Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Volume 2 of the Southern Reach Trilogy keeps the unsettling story going





The Southern Reach Trilogy, Vol. 2: Authority – Jeff Vandermeer (2014)


            Where to begin…Well, this is the second volume of Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy.  The first volume, (Annihilation, reviewed HERE) dealt with a mysterious and seemingly malevolent area of coastline labeled “Area X” that was cordoned off by the government, into which were sent expeditions to explore it by the Southern Reach, the organization created to monitor and explore this odd development.  Annihilation told the story of a member of one of the expeditions, a biologist, and her experiences in Area X.  This second volume, Authority, tells the story of a man who is assigned to the Southern Reach as its new Director, and what he finds there.
            This is a very clever structure that has been set up by Mr. Vandermeer.  Having us, the reader, engrossed in the unsettling experiences of the biologist in the first volume, he then shows us an outside angle, by having us follow the new Director as he takes over the Southern Reach following the biologist’s group’s excursion into Area X.  The two volumes take place sequentially, so it feels like a continuation of the story.  This in no way reduces the amount of dread created in the first volume.  It only amps it up, for is it not always worse to find out that those in power, those that are supposed to have a handle on things, actually are just as flummoxed as anyone else?  Where do you turn for guidance and help when you realize that the ones that “know” actually know nothing?
            In the first volume, none of the characters are provided proper names, instead being referred to by their job title, such as Biologist, Linguist, Psychologist, etc.  In this volume, everyone is named early on except for our protagonist, who chooses the nickname “Control.”  It is not until he begins to unravel the deep insanity at work in Area X and the Southern Reach that he begins to associate more with his given name.  It is quite awesome to essentially shadow his mind at work, for he is a person expertly trained in interrogation techniques, and his internal monologue sheds light on things that a layperson would never think of, such as the change in tone or body language that signifies fear, or willingness to cooperate, etc.  This is a problem for Control as he begins to second-guess himself and his intuition, only to find that his mental tools are not adequate for what he encounters.

Does this look innocuous to you?

            The first volume in this trilogy read like an existential horror story where the true horror is the breakdown of the human individual, while this second volume read like an enigmatic detective tale, where the information gathered leads to a mind-fuck conclusion, one that Control cannot escape or ignore and one which affects the greater group at large. I am very excited to break into the third volume, Acceptance.  I can only guess at what is to come, but if the first two books are any indication, it will warp my brain and leave me gasping for breaths of reality!

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