Completed 5/24/2015, Reviewed 5/30/2015
“Authority” is the second book in the Southern Reach Trilogy. In “Annihilation”, four women are sent to explore the mysterious Area X, a place where something has happened, but no one knows for sure what. It’s been described to the public as an ecological disaster. The explorers uncover a much more Lovecraftian evil. This book picks up at the Southern Reach agency complex outside Area X. John Rodriguez who goes by the nickname “Control” is assigned to the agency as its new head. His assignment is to turn the troubled agency around and find the truth about the area from the biologist from that last expedition. Okay, I cheated. I pulled most of that from the book summary. What was it really about? I’m not sure. I could barely focus on this mess of a novel.
This book was perhaps the greatest let down of a second novel in a trilogy I’ve ever read. I think it was supposed to be a character study of Control. He had a troubled childhood and a troubling journey into this secret service. Now as head of the agency, he’s having trouble because everybody is uncooperative, the interviewee, the staff, and particularly, his assistant. I didn’t care; he wasn’t interesting. So he’s troubled, lots of people are troubled but at least they're interesting. The revelations from his investigation of Area X are only a little creepy. It was very difficult staying focused on the book when the author doesn’t make you care about anything.
Another problem with the book is that it is so poorly written. Vandermeer relies on a lot of prose to set mood and help you get inside Control’s head. The prose is terse and difficult. Reading it was unpleasant. In my review of the first book, I acknowledged that it wasn’t well written, but the mystery of the expedition, the creepiness of the discoveries, and the back story of the biologist kept me focused. This time, nothing did. The last book to which I had such a bad response to the prose was Chabon’s “The Yiddish Policeman’s
Union”. “Authority” is simply painful.
When I got to the end of the book, I had a revelation. There was no point to the book other than to expand it into a trilogy. I haven’t read the third book yet, but it seemed to me that all you needed to know in preparation for the third is revealed in the last twenty pages. There’s this guy, he’s troubled, the agency is corrupt, and he will help figure out the mystery of Area X in the third book. That’s it. At least, that’s all I got out if it.
I’ve only given one star once before. I give it sparingly. I feel like if you at least try, you can get two stars. All Vandermeer tried to do was waste paper. Even Chabon seemed to try. At this point, I would say “Annihilation” can stand as a self-contained, unresolved psychological horror. Since there is a third novel, I’m hoping that if there is a resolution, it will have something to make the effort worthwhile.