Saturday, April 9, 2016

AUTHORITY, Jeff Vandermeer's second Southern Reach novel, slips a little

Southern Reach #2
FSG Originals
$15.00 trade paper, available now

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: After thirty years, the only human engagement with Area X--a seemingly malevolent landscape surrounded by an invisible border and mysteriously wiped clean of all signs of civilization--has been a series of expeditions overseen by a government agency so secret it has almost been forgotten: the Southern Reach. Following the tumultuous twelfth expedition chronicled in Annihilation, the agency is in complete disarray.

John Rodrigues (aka "Control") is the Southern Reach's newly appointed head. Working with a distrustful but desperate team, a series of frustrating interrogations, a cache of hidden notes, and hours of profoundly troubling video footage, Control begins to penetrate the secrets of Area X. But with each discovery he must confront disturbing truths about himself and the agency he's pledged to serve.

In Authority, the second volume of Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy, Area X's most disturbing questions are answered . . . but the answers are far from reassuring.

My Review: We're not in Area X anymore, Toto, and therein the problem. Control, our PoV character, is hastily tossed together to provide a camera platform for the bureaucratic machinations and clandestine-agency wars.

It's so frustrating to read a good book that's encased in a less-good book. Like those canned hams from the 1960s, the meat is tasty but who put this weird spoodge all over it?

After much hither-and-thithering, not to mention an amazingly large amount of dithering for an executive, Control runs away from (almost) everything...and the ending makes up for most of the beginning. But really, editor, couldn't a few of those go-nowhere side trips have been pruned? (eg, Whitby's art project, Cheney's existence) It takes such a boatload of attention to track them.

I think the slightly different angle on the same basic story as Annihilation is simply not a strong enough framework to bear the expectations raised by it. The very fact that the main character is known to all and sundry as "Control" is perhaps the single most telling tiny clue: it feels as if Vandermeer wasn't terribly interested in him or in this angle on Area X. Still and all, the sheer...audacity, bravura, something in that family...of the series can't be denied or ignored. Thus a half-star higher rating than I felt the novel qua novel earned.

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