Authority: A Novel (The Southern Reach Trilogy), by Jeff VanderMeer
This is the second book of the strange and wonderful Southern Reach trilogy. It’s a fitting continuation of what I called in my review of the first book a feverdream of a story.
In book one a group of four women investigate a strange site called Area X. They are known only by their titles.
In book 2 a man who’s generally identified as Control has come to the Southern Reach, the facility assigned to investigate the strange occurrences at Area X. We learn that he is replacing the psychologist of book one, who is now disclosed to be the previous director. The biologist of the first book has managed to return from Area X and Control must interrogate her to find out about the area she escaped. Because Area X immunized her from the hypnosis and conditioning of the Psychiatrist she is a difficult person to manipulate.
Control (his real name is John Rodriquez) has a strange upbringing. His mother was a CIA operative and there are several flashbacks to his youth between conversations with the biologist and internecine battles with Grace. But it is also clear that there is someone else involved with the Southern Reach. Surveillance equipment shows up in both Control’s and Grace’s offices, leading them to suspect each other. Other things appear and disappear in Control’s office as well. Control receives regular calls for guidance or orders from The Voice, who continues to push for more information. Soon Control wonders if he has been hypnotized and conditioned for this job as the members of the last team into Area X were.
The suspicion also begins to grow that Area X is changing and reaching out to beyond its mysterious border.
As with the previous book, Authority contains sparse prose. In depth descriptions are rare with much of the writing built around terse conversations and Control’s inner monologue. Despite, or maybe because of, the style the books are compelling, pulling the reader into the hallucinatory atmosphere of Area X and the agency investigating it. Bizarre stories about previous investigation teams, groups stranded when the barrier around Area X suddenly appeared, and bizarre events like an invasion of thousands of rabbits (thus the cover) all create some amazing story work.