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Jeff VanderMeer
Farrar, Straus, Giroux
US Trade Paperback First Edition
ISBN 978-0-374-10410-8
Publication Date: 05-06-2014
344 Pages; $15
Date Reviewed: 05-12-2014
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2014

Index:  Science Fiction  Horror  General Fiction  Mystery

Every answer spawns more questions. Every promotion serves only to dig the hole deeper. Every program to bring order to chaos creates disaster, not dominion. Our strength as a species is our ability to plan; our weakness is our inability (and unwillingness) to imagine the successors of our success.

John Rodriguez, who likes to call himself Control, has been put in charge of The Southern Reach, a secret government program meant to manage Area X, a swathe of the southeastern coast where the landscape has taken on a life of its own. It sounds like a step up, but it feels like a step off a precipice and into an abyss.

Jeff Vandermeer's 'Authority,' the delightful follow-on to 'Annihilation,' his dark and terrorizing expedition into the ineffable Area X, takes a decidedly different track than the first book. Exploring how obtuse human personalities build a bureaucracy that's better at maintaining itself than accomplishing anything useful, 'Authority' adds a variety of perspectives to 'Annihilation.' As we understand a lot more about Area X, VanderMeer manages a very unique feat. He makes it fun, really fun, to read about what happens when we bump up against the limits of our knowledge. Call it terror with an edgy, cagey smile.

As the novel opens, Control has been brought in to take over from the previous director of the Southern Reach, to make sense of the last expedition, and bring some much-needed order and decisiveness to a project that is foundering badly. On one hand, it's hard to tell just how serious the problems posed by Area X might be. But from another perspective, Area X looks quite clearly to be the beginning of the end. The Apocalypse has arrived, but we can't even tell what the hell it is or means.

Control is our main voice in this wilderness, and he's an absolute hoot to read. VanderMeer walks a very thin line with such grace and confidence that he manages to pull off a very complicated ambience. There's a lot of very low-key humor to be found in 'Authority,' jostling up right alongside some very scary and unnerving glimpses of the unknown.

As Control looks into the written records and fragments to get to know his new bailiwick, we're granted a new understanding of what transpired in the first novel. But what we now know only indicates how much is unknown both to the reader and the characters. Our search for what's going on becomes intense and compelling reading.

The biologist from 'Annihilation' returns in 'Authority,' now re-incarnated as something more than what she was in the first book. But she's seemingly the least of Control's problems. The Assistant director, and the staff of the Southern Reach, are all the sorts of folks every one of us has worked with before. The difficult ones, the talented jerks, the pushy authority figures, the off-kilter dweebs whose inability to maintain a sense of balance might seem more humorous if it didn't threaten to gum up the whole shebang. They're all a blast to read about.

'Authority' proves itself to be a very potent version of workplace farce in a workplace where the consequences are prone to be cataclysmic. And while it and 'Annihilation' clearly demand resolution in the forthcoming 'Acceptance,' it's a fine launch, a long walk off the short pier of what we know into a future that makes no promises other than to surprise us with the sure and certain knowledge that we never knew what we thought we knew. If only we could encompass our ignorance, we would be impregnable.

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