Where lies the strangling fruit that came from the hand of the sinner
The twelfth expedition to Area X, which has been cut off from the rest of the continent for 30 years, is lead by an five-woman team: the biologist, the anthropologist, the surveyor, the psychologist, and the linguist. Their mission: avoid contamination and survey the mysterious area from the lighthouse to the camp to the tunnel. Or is it a tower?
Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy (2014) is a welcome change in the trilogy method of speculative fiction story-telling. Although each book builds on the story of the Border and the Southern Reach, the narrative style is very different in each book. Annihilation (Book 1) is told in the first person through the Biologist’s journal and is an expedition/adventure horror story with a non-Euclidean monster lurking around the corner.
Authority (Book 2) is told in limited third-person POV and focuses on Control, the new director of the Southern Reach, and his mission to find out what happened on the expeditions. This story is more of a bureaucratic horror story: a combination of spycraft and dystopian bureaucracy trying to deal with the cosmic horror of the unknown–what is the Border? How and why is it there? What happened on the twelfth and prior expeditions? (As someone who deals with bureaucracy on the job, I loved this just as much as the expedition narrative!)
Acceptance (Book 3) is limited-third narratives of several different characters from the time before Border came down and after.
In the first book, all of the characters are women, but we don’t know much about who they are outside of the expedition or what they look like, which is actually really refreshing. In the second, the (new) narrator has more information about the staff of the Southern Reach and the twelfth expedition, so there are more physical descriptions–it turns out the majority of the cast are multiracial POC, at least half are women, and one is queer. In the third book, there are multiple narrators, so some of the cast gets more interiority than the Biologist and Control. The inclusive of the information about the characters’ races and sexualities feels completely natural. Writers, take note: this is how you write diversity into your speculative fiction.
I won’t say too much more in the hope of avoiding spoilers, but if you’re a fan of horror-flavored sci fi with incomprehensible plants and an even more incomprehensible government agency, you will love this.
Consolidation of authority.
Type: adventure/expedition, dystopia (natural and human), spycraft.
Content warning: mild body horror, mind control, bureaucratic nightmares, interrogation (no torture), the futility of life/your job, creepy plants, more Lovecraftian mind-bending creatures, foreboding, spycraft, natural disasters, nothing is as it seems, everything is ruined forever.