Overview (No Spoilers): Having initially raved about Annihilation, I was impatient to continue with the second novel in the Southern Reach Trilogy, Authority. Having avoided reading the synopsis of the ensuing novel, I found myself rather disoriented as the book takes place in a new setting immediately outside the boundary of Area X in the research facility for the Southern Reach. Adding to the momentary confusion was that the narration of the book was from a new POV instead of our familiar biologist. Initially I was excited for the change in scenery, especially since it was located in a place that was shrouded in much mystery during Annihilation. Moreover, the narrator in Authority, Control (John), was also new to the Southern Reach facility and was feeling his way through the enigma surrounding this facility simultaneously with the reader. There was such potential in this middle book of the trilogy to shed some of the layers of intrigue behind the Central, the Southern Reach, or Area X, however most of the book was spent with Control floundering his way through the mess the previous Director had left behind from existing personnel to her cluttered office. This effect resulted in Authority being an extremely slow read, with having read approximately sixty percent of the book prior to any substantial revelations being uncovered. Much of this first half of the book became increasingly confusing, with Control appearing to be either acting out of character or simply losing his mind. Once the narrator seizes control of the situation, a few of the puzzle pieces begin to fall into place, until the climatic, chaotic sprint to the end of the book leaves the reader in a overwhelming state of bewilderment. Overall, VanderMeer’s second act of the Southern Reach Trilogy leaves the reader more baffled than curious regarding Area X and the puzzling personnel of the Southern Reach facility.
Additionally Insight (Spoilers Abound):
- Where to start. So throughout the first half of the book when the reader was trying to figure out what was going on in the Southern Reach Agency, every chapter becomes more confusing than the last. Eventually we find out that Control had been being hypnotized by the ‘Voice’ during their meeting and being given prompts, which lead to him seemingly acting out of character and not knowing what was going on. I’d figured out a few chapters before Control did that this was likely causing his erratic behavior, however it did little to remedy the confusion.
- So much effort was put into defining the history of Control, especially his relationships with his father, mother and grandfather. I wish this time had been put more into the facility or other character histories.
- The most interesting revelations had to do with the previous Director of the Southern Reach. For example, missing Director was in fact the Psychologist from Annihilation. We also know that she crossed the border into Area X before her trip with the expedition. Control also speculates at the end of the book that she was the girl in the photo in the lighthouse. Therefore she knew the area before it became Area X. One of the last chapters of the book has her emerging out of the woods, essentially expanding Area X with her, causing Control to flee the Southern Reach.
- Other locations in which Area X was expanding are the areas that the expedition members showed up unexpectedly. Why did it occur this expedition and not the one that the biologist’s husband was on? Why didn’t the biologist’s empty lot also get ‘contaminated?’ However at the end of the book she finds a portal in her special remote location she escapes to. How did she know the portal was there? How did it show up there? What will she and Control find on the other side?
- This ‘clone’ of the biologist told Control that she wasn’t the real Biologist. How did she know? What does she know that she is not telling? How does she differ from the other expedition members that were actually killed in Area X? I’m guessing that is the important factor, however nothing new was actually revealed with regard to this difference.
- One of the most interesting events was Control viewing the tapes from the first Expedition. While very little was revealed, it was still a glimpse into an event that had only been whispered about. One of the few plot twists that really shocked me was the revelation that the only survivor of this first expedition was the ‘Voice’ who had been manipulating Control with hypnosis.
- I’m going to group the personnel of the Southern Reach in one category because they were, as a whole, one large enigma that never got flushed out. Grace had no depth other than being an obstacle in Control’s way and the head scientist, Cheney perhaps was attributed more mystery than was appropriate. Whitby was the most intriguing character in which no answers were revealed. He always seemed squirrelly and cagey, however the mystery was accentuated when toward the end of the book Control finds him crying in a closet with no explanation demanded. Upon a later exploration of the closet, Control finds a hidden room containing drawings of all the main players in the Southern Reach, including himself, followed by a bizarre sequence of events where Control is startled to find Whitby curled up in one of the shelving units, followed by the crazed scientist petting the back of the Director’s head. Control never forced a conversation with Whitby about the room or the drawings. Seriously, what is going on?
- Behind a closed, blocked off door in the old Director’s office, Control finds a detailed, hand drawn map of Area X, followed by his seemingly rash decision to paint over the map. He also found a similar map painted in the old Director’s house, occurring after her disappearance. Who painted it? Also what were the height markings on the drawing in her office? What is the significance of the map in general?
- The dead mouse, undying plant, and the cellphone. Other mysteries never explained. Why did the phone keep showing up? Was it part of the hypnosis?
- Will the biologist’s clone find the ‘real’ biologist through the portal? Will the real biologist find her husband? Will we find out what Area X is and what happens to the people that disappear when the borders expand?
Enervating: lacking physical, mental, or moral vigor
Immolation: to kill or destroy often by fire; to kill as a sacrificial victim
Phantasmagoria: a bizarre or fantastic combination, collection, or assemblage
Cabal: the contrived schemes of a group of persons secretly united in a plot (as to overturn a government)
Bolus: a large dose of a substance given by injection for the purpose of rapidly achieving the needed therapeutic concentration in the bloodstream; a rounded mass: such as a large pill or soft mass of chewed food
Collusion: secret agreement or cooperation especially for an illegal or deceitful purpose
Séance: a spiritualist meeting to receive spirit communications
Cryptozoologists: the study of and search for animals and especially legendary animals (such as Sasquatch) usually in order to evaluate the possibility of their existence
Abutted: to cause to touch or lean for support
Bivouac: a usually temporary encampment under little or no shelter
Cogent: having power to compel or constrain
Intuit: to know, sense, or understand by intuition
Daguerreotypes: an early photograph produced on a silver or a silver-covered copper plate
Glib: marked by ease and informality; lacking depth and substance
Ovoid: resembling an egg in shape
Flense: to strip of blubber or skin
Twee: affectedly or excessively dainty, delicate, cute, or quaint
Varietal: of, relating to, or characterizing a variety
Sommelier: a waiter in a restaurant who has charge of wines and their service
Striations: a minute groove, scratch, or channel especially when one of a parallel series
Susurrations: a whispering sound
Hagiography: biography of saints or venerated persons; idealizing or idolizing biography
Pratfalls: a humiliating mishap or blunder
Carapace: a bony or chitinous case or shield covering the back or part of the back of an animal
Ziggurats: an ancient Mesopotamian temple tower consisting of a lofty pyramidal structure built in successive stages with outside staircases and a shrine at the top
Rote: the use of memory usually with little intelligence; mechanical or unthinking routine or repetition
Excoriation: to wear off the skin of; to censure scathingly
Devolution: transference (as of rights, powers, property, or responsibility) to another
Acumen: keenness and depth of perception, discernment, or discrimination especially in practical matters
Internecine: marked by slaughter; of, relating to, or involving conflict within a group
Ossified: to change into bone; to become hardened or conventional and opposed to change
Nascent: coming or having recently come into existence
Scion: a detached living portion of a plant (such as a bud or shoot) joined to a stock in grafting and usually supplying solely aerial parts to a graft; a descendant of a wealthy, aristocratic, or influential family
Stalwart: marked by outstanding strength and vigor of body, mind, or spirit
Detritus: loose material (such as rock fragments or organic particles) that results directly from disintegration; a product of disintegration, destruction, or wearing away
Ephemera: something of no lasting significance (usually in plural; paper items (such as posters, broadsides, and tickets) that were originally meant to be discarded after use but have since become collectibles
Jetsam: the part of a ship, its equipment, or its cargo that is cast overboard to lighten the load in time of distress and that sinks or is washed ashore
Flotsam: floating wreckage of a ship or its cargo; miscellaneous or unimportant material
Adroit: having or showing skill, cleverness, or resourcefulness in handling situations