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Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy:…

Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy: Annihilation; Authority; Acceptance

by Jeff VanderMeer

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Absolutely weird, surreal, and disturbing. A one of a kind story, if David Lynch ever wrote scifi, this would be it. ( )
  RossWhippo | Jul 3, 2017 |
The Southern Reach Trilogy begins with what sounds like the set-up for a joke: a biologist, an anthropologist, a surveyor, and a psychologist walk into ... but this story is no joke. These four people comprise the twelfth expedition into Area X, a place cut off from the rest of the world, accessible only through a "doorway" in the Southern Reach.

I paused before selecting a genre for this review. It's equal parts science fiction, fantasy, horror, dystopian fiction, and mystery. The first book in particular, Annihilation, keeps you revising your views as more data comes to light. This is page turning fiction at its best.

As I read, H. P. Lovecraft kept coming to mind. Both Lovecraft and Vandermeer wrestle with the idea of an unspeakable, incomprehensible horror from outside any human frame of reference. How do we come to grips with something wholly other? Area X represents an existential threat to humanity.

Area X is one of the most unique and gripping trilogies I have ever read. ( )
1 vote StephenBarkley | May 29, 2016 |
The first book creates a strange world that makes all worlds, including this one, seem likewise strange. I listened to the book while staying at the Disneyland Hotel, running the 6-mile block perimeter that encloses the famed amusement park. The whole thing seems of a weird and wonderful piece. But the remaining two books kind of fell apart, thus four not five stars. ( )
  evamat72 | Mar 31, 2016 |
Book one was amazing. X-Files level creepy. The rest was so-so. ( )
  RyaneCandyce | Feb 15, 2016 |
I'm a sucker for a good setting, and thus was completely on board with the start of the Southern Reach Trilogy. Annihilation puts the reader in the thick of things immediately, opening in the midst of an expedition to the mysterious Area X. It's an alien environment, but not completely alien- as a part of the East Coast shoreline transformed by unknown forces, it retains some elements that are familiar, but other things are anything but. It reminded me strongly of The Zone from Roadside Picnic, a work which I'm sure VanderMeer is familiar with (since he wrote the introduction to The Dead Mountaineer's Inn, a work by the same authors), but unlike in Roadside Picnic, the Southern Reach Trilogy does not explain Area X, instead leaving it to serve simultaneously as the setting and the central mystery of the series. With a setup like this, in combination with the fact that VanderMeer is a solid prose stylist, I expected some great things from this series, but unfortunately those expectations were not met.

Let's get the smaller criticisms out of the way first: Area X is where the action is, where the answers are, so the entirety of Authority felt like the useless spinning of wheels. It fills in the world around Area X, and develops additional characters, but no matter what developments happen in the outside world they're always going to be of secondary importance. Another criticism is that none of the characters have as developed of an arc as the Biologist did in Annihilation. Some of them are interesting, and even minor side characters like the realtor were made memorable, but none compared to the biologist. Finally, VanderMeer writes scenes of intense action in intentionally obfuscating ways, so that it's hard to piece together what's going on and the developments only become clear in retrospect. In doing this I think VanderMeer is trying to capture the feeling you get in situations like this that everything's a blur and you're not understanding everything that's going on, just reacting to the situation. Nevertheless, it's like those action movies where a fight scene consists of a hundred different half-second cuts so that it's nearly impossible to tell what's going on- it isn't fun to experience.

My big criticism, though, is that, given the way in which VanderMeer chose to end this series and the message I believe he was trying to convey, Authority and Acceptance were almost entirely pointless. VanderMeer does an interesting thing between books that I don't think I've seen before, he has characters refute "truths" that characters in earlier books uncovered. In Annihilation, the Biologist concludes that the Psychologist sent the Anthropologist to her death via a hypnotic command. In Acceptance, it's revealed that in fact the Psychologist was trying to save the Anthropologist, who was too committed to trying to prove herself. In the Authority, Control realizes that certain people are actually on the side of Area X, and then in Acceptance it becomes clear that those people actually aren't. Thus, VanderMeer keeps you guessing even with regards to the few things that you think you've learned in the series. There are no firm truths in Area X. The problem is, this uncertainty means that, even if there were a conclusion which explained the nature of Area X, it would always be in question. The series doesn't even try to give us an explanation for Area X, however, instead giving us a few possibilities, none of which actually explain much about what is going on in the books. Is it a different dimension, or a probe sent out by a now-dead civilization that creates an alien habitat on Earth? Or has everything been transported millions of lightyears away? And did the CIA have a hand in causing the creation of Area X? How about amateur paranormal investigators, what role did they play? Regardless of how you answer these questions with the scraps of information that VanderMeer gives you, it doesn't provide any explanation as to what the tunnel is, what the crawler is (in terms of purpose), why Control's sacrifice mattered, or what that sacrifice accomplished. Acceptance asks us to accept that we aren't going to get any concrete answers, and the series as a whole delivers a message of perpetual uncertainty.

Fine, I don't mind the lack of resolution and a central theme of the universe being unknowable, but if that's what the series wants to leave us with, then why not make Annihilation a standalone book, instead of the first part of a series? Annihilation also leaves us with vague impressions and questions without answers, maintaining Area X as a mystery us readers will never fully solve, but does it in a succinct ~150 pages and with a complete story arc curtesy of the Biologist. Authority and Acceptance, despite doing a couple interesting things as I've indicated above, don't add to the core experience. They provide layers of additional information and characters, both questionable in usefulness, but they obscure the star of the series, Area X, which is presented best in Annihilation. As a standalone, Annihilation would have been a 4 star book for me, but with the extra baggage and diminishing returns of Authority and Acceptance the entire series is dragged down to the "fine, but nothing special" range. I'd recommend reading Annihilation and leaving it at that. ( )
  BayardUS | Jan 10, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374261172, Hardcover)

In time for the holidays, a single-volume hardcover edition that brings together the three volumes of the Southern Reach Trilogy, which were originally published as paperback originals in February, May, and September 2014.

is the first volume in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, Authority is the second, and Acceptance is the third.
     Area X—a remote and lush terrain—has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.
     This is the twelfth expedition.
     Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.
     They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything.
     After the disastrous twelfth expedition chronicled in Annihilation, the Southern Reach—the secret agency that monitors these expeditions—is in disarray. In Authority, John Rodriguez, aka “Control,” is the team’s newly appointed head. From a series of interrogations, a cache of hidden notes, and hours of profoundly troubling video footage, the secrets of Area X begin to reveal themselves—and what they expose pushes Control to confront disturbing truths about both himself and the agency he’s promised to serve. And the consequences will spread much further than that.
     It is winter in Area X in Acceptance. A new team embarks across the border on a mission to find a member of a previous expedition who may have been left behind. As they press deeper into the unknown—navigating new terrain and new challenges—the threat to the outside world becomes more daunting. The mysteries of Area X may have been solved, but their consequences and implications are no less profound—or terrifying.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:43 -0400)

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