Having finished Annihilation, I was really excited to see where the Southern Reach series would go. From what I could gather from the blurb, Authority would focus more on the actual facility that sent out the expeditions, as they try and wrap their heads around whatever is going on in Area X, which I thought had a lot of potential. As a warning, there will be spoilers for Annihilation in the following review, so if you’re still in the middle of it, I would advise skipping this until you’re finished.
Authority follows John “Control” Rodriguez, a secret service agent who has taken over as the new director at Southern Reach, following Annihilation‘s disastrous twelfth expedition. Three of the expedition members have returned home without triggering any alarms at the border of Area X, only the psychologist, now revealed to be the former director, still missing. Having been charged by his mysterious handler, known only as “the Voice”, to put Southern Reach back into some kind of order, Control must try and navigate deliberately obstructive staff who are certain that the former director will return, the unnerving and circuitous notes left behind by the former director, and the disturbing notion that his superiors are keeping secrets from him.
When I finish a book, what I usually do is write my review, submit it, and then take a look at other people’s reviews to see where we differ. As I wanted to organise my thoughts a little before discussing Authority, I looked at the reviews first. The number of one star reviews that I found in surprisingly quick succession gave me a bit of a shock. But taking a look at the content of those criticisms, I could see where they were all coming from, despite personally quite liking it. So, the main criticisms seemed to be with regards to the comparatively slow pace and more mundane focus on what is essentially office politics, especially after the weirdness that was Annihilation. They seem like decent enough points to discuss, and I can avoid the majority of spoilers. Looking at Authority having finished it, I can say that the slow pace and the focus on office politics, while admittedly frustrating at times, does seem to have its place in the grand scheme of the Southern Reach series. The pace and focus serve to develop what could be considered the status quo of two elements: Control, and the Southern Reach facility.
I’ll start with Southern Reach itself. While initially appearing rather normal for a facility dealing with Area X, the mundane routine of a 9-5 working week means that each day reveals layer after layer of weirdness and misdirection between all the different people working there. Control’s return to his rented home in the nearby town provides a much more straightforward example of normality, so you can really see how Area X is starting to bleed out and affect its surroundings. And once you get to the part of Authority where the plot goes from 0 to 60, it is way more of a shock to the system. Having created a pocket of comparative normality, the uninhibited weirdness of Area X that turns up in the final third is stark and feels so much more threatening for it.
Then there is Control. He decides at the beginning of his term as the director that he won’t let himself get emotionally involved in anything that he finds out, and that he will stay firmly in control of whatever he needs to do in order to clean up after his predecessor, meaning that he sets out with a hyper-vigilant mind-set. The set-backs that he encounters pretty much immediately, like the strange obsession that he has with interviewing the biologist and the deliberate withholding of information from both his employees and superiors, aren’t necessarily big when he is first confronted with them. But with his hyper-vigilance, he picks up on every little detail, both legitimate cause for concern and irrelevant tidbit, and soon everything is being seen as part of a mass of competing conspiracies, leading him on a downward spiral to anxiety and paranoia. I think you can probably guess what a mindset that defensive and fragile will do when confronted with anything from Area X, right?
If you’ve started reading Authority with the intent of getting concrete answers for questions you had from Annihilation, then you will be disappointed. It does give some more details about the Southern Reach facility though, so while I won’t admit to knowing much more than I did at the end of the last book, I think I have a firmer feel on how the world works. I have seen some criticism that Authority focuses too much on the office politics, but I think that the slow pace and (comparatively) mundane setting are very cleverly pulled off. The focus on seemingly unimportant details both develops how the normal world is affected by Area X even with containment, and allows Control to move from being stoic and hyper-vigilant to someone who is barely coping with his own anxiety and paranoia. You just have to be patient with it. 4.5/5
Next review: Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer