Authority (FSG Originals, May 6th, 2013)-(No spoilers for Authority, but if you haven’t yet read Annihilation, read at your own risk)I’m betting, if you’re like me, you had a ton of questions at the end of the wonderful ANNIHILATION. If so, you’ll be glad to know that Authority answers quite a few of them. Not all, but a few, and it’s a perfect filling in the sandwich of awesome that is the Southern Reach trilogy. Authority picks up a few months after the disastrous events of Annihilation and the biologist is in the custody of Southern Reach after being found standing in an empty parking lot after returning from Area X’s twelfth expedition. John Rodriguez, aka “Control” has been brought in to replace the missing Director and question the survivors. As soon as he arrives at Southern Reach he encounters pushback from the Assistant Director, who fervently believes the Director is still alive, a scientist named Whitby that may or may not be hiding something, and of course, the biologist, who gives cryptic answers to his questions and seems intent on stonewalling him. He has access to the former Director’s files and her office certainly yields more than a few oddities. He must report to an entity that he only knows as The Voice, but as he digs into the mysteries of Area X, he seems to only have more questions, and not many answers. Soon, things begin to fall apart around him, and he starts to suspect that the forces that are guiding him are much closer to him, and his past, then he could ever have imagined.
For those that haven’t read Annihilation, Area X is a vast coastal area that was inexplicably changed at a time known as the Event, and an invisible border appeared. For 30 years, Southern Reach has been sending in teams of scientists, linguists, psychologists, you name it, to explore Area X and report back with their findings. Some didn’t make it back, and some that did came back…different somehow. Authority explores the aftermath of the 12th expedition, but it’s more than that. Authority is Control’s book, and we get to know him almost as well as we got to know the biologist in Annihilation. If, after reading Annihilation, you expected more of the same in Authority, put that thought out of your head. Authority takes place almost entirely at Southern Reach HQ and gives its reader a tour of an off the books clandestine government agency (with frequent detours into weird territory.) I love VanderMeer’s brand of weird though, and he layers Control’s story with very creepy moments during his research into Area X . This is what VanderMeer is really, really good at: creeping, crawling dread that plucks at your sleeve when you’re not looking and scuttles back into the shadows when you finally get up the nerve to face it head on. Annihilation had some real scares, but Authority is built of subtler stuff, a mounting dread that slowly increases in intensity until culminating in something that I wouldn’t call an end. To me, it was more of a beginning, but, well, you’ll see. Giving away too much would be to ruin this creepy gem of a book. It’s a worthy, if different companion to Annihilation, and while it stands just fine on its own, to read it without Annihilation is to deny yourself a near perfect reading experience. I imagine the author has some great stuff in store for Acceptance, and I can’t wait.