In the first book of Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, an expedition team of four government explorers: a psychologist, an anthropologist, a surveyor and a biologist journey into unknown coastal Area X, a seemingly natural promised land. From the outset of this dense science fiction journey, the threat of desolation looms in the surrounding beauty of the landscape.
There are books where, as you’re reading, you can almost feel the author’s hand guiding you along, helping you pick up clues, and leading you to that one, resounding “aha!” just a few pages from the end of the book where all the loose ends tie up into one neat bow.
That is not Southern Reach.
Jeff VanderMeer has a very distinctive writing style. He’s the kind of author who can fill you with details, details about the setting, details about the characters, details about the mysterious government organization that may or may not be withholding crucial information about the dozens of people who have been sent into Area X, a place that has been cut off from the rest of the continent by a strange barrier for decades. But he won’t tell you what happened there. He can tell you everything about the women sent on an expedition – the twelfth such expedition – into this quarantined area, everything from their jobs to their personalities to intimate facts about the people they love. But he won’t tell you their names. Or what they’re looking for.
The Southern Reach trilogy – Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance – is a perfectly executed work of the genre called New Weird. These are novels for people who are captivated by the unreliable narrators of H.P. Lovecraft, the weird and shifting landscapes of China Mieville, the non-linear storytelling of Mark Z. Danielewski. The only requirement for entry is an open mind – but not too open. Hold your memories close and your notes closer, and don’t spend too long in Area X or you just might forget who you are.
In the second part of the Southern Reach trilogy, the organization is falling apart. A man called “Control” has been newly appointed as head of the Southern Reach, but with an uncooperative team and profoundly troubling evidence plaguing his efforts, Control seems to be unable to halt the decline. What disturbing truths will Control uncover, not just about Area X, but about himself?
Winter has fallen and Area X is expanding, threatening to swallow up everything in its path. The Southern Reach has collapsed and nothing remains but confusion. With everything in peril, one final expedition ventures into Area X, hoping to find the answers they’re seeking and stop the mysterious perimeter from swallowing everything.