Annihilation had a pretty cover. It was gold and covered in fine spores that drifted across the page invitingly, so I picked it up not knowing what to expect. (Although people say not to trust a book by its cover, I’ve not been burned yet, touch wood.) It started off with a simple premise: a small team of specialists are sent to a strange contaminated area in order to figure out what was going on. It soon descended into weirder and weirder territory, as the team started coming across oddly human creatures, arcane scribblings and a whole host of other Lovecraftian visions. It crept up on me and stayed with me for a good long time after I had finished reading it. I won’t spoil Annihilation in this review, but I think before you progress any further you should pick the book up and then come back as it’ll make (somewhat) more sense. Don’t worry, I’ll still be here.
All caught up? Good. It’s hard to talk about a sequel without chatting about the first novel, even if the two books are so radically different in tone and scope. Authority takes place directly after the events of Annihilation, but instead of being back inside Area X, we instead spend our time at the Southern Reach itself, a base just on the outskirts of the containment zone where research is conducted and operatives trained. We also meet a new POV character known by his somewhat mocking childhood nickname of Control. Sent to weed out the corruption and fix the mistakes of the insular and failing Southern Reach program, Control finds himself fighting a Kafkaesque system of hierarchy and stubborn employees, all while trying to solve the mysteries of Area X. The previous director appears to have been breaking all sorts of rules and hoarding strange things, all while becoming singularly obsessed with the area. Wading his way through incomprehensible documents, sickening footage and the strange scrawled writing and sketches drawn on the walls of the base, he becomes convinced that the returned biologist is the key to the secret of Area X.
If Annihilation was the biologist heading down a literal tunnel in a strange and hostile world, Authority has Control venturing down a figurative one, into a maze of bureaucracy and obfuscated motives in search of the truth. While all the characters in Annihilation were known only by their roles and the truth hidden, here we are giving an awful lot of information both about the previous explorations and Control’s own past and motivations. Annihilation took place entirely within Area X, trapping the crew and us deep within the unearthly world from the outset. Authority, however keeps us at a detached distance, with video footage and dry reports to normalise the phenomena – at least until the otherworldly starts making inroads into the Southern Reach itself, encroaching on this sterile landscape. While it answers some of the questions posed by the first book, it throws open a whole lot more. Control is an engaging character, and you feel for him as the area starts to affect him and his superior, a disembodied authority figure known only as the Voice increasingly manipulates him. Who is the Voice, and why has Control been sent to this forsaken zone?
At one point a character muses about terroir, a wine term denoting a sense of place, and how the special aspects of a location all create a unique bottle. And that’s what this book is: a fine vintage that is the sum if all its disparate parts to drink slowly and appreciate. It’s a slow mover that delicately layers on the dread until even the walls are steeped in it. And with only a few months to go until its release, I can’t wait to uncork the third and final book in the trilogy, Acceptance.