Authority is the second in the Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer. I recently read Annihilation, the first, one of the most deeply weird books I have ever read. Authority is also weird, but more than weird, it is claustrophobic and it is creepy as hell.
On the surface, most of it seems as though there really is not much here more than office politics. A new director, John Rodrigues, or Control as he prefers to be called, has just taken over leadership at the Southern Reach facility adjoining Area X. He is met with instant hostility and resistance by Grace the Assistant Director. He is ordered to report daily to the abusive and unhelpful Voice at Central, the command center for the Southern Reach. His job is to shape up the place, clean up and rationalize the last director’s work and get things humming along as they should.
Because we have read Annihilation, we know more about Area X than he does. We know, sort of, what happened on the last expedition. Surprisingly, the people from the last expedition made it back, all except the psychologist who turns out to have been the former director. It is assumed she is dead, lost in Area X. That means the biologist we came to know in the first book is still alive, back in the world, but without her memories Control interviews and interrogates her and senses she knows more than she admits.
The terroir of the facility, its sense of place, is so much part of the story. It has all the attributes of a rundown and neglected facility. There is the fetid, sweet-rot smells, the disrepair, the fullness in the air. You know what it can be like, you’ve been in too big buildings with too few people, where the air seems oppressively full and heavy and there seems to be a faint hum from the flickering florescent lighting, and an echoing emptiness. This is like that.
Control knows he is being observed. There are odd clues, a dead mosquito smashed into the windshield inside his car, lost moments, disturbances on his desk, something out the side of his eye. Is it Grace, one of the scientists, or the shadowy people from Central? It is all mysterious, with a whiff of danger. The great mystery of Area X, the tang of intrigue, the horrors of past expeditions mix strangely into the banality of document organization, daily meetings and office politics. It’s a strange brew, but a fascinating and eerie one.
I definitely recommend Authority, and believe it must be read in order, after Annihilation. It is eerie and weird. On the surface, it is a slow-paced story of a man adjusting to his new job, but beneath there is a torrent of change, intrigue and danger. I am eager to read Acceptance, to see how Vandermeer synthesizes these two disparate, but related stories and finally answers the lurking mystery of Area X.