26 Jul 2019

Science Fiction and Fantasy Fridays: THE SOUTHERN REACH TRILOGY by Jeff VanderMeer

Science Fiction and Fantasy Fridays

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Author: Jeff VanderMeer
Series: Southern Reach #1-3
Source: Borrowed from my boyfriend
Publisher: FSG Originals
Publication Date: November 18, 2014

Annihilation 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.
Amazon | Chapters | TBD


Annihilation: 3*
Authority: 2*
Acceptance: 2.5*
Overall: 2.5*


This one started pretty slow but once I switched to the audiobook, it flew by! I really enjoyed it and learning more (and less at the same time) about Area X. I can't wait to continue the Southern Reach trilogy and see if my questions ever get answered. I will say though that a lot of my issues with this one revolved around pacing and the fact that you can 100% tell this is a man writing a woman. But otherwise, really interesting!

I liked that the focus was solely on the mystery around Area X and what it was, did, etc. It was definitely too short and it didn't seem like VanderMeer was able to deliver on all the promises he made in the first bit because this was like half the length of the other two. But I enjoyed it and had a lot of questions that I wanted answered.


But then we got to book two, which was so much better written both because you could tell he found his groove in writing actual
characters and not "mysterious area as a character" and because it was a dude. And like, that's fine, sometimes that is just how it is for authors.

I feel like the first book makes more sense now because of this one, which is never really a good sign. It is much better written because the author has no idea how to write women and this was from the perspective of a man; however, I feel like this should have still had more depth and complexities to the characters than what we were given. It's almost as though the author couldn't decide between a plot driven or character driven novel and we got a bit of both, but not enough of either.

But it felt like a bunch of nothing up until the very end and that was such a whiplash ending that I wasn't really sure what happened. I actually had to go back in the audiobook a few times to make sure I was fully grasping what was happening. But I hoped that there was going to be more information about Area X and how it fit into the grand scheme of things and that... didn't really happen. There were some answers to things that I had questioned before, but a lot more questions too. Which is fine because trilogy. But the ending left me like "meh, I am going to finish this because I can not because I want to." I also thought that some of this book would have been better as the first book because it would have given some context to the rest of the story and given me something to hold onto while we were following the biologist through Area X but I am fine with the story choice overall.


Then book three happened. And like, it may have partly because I did the audiobook, but I had such a hard time connecting to the characters this time. I didn't care about any of them and it seemed like it was a rush to end the book rather than write a satisfying story. Also, I have a hard time with second person chapters because we knew who the character was since we had seen her before and had gotten more information, so it didn't make me feel included in the story but like I was the Director but dissociating, which is never what you really want out of second person writing. I also was meh about the ending overall but I usually am like that with these "mysterious land as the monster" books because you never really get what you want out of them.


I think I liked the concept of the books more than the actual books themselves, which is why I'm curious about the movie because I think that will provide a better medium for what the story is. But like I enjoyed it but didn't? It is a weird line I'm walking right now where I enjoyed reading and thought the production of them was really good, and like they were Technically Good and Well Written, but I didn't feel that same level of connection and eagerness to know more that I like to have when I finish a trilogy like that.

Jeff VanderMeer recently served as the 2016-2017 Trias Writer-in-Residence for Hobart-William Smith College. His latest novel is Borne, out from MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, which Colson Whitehead called “a thorough marvel.” He is also known for his critically acclaimed NYT-bestselling Southern Reach trilogy from FSG, which won the Shirley Jackson Award and Nebula Award. The trilogy also prompted the New Yorker to call the author “the weird Thoreau” and has been acquired by publishers in 35 other countries, with Paramount Pictures releasing a movie in 2018. VanderMeer’s nonfiction has appeared in the New York Times, the Guardian, the Atlantic.com, Vulture, Esquire.com, and the Los Angeles Times. He has taught at the Yale Writers’ Conference, lectured at MIT, Brown, and the Library of Congress, and serves as the co-director of Shared Worlds, a unique teen writing camp. 

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1 comment:

  1. Yeah, I'm going to pass on these books. The summary didn't grab me at all really, and then reading your reviews and seeing the ratings sealed the deal for me. Thanks for the honest reviews!


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