Authority by Jeff Vandermeer. ★★★1/2
Authority is the sequel to Annihilation, which you should read first. This second installment of the Southern Reach trilogy focuses on the Southern Reach itself, the government organization that studies the mysterious and dangerous Area X. John Rodriguez, who prefers to be called by the name Control, is appointed as a the new director of the Southern Reach, likely due to the influence of his powerful mother. He soon learns some members of the previous expedition have returned, and he begins interviewing the biologist.
The most impressive thing about Authority was that it was able to keep Annihilation‘s sense of creeping unease without being set in Area X itself. However, the change of setting meant that this installment did loose some of the series’s appeal.
Authority is a hundred pages longer than Annihilation, but it feels like not much happens until the very end, which was the most exciting part of the book. The rest of the book is Control being mired in government bureaucracy, secrets, and hostile colleagues. I did like his relationship with his secret agent mother and some of the reflections on his family, but it didn’t exactly lend to a fast pace.
“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?”
There’s still few answers as to the nature of Area X, but fragments of new information are provided. One of the sources of tension of the novel is that the reader (provided they’ve read Annihilation) knows more than Control, particularly when it comes to why the biologist was wandering in an empty lot with no idea as to how she got there…
Hopefully the final book will provide some answers. If you liked Annihilation, I would suggest reading Authority. If you can get past the drag in the middle, the ending is well worth it.