often in unexpected ways, and VanderMeer continues to create a surreal sense of paranoia and dread. And while not as compelling overall as Annihilation, Acceptance is a worthy ending to the series — as long as readers are willing to accept that some things must remain a mystery. Alan MacKenzie is a Winnipeg-based
writer and editor.