The Southern Reach

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The Southern Reach

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Mar 9, 2018, 11:07 am

I've just read and reviewed Jeff VanderMeer's Annihilation--the basis for the currently-showing film (which I haven't seen) and the first volume of the Southern Reach trilogy. I've got a library request in for the next volume Authority.

I'm interested in other readers' impressions of these. How does VanderMeer's "New Weird" relate to our Weird Tradition? I read a review that suggested that these have "more than a hint of Lovecraft" but I don't see that much. The tone seems really different. I guess I could compare the "expedition" context to that in The Mountains of Madness. Thoughts?

Mar 9, 2018, 11:40 am

I've been following this series for awhile now (including your recent review) and while I haven't plunked for the novel yet, I think it's just a matter of when. Your observation that there are a couple layers going on (especially the espistemological / personal identity but also the mystical journey) reinforces the main attraction for me.

Generally the style seems to provoke a wide range of reactions, and I suspect that's what's behind the "hint of Lovecraft" -- for those not intimately familiar with HPL, that's a synonym for Weird or just weird more than a valid parallel. I like this aspect of the book, too: it doesn't seem to be heading for a clearcut, sharply delineated story. That seems to throw a lot of readers for a loop.

Edited: Apr 2, 2018, 12:43 pm

I'm most of the way through Authority now (and I've just checked out Acceptance from the public library). This second volume emphasizes the espionage dimension more. It reminds me of a grimmer Laundry Files--not for the yog-sothothery, but for the Kafkaesque intelligence bureaucracy with degraded resources, hidden factions and compromised leadership. Like the first book, it's very character-driven, with some clever ideas and limpid, evocative prose.

Although it takes place chronologically after Annihilation in a narrative continuity not so well supported by the film adaptation, I can see points in which this book's further details of the Southern Reach influenced its presentation in the movie.

Edited: Apr 6, 2018, 12:39 pm

I finished the third book and posted my review, in which I suggest a kinship to "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," in terms of that story's celebrated/debated coda.

I think it's odd that the LT tags for these books include many dozens for "dystopia" and "dystopian." They don't at all fit in the genre of dystopian literature as far as I'm concerned. They have nothing to do with an alternative or projected organization of civil society.

Apr 6, 2018, 12:38 pm

Also: My 13-year-old daughter has now read Annihilation and started on Authority. I'm curious what she'll make of these books.

Apr 6, 2018, 1:48 pm

>5 paradoxosalpha:

Much more interesting read than my daughter's exposure to Poe through "Eleonora", certainly. I'll be curious about her take, too, hope you can update.

In some ways the popularity of Southern Reach is itself unexpected. I haven't looked into this idea, but I wonder if for whatever reason the books ended up with a much wider (non-genre) audience than is typical, and so many of the counfounding takes are from those non-genre readers. I don't think it a bad thing, I hasten to add, it's just been mildly unexpected these "off target" descriptions: HPL (though you suggest there is a parallel in the final book), dystopia, science fiction generally, and also readers who complain about the lack of clear-cut horror.

Edited: Apr 6, 2018, 3:46 pm

I don't know whether it would help or hurt to be unfamiliar with the precedent genres in this case. Certainly the books tend to stump expectations in science fiction, espionage, and horror alike. For someone who is comfortable in just one or two of those genres, looking for customary fare, frustration is likely, I suspect.

Apr 9, 2018, 10:47 am

I saw the film ANNIHILATION and disliked it, despite some inventive moments. It does have plenty of cosmic horror touches, but to me it ultimately falls apart in its enigmatic aspirations. I suspect that someone like Ben Wheatley (A FIELD IN ENGLAND) might have handled it better. Still, I'm curious as to how well the screenplay succeeds in translating the novel, especially the finale.

Apr 9, 2018, 10:55 am

>8 semdetenebre: I'm curious as to how well the screenplay succeeds in translating the novel, especially the finale.

The finale is not a translation of the novel. It substitutes a different set of events for the end of the novel. In the novel, there is no dweller in the lighthouse--that's a substitute for the Crawler in the tower/tunnel at a completely different location. There is no monkey business with phosphorous grenades. And there is certainly no disintegration of the Area X phenomenon.

I liked the movie pretty well for what it was, but fidelity to the book was not part of that package. We've had a pretty interesting conversation about it going in the movies thread in Science Fiction Fans.

If you didn't like the movie, don't let it dissuade you on the book, which is a fast read and very rewarding.

Apr 9, 2018, 11:19 am

>9 paradoxosalpha:

Aha! Thanks for that. Based on the positive things I've heard about the novel, I could only hope that there was somehow a disconnect between it and the movie I saw. I still might read it, after all.

Apr 10, 2018, 4:43 pm

As a further point about how far the movie is from the novel, there are no proper names for any of the characters in the novel. As part of their conditioning for the expedition into Area X, they are required to identify only as their job roles. The book's narrative is the journal of the biologist ("Lena" in the movie), and there are a variety of reasons to doubt her reliability as a narrator. The movie tries to create that atmosphere of uncertainty through other mechanisms, including the extramarital affair that's not in the book.

Edited: Apr 11, 2018, 9:45 am

>11 paradoxosalpha:

Now that you mention it, as far as the film goes, I think it might have benefited from jettisoning those proper names. I'm sure that the idea was that the poor audience would be incapable of identifying with characters with no names (*ahem* Clint Eastwood). The "name" stars were also a distraction. Unknowns would have worked better, but then there goes the budget. I'd bet that the studio also insisted on the distracting extra-marital affair so Natalie could "act". It's kind of the opposite of JAWS, in which the novel featured an annoying extra-marital affair subplot that Spielberg wisely removed, creating a leaner, meaner screenplay.

Apr 11, 2018, 9:32 am

Well, the movie starts outside the frame of the book, with Lena's experiences prior to joining the Southern Reach, so she's expected to have a name there. The book gives her background in the course of reflections in her journal, and it's really unfilmable as written.