While Acceptance feels like a return to more of the chilling and atmospheric tone we saw in Annihilation, the intensity ratchets up in what I can only describe as being slow and steady. More importantly, the idea that we are but a miniscule speck in the larger picture of the universe is nicely hammered home.
From the start of this book it’s obvious that something has changed, that an ending of some sort is looming. Questions we were left with from books one and two are answered, be it small call-backs or larger plot points, and it’s driven home by a change in the story approach.
With Annihilation we get the story told through they eyes of the biologist. Authority gives us the claustrophobic look outside of Area X through the eyes of John/Control. Now, in Acceptance, everything starts to converge and the story is told through shifting character viewpoints in which each chapter(and a few larger sections at times) will jump between a few main characters. Through the eyes of Ghost Bird, John/Control, the Lighthouse Keeper/Saul, and the Director we are given varying degrees of answers about what MIGHT be happening with Area X.
Maybe not so much what is actually happening, but what HAPPENED to bring us to where we find ourselves now. The Director and Lighthouse Keeper chapters feel much like flashbacks while Ghost Bird and John/Control are the here and now – yet somehow they ALL kind of feel like a recollection of past events.
VanderMeer continues to deliver on his intentionally even-keel delivery through well written, albeit a bit slow or dry at times, story moments. It’s a very minimalist approach in which every word carries impact, yet often paragraphs can feel like ramblings from someone that is just enjoying the scenery in front of them.
The real strength in this book is the balancing act between answering questions, both obvious and forgotten, from the first two books while also finding a way to bring this trilogy to a satisfying conclusion. But if you are hoping for an ending in which everything is wrapped up nice and tidy, complete with a ribbon on top, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. While we DO get answers, we are presented with much more to think about as we are left to wander the depths of our own minds to decide what ultimately happens as the curtains fall on this story.
I’ll save my thoughts on the series overall for their own discussion, but as a stand-alone I enjoyed Acceptance. It’s a thought provoking science fiction read that bucks the trend of having everything wrapped up with a nice little bow. VanderMeer makes you work for it some and I found myself going back to re-read sections not only for the story itself, but because I really enjoyed his choice of words at times. I can absolutely understand people feeling wholly unsatisfied with this book as the ending to the Southern Reach trilogy, however I appreciate a book(and a series) that leaves some meat on the bone for us to chew on after the final pages have been consumed.
If I had to boil this book down to just a few words or thoughts, it would be this. Acceptance was a chilling, low-fi/sci-fi full of atmospheric vibes and a world that is at once beautiful and brutally deadly. Nothing is given freely and you’ll feel like you earned those final pages by the time it’s over. It won’t be for everybody, it answers some, but not all, of your questions, but in the end it’s a beautiful look into a world where nature(of some variety) is simply trying to reclaim what has been lost to the tinkering of human-kind.
Acceptance(Southern Reach #3) gets 4/5 stars.