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Book Review

Book Cover

Authority (Hardback)


Author: Jeff VanderMeer
Publisher: Fourth Estate
RRP: £12.99
ISBN: 978 0 00 755346 4
Publication Date: 08 May 2014

The Southern Reach has been sending teams into Area X for decades, trying to discover the meaning behind the only area separated from the rest of the planet with a mysterious barrier. Its masters are concerned about the direction the scientists are taking and send along Control, an agent with his own secrets to keep. Control becomes increasingly convinced that of the three returnees from the last expedition, only the biologist holds some memory of what happened...

Authority is the second in a trilogy of novels from Jeff VanderMeer and if anything is stranger than the first novel. Whereas Annihilation was about a possible alien incursion, Authority is much more about alienation and control.

Control is sent to the Southern Reach, the base for all the expeditions into Area X. Like Kris Kelvin, Control is unsure what he will find - whether working so close the anomaly has in some way influenced those who had been sent to study it - and like Kelvin he discovers that things are both better and worse than he could imagine.

Whereas the Southern Reach was something only referred to in the original novel, here we follow Control as he peels back both the history of the institute, but also its troubling present. The second book is more of a companion piece to the first, with both being told from a single perspective, first the biologist and here, Control. Both function to deepen the mystery of Area X and anyone who thought to find either answers or resolution from the first novel are likely to be disappointed.

When Control arrives he strives to gain some authority over the resident scientists, but finds that authority sometimes has to be agreed to, its assertion is generally not enough. When he meets Grace, the Deputy Director of the Southern Reach, for the first time she makes it plain that not only is he not welcome, but also refuses to let him exercise any authority over her. As the story progresses the notion of authority and who can exercise it remains a central theme of the book.

As the layers are peeled back the story becomes uncomfortably fractured as Control experiences his own metal dissonance. On a personal level, much of what is happening to Control is explained, although what really was happening to the scientists is left up to the reader. The book does posit the notion that it is impossible to examine something without you becoming somehow affected, or even on some level infected. While we still do not know the real nature of Area X we have seen how it can affect human beings, not always for the better.

If anything the mystery has deepened with this novel and will require a real sleight of hand with the last novel to resolve everything without feeling like the last episode of LOST.


Charles Packer

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