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Originally published Sunday, May 4, 2014 at 3:03 AM

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Jeff VanderMeer’s ‘Authority’: revisiting a catastrophe

“Authority,” the second installment in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, continues the saga, as a troubleshooter investigates the disastrous fate of the expedition featured in the first volume, “Annihilation.”


Special to The Seattle Times

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“Authority”

by Jeff VanderMeer

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 352 pp., $15

Though “Authority” delves further into the lush mysteries of Area X than “Annihilation,” the first volume of his Southern Reach Trilogy, Jeff VanderMeer has set this second volume on the outskirts of that eerie place.

Control, “Authority’s” narrator, is a troubleshooter sent to its Area X outpost by the headquarters of the secretive intelligence organization known as the Southern Reach; his mission is to deconstruct the disastrous exploratory expedition the previous book describes.

Working his way through the team psychologist’s obsessive notes, uncovering a wall bearing her scrawled copy of the poetry formed by mosslike creatures inhabiting Area X’s “topographical anomaly,” enduring the nauseating video of the first expedition’s violent end, Control pins his real hopes for comprehension on interrogating a simulacrum of “Annihilation’s” narrator, a biologist.

Then she — or it? — disappears, though apparently she’s only been drawn deeper into the paranoid corridors of the Southern Reach. Trashing his career, Control commits himself to finding her, and with her, he hopes, the solution to the riddle of Area X’s existence.

VanderMeer’s writing continues to demonstrate the deceptive lucidity of a fever dream, recounting “Authority’s” impossible events so simply they defy disbelief. Though honey doesn’t rot and houseplants can’t survive weeks without light or water, there’s a compelling fascination in watching these small weirdnesses blossom into a worldwide catastrophe.

To appreciate “Authority” fully, you should first read “Annihilation,” published in February of this year. To learn how the Southern Reach Trilogy ends, you’ll only have till the September 2014 publication of its third volume, “Acceptance,” to wait.

Nisi Shawl reviews science fiction for The Seattle Times.



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