That feeling you get from exploring a good story. A bookish podcast discussing and reviewing books and films as I journey through my ever growing TBR backlog and watchlist.

Authority by Jeff VanderMeer

Where Annihilation was a chilling and atmospheric look inside Area X through the eyes of the biologist, Authority is a claustrophobic look inside the Southern Reach. An organization seemingly crumbling from within under the weight of secrets, hidden truths, and total lack of understanding around what Area X is and what it’s actually doing to those that come in contact with it. Can VanderMeer’s beautiful and purposeful writing save a rather tedious story?

Title: Authority
Page Count: 341
Published: 05/06/2014
Categories: ,
We pick up this story with John "Control" Rodriguez, the newly appointed head of the Southern Reach as he digs into just what is happening there and how he can right the ship. With Area X seemingly encroaching, some big questions are answered from Annihilation but new truths and more questions bubble forth from the depths.

Authority feels like VanderMeer is giving us the flip side of the Annihilation coin, which makes absolute sense if you think about the pacing of a trilogy. Book one gives you one side of the story, in this case the view from inside Area X, while book two steps back and shows the other side of the story, a look inside the secret government agency attempting to solve it’s mystery. Hopefully that will see book three tie everything up as the two sides of the story merge into one beautiful final act.

But first you have to get through book two and Authority doesn’t make it easy, at least through roughly the first half of the book. In hindsight, I can look back at the first half in appreciation of what was actually going on, in the moment it feels like a beautifully written study inside the head of a stressed out office supervisor that has been dropped into a new position and is having to battle uncooperative co-workers and subordinates to get even the simplest of tasks done. Tasks as banal as having new cleaning supplies ordered because the existing one is leaving a horrid smell in the office building after being used.

I’m not exaggerating.

The thing is, once again I believe VanderMeer is flexing his writing chops on us because, through all the tedium in the first half, the story is subtly building a sense of tension, a sense of the walls closing in, and a sense that the Southern Reach is barely holding on by a thread. By the time you reach roughly the halfway point of the story, a few things start to click in place and as readers we’re thrust into a world where once again we don’t know who or what we can trust when it comes to the events happening in the book.

And that final act… Let’s say it feels like you’re drowning, stuck in some sort of fever dream, and as the story rushes to it’s conclusion there’s a very real sense of wondering if you can trust anything you are reading as you struggle to stay afloat. Where Annihilation ends on a very somber and contemplative note, Authority throws you off a cliff into the ocean with a cliffhanger ending begging for you to pick up the final book in the trilogy ASAP.

This book is not going to be for everyone. Many will find it a grind to get through, but I hope you stick with it because in hindsight it’s really a wonderful trick that VanderMeer is pulling off. My favorite part is the sneaky vibe it pulls off so wonderfully. A feeling of steady dread creeping in, the walls closing in so slowly that you never even notice it happening… until you do. And at that point the story, while still in the very intentional and steady pace VanderMeer uses throughout this series, begins to feel chaotic and unstable. It’s really a beautiful piece of writing.

But beautiful writing through a story that is, frankly, often boring isn’t what most readers sign up for. As much as I love how hindsight has let me think back fondly on those slow chapters through the first half of this book, it just didn’t hit me like Annihilation did. I enjoyed this one, but not as much as the chilling, atmospheric bliss of Annihilation, though I’m hopeful for the grand finale in book three. As many have said, you need to just fight and push through Authority (I’m literally biting my tongue to avoid making a John Mellencamp pun here!) to get to the final book in the series. In hindsight, it was enjoyable. In the moment it was often a grind. No matter how you look at it, it falls short of the bar that Annihilation set.

Authority (Southern Reach #2) by Jeff VanderMeer gets 3/5 Stars

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