I didn’t set out to be a “weird book” reviewer, but I guess that’s what I’ve been drawn to lately. It’s been fun reading books that take typical plots and turn them sideways. I’ve always been a SciFi fan, so getting to read weird, award-winning SciFi made me a happy reviewer.
In 2014, author Jeff VanderMeer released three books, all part of the Southern Reach Trilogy. These books quickly gained some notoriety in the SciFi world and Mr. VanderMeer won both the Nebula Award and the Shirley Jackson award that year. I heard that a movie was going to be made based on the books and sat down to find out what all the fuss was about.
Thankfully, the trilogy is pretty short–about 900 pages. I found them both entertaining and compelling and couldn’t put them down. A quick word of warning: this trilogy is not for people who need every loose end tied up by the last page of the book. You will have lots of questions and pretty much none of them will be answered.
What I can tell you is that there is a place known as the Southern Reach, which is somewhere in Florida. The area is infected with some kind of alien life form and can keep things out if it chooses, but humankind has found a way in and has sent in expeditions to explore the growing infection. These expeditions never end well, but the government keeps sending them anyway.
Annihilation is the first of the trilogy. A team of four women – an anthropologist, surveyor, biologist, and psychologist – are exploring the Southern Reach. The Biologist and her team discover an underground silo filled with ominous writing. They also explore a lighthouse, which holds secrets about the previous missions and their outcomes.
The Biologist’s fears about the expedition are brought to light when she realizes that the Psychologist is using hypnotism to control the group. After the Anthropologist goes missing, the mission falls apart completely. Fighting the very team she was supposed to trust, the Biologist must find a way to survive the swamps of the Southern Reach and the horrific creatures she discovers there.
Very little about the history of the Southern Reach and the previous expeditions is revealed in Annihilation. We only know what the Biologist knows, but she barely trusts herself. I think it was the list of questions I had about just what was really going on that propelled me through the next two books in the series.
Authority takes place after the events of Annihilation. A new Director for the Southern Reach facility arrives. This man, who prefers to be called Control, is a hugely conflicted character. As he interacts with the Biologist, Control begins to discover that he has been misled about the purpose of the Southern Reach and the experiments that have gone on there. He begins to investigate the mysterious disappearance of the previous Director and finds that she may have had a deeper connection to the Southern Reach than anyone realized.
Acceptance, the final book, takes place as a prequel. The point of view jumps back and forth between several characters and pieces together what the Southern Reach was like before explorations, clone-monsters, and glow-in-the-dark lighthouse keepers. There are several plots that are explored in Acceptance and they each serve to give us more information about the characters and stories that hold the previous two books together.
While Mr. VanderMeer had a great opportunity to answer all our questions in Acceptance, he chose not to. Instead, he uses the trilogy to explore human nature and what we might do when we’re faced with an unknowable entity. If you like wacky, weird fiction without answers, this should be right up your alley.