It is pretty rare for me to get hooked by a book series – a science-fictiony one at that. But hooked I am on Jeff Vandermeer’s (Van Der Meer?) Southern Reach Trilogy. Authority is the second book in the series, and while I have been grumbling about the short length of each of the books (shouldn’t this be one big book in stead of three tiny books?), I have to grudgingly admit that there might be a reason beyond a publisher trying to sequeeze three purchases out of one piece of work.
Even though Authority nicely picks off where the first book leaves off, it is subject to a fairly radical change of setting and character, which I think does justify three books. I do not think I should give too much away here, but Van Der Meer (Vandermeer?) masterfully shifted the subject of narration fairly drastically. The result is powerful; the reader is supplied with both more answers and more questions, while the fundamental mystery of the books remains elusive.
Part of what makes these books so good is that they do not conform to any trope that we as readers have become familiar with. If you are reading a mystery series like Longmire, no matter what twists and turns the author throws at you, you know that in the end, Sheriff Longmire will discover who the murderer is and serve some folksy justice. There is none of that in the Southern Reach books. You have no idea what to expect next: no familiar rules of literature seem to apply. Alien invasion? Psychological parable about how the monster is us? Dystopian ecological disaster? Revenge of Gaia? Supernatural horror a la Lovecraft? This makes the reading absolutely gripping as a result.
As I meditate on the mysteries of Area X, I am struck by the real strength of the books: it’s the writing. Vandermeer (Vander Meer?) pays the reader the compliment of trusting our intelligence and attention span. This is one of those books where the mind of the reader fills in the gaps and silences in the story; Vandermeer knows exactly what he is doing, and the result is a great reading experience.