Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Audiobook review: Authority

Listened 6/26/14 - 7/7/14
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended to readers of Book 1, for, uhm, obvious reasons
Audio 10.5 hours
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Released: May 2014

WARNING: Do not read this review if you haven't read Annihilation. I'm about to spoil a whole lotta shit if you do....

So Book 2 of the Southern Reach Trilogy. Not as chilling and creepy as Annihilation, but certainly not without charms of its own, either.

Authority picks up a few months after the events of Annihilation, with Jeff Vandermeer turning his sharp eye on the inner workings of The Southern Reach and the introduction of Control, its new Acting Director. Immediately, we itch to ask questions... where did Control come from? The old Director, the one Control is replacing, who was he/she? And Jeff does not waste any time filling in these blanks.

We discover quite early on that Control's mother works out in Central - a fancy name for Headquarters - and she pulled some strings to get her son into the position. He's a bit of a fuck-up, lets his emotions lead him around, but he's thorough and determined to get to the bottom of whatever the hell is going on at The Southern Reach. All of these Expeditions come and gone, and getting worse... what is actually going on over at the Border and within Area X? And how much of it is to be blamed on The Southern Reach's incompetence?

Control's first order of business is to interview the survivors of the 12th Expedition. That's right. I said it. The Survivors. What the...?! If you'll recall, everyone but The Biologist died in Area X, and the last we heard of The Biologist, she was walking to the farthest shores in search of her husband, who she felt certain was still out there somewhere. But, nope. Here they all are... well, almost all of them. The Southern Reach found The Archaeologist, The Surveyor, and The Biologist miraculously returned to the real world, with little to no recollection of the events that took place within Area X or of how they escaped it. The Psychologist, however, has not yet turned up.

Here, Control makes his first decision - he'll only interview The Biologist. He informs Grace, the Assistant Director, of this - she's a woman of many, many secrets who harbors a serious dislike of Control - and she promptly releases the others. So, it's Control and The Biologist. And she's behaving oddly. She's not playing along and her responses, vague and incomplete, end up only creating more questions for him. Control needs to understand what took place within the realm of the Border, what The Biologist - who's asked Control to call her "Ghostbird" because, she claims, she is NOT The Biologist - recalls of Area X, her fellow Expedition-mates, and how the heck she ended up back in the vacant lot.

In between the bouts of interviewing, Control gets to know his staff. There's Chaney, a strangely chipper gentleman who acts as Control's Chauffeur, making introductions, teaching him the layout of the land, and even driving him over to the Border so he can see it firsthand. He appears mostly unconcerned and unknowledgeable with the inner workings of The Southern Reach. Then there's Whitby, a scientist of sorts, who is obsessed with the Border and the secrets it contains. He's a weird one, Whitby, spending a lot of his time in the supply closet, and Control - like it or not - spends quite a bit of time with him, listening to his theories on Area X and the Border and what is it and HOW it came to be.  And of course, there's Grace, his Assistant Director, who seems dead-set on withholding information, only sharing details when Control's proven to her that he's already gathered intel on the things he questions her on. She's covering something up, or hiding something, and Control's not going to give up until he gets to the bottom of the Expeditions.

So in a sense, Authority is actually about Control's LACK of authority and the false sense of authority Central and The Southern Reach appear to be wielding around. Who can stand there and say they have authority or control over nature? Or unnatural events? Who can claim to have an event like The Border and Area X under control when they don't have a clue about how to it even came to be? Or what's controlling IT?

Where Annihilation shone a spotlight inside Area X, here, Authority tries to shine the light outside Area X, highlighting all of the cracks in the system, the confusion and curiosity of the 'Corporate Heads', and proves, once and for all, that no one has a fucking clue what the hell is going on.

Authority is not as fast-paced as it predecessor, and it reads like a true investigation would... ask a few questions, see what rabbit-holes it forces you down, change your technique and your focus, ask a few more questions, weigh the new information against the information you've already got, see what fits and what doesn't, pressure the interviewee, pressure your peers, look inside locked cabinets and behind sealed doors to uncover the secrets no one else wants you to see, ask the questions no one wants to answer and WHAM-O. By the end of the book, your head is spinning and everything you thought you knew about Area X and the Border and Central and The Southern Reach is simultaneously confirmed and thrown out the window.

So, does Authority give you answers to some of the questions you had while reading Annihilation? Absolutely! But, for every answer you get, Authority creates another question that is left hanging, which we hope are to be explored in Book 3.  

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