Authority by Jeff Vandermeer – A Book Review

You may remember that I read the first book of the Southern Reach Trilogy, called Annihilation, in anticipation of the movie.  You may also remember that I wasn’t crazy about it.  However, I eventually saw the movie and loved it.

So even though I didn’t like the first book, the general premise and the movie itself tempted me to give the second literary installment a try.

I recently finished Authority, the sequel to Annihilation, and it left me rather apathetic.  The author, Jeff Vandermeer, elected to change course from the first book and focus instead on the Southern Reach facility, the entity responsible for sending the team into Area X from the first book.  Our main character is no longer the biologist who narrated Annihilation.  Instead, Vandermeer is using a third-person narrator with the story squarely settled on “Control,” the new head of Southern Reach.  Control (John Rodriquez) moves throughout the book utterly confused.  Like the reader, he has no idea what is going on in Area X, nor does he understand the full scope and history of Southern Reach.

In the beginning of the book, I accepted Control’s chaotic immersion into Southern Reach.  I assumed that he would soon solve some of the enigmatic entity’s mysteries.  Instead, Vandermeer chose to pile even more mystery upon both Control and the reader.  Though some revelations arrive, both Control and the audience are left feeling even less informed than they did before!

I basically plodded through most of this book.  The ending intensified, but for the most part, I never fully invested in neither the story nor Control.

However, I’ve come this far, so guess what I’m reading now?  Yes, Acceptance, the third part of the Southern Reach Trilogy.  Like Control, I seemingly have to know Area X and Southern Reach’s secrets, no matter what level of discomfort occurs during the process of discovery.

I have a feeling, though, that the third book will ultimately disclose nothing.  That appears to be the pattern.  I’ll let you know.

authority_(southern_reach_trilogy)_by_jeff_vandermeer

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

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Annihilation – A Movie Review

I happen to really enjoy Alex Garland’s work, particularly Ex MachinaAnnihilation hit the theaters and disappeared almost immediately, so I didn’t get a chance to see it until last night.

In preparation for the film, back when I thought I’d catch it in the theaters, I read the source material.  (My review for the book can be found HERE.)  This action proved totally unnecessary.  You can watch Annihilation without reading a single page of the book and be just fine.  This is the case for two reasons.  Firstly, Garland stripped the book’s sci-fi elements down to the barest essentials, which made a murky plot in the book very easy to digest on film.  Secondly, Garland radically changed almost every personality aspect of Lena, Natalie Portman’s character.  She is far more balanced, warm, and sociable in the movie than in the book.  Garland also created a mainstream background for Lena compared to what existed in the book.

In fact, Garland altered a great deal of the movie from the book.  The general premise is the same, but the circumstances, environments, and characters are all very different.  This is not a bad thing at all.  Garland delivered a tight, suspenseful movie that kept me guessing throughout.  At times it struck me as almost horror because the scenes were so intense.  But, I wouldn’t call it a horror movie — not by a long shot.  I wouldn’t even call it a science fiction movie, though it exists firmly within that world.  I would rather label this movie as a thrilling character study.

Portman plays a complex person.  Her husband in the film, played by Oscar Isaac, is equally complicated.  And while I found Portman’s supporting characters a little flat, everyone must agree that Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Gina Rodriguez gave it their all.  Again, it has much in common with a horror movie in that we get snippets of who these characters are amidst the suspense, but we get to know none of them deeply.

I keep mentioning horror, yet the movie is actually very quiet in many ways, which certainly builds the suspense.  It doesn’t feel obligated to tell you everything going on, though much is revealed by story’s end.  However, stay loose and enjoy the ride.  The movie demands a certain level of interpretation from the viewer.

Finally, the special effects are beautiful.  The premise is that a meteorite hits a remote area in Florida.  It begins to change the life within an ever-expanding zone.  This is a mutation occurring at the cellular level, so the results are pretty astounding.  Garland definitely succeeds at providing lifeforms that are both exotic but also within the realm of reality.  It’s quite a sight to behold.

All in all, I feel that this is a severely underappreciated movie.  It’s strange and demands a certain level of intellectual engagement by the audience, but it’s also well-made, well-acted, thrilling, and unique.  I highly recommend you give it a try.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer – A Book Review

Like you, I thought the movie trailer for Annihilation looked very cool, so I thought I’d check out the source material.

When the novel of the same name arrived at my local library, the volume’s slimness surprised me.  At only 195 pages, I knew it would prove a quick read.

Of course, it may be helpful to know this is only the first of a three-book series.  All three collected volumes are known as Southern Reach Trilogy.  The three installments appear to have been published within months of one another, so that could explain the page count.

Whatever the case may be, I have to admit that Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer immediately felt like a bad fit for me.  The prose in this book is … dense.  It’s full of description largely pertaining to foliage and biology.  Also, a first-person narrator delivers the story to us.  I don’t know if it’s Vandermeer’s style or the style of his narrator, but I found the prose clunky and difficult to follow.  To me, the sentences did not flow very smoothly which forced me to read and reread in a way that frustrated.

When Vandermeer’s characters spoke, this issue largely disappeared.  The dialogue flowed freely and felt natural.

The plot itself interested me enough, but things moved rather slowly.  In my opinion, there is no real “revelation” that makes the book a worthwhile, satisfying experience.  Perhaps the other two books provide this experience.  I’m not sure I’m inclined to read them, though.

The good news is that, as I said, this is a very slim book and so you can easily read it in a day or two and prove me wrong.  I have been wrong about books before.  I’ve even reread a few books to find that my opinion of them changed completely.

I still plan to see the movie, but, if I’m being honest, not much that I’ve seen in the trailers evokes much from what I read in the book.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)