Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy is set in the future and prominently features dystopian elements, but it’s much more than your run-of-the-mill “humanity’s fight for survival” type of story. All three books in the trilogy are highly rated bestsellers, and it’s a great time to give them a try because the first book in the series, Annihilation, is currently priced at just $2.99.
“…OK, there’s this area of the United States—possibly Florida, but it’s unclear—called “the forgotten coast,” and about 30 years ago it was mysteriously taken over by an environment called “Area X,” described by many who visit it as “a pristine wilderness.” Area X retains a few vestiges of the human society that existed there before this transformative event…but mostly it’s a teeming, pollution-free natural habitat…The unknown force that created Area X also surrounded it with a border that seems to disintegrate any object or creature that touches it.”
“The border does have one opening that allows humans to enter and (less frequently) leave. It is at this portal that a mysterious government institution called “Central” has established Southern Reach, the base from which a variety of scientists and other operatives attempt to study Area X…Of the numerous expeditions dispatched into Area X, most have ended in the violent deaths or disappearances of all involved. Most of those who make it back return sporting a blank affect, their crucial journals left behind. Those returnees describe their Area X experiences with bland generalities before quickly dying of cancer.”
“…the Southern Reach wants the members of the all-female expedition to know each other only by their functions…it is through this deliberately alienating veil of anonymity that we follow their increasingly transformative odyssey to Area X’s foremost mystery: a cylindrical structure, mostly buried underground, with a spiral staircase leading down to a whole host of terrifying encounters.”
Area X 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; the second expedition ended in mass suicide, the third expedition 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 weeks, all had died of cancer. In Annihilation, the first volume of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, we join the twelfth expedition.
The 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, record all observations of their surroundings and of one anotioner, and, above all, 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 thirty years, the only human engagement with Area X—a seemingly malevolent landscape surrounded by an invisible border and mysteriously wiped clean of all signs of civilization—has been a series of expeditions overseen by a government agency so secret it has almost been forgotten: the Southern Reach. Following the tumultuous twelfth expedition chronicled in Annihilation, the agency is in complete disarray.
John Rodrigues (aka “Control”) is the Southern Reach’s newly appointed head. Working with a distrustful but desperate team, a series of frustrating interrogations, a cache of hidden notes, and hours of profoundly troubling video footage, Control begins to penetrate the secrets of Area X. But with each discovery he must confront disturbing truths about himself and the agency he’s pledged to serve.
In Authority, the second volume of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, Area X’s most disturbing questions are answered . . . but the answers are far from reassuring.
Acceptance (4.5/5 stars, currently priced at $9.99)
It is winter in Area X, the mysterious wilderness that has defied explanation for thirty years, rebuffing expedition after expedition, refusing to reveal its secrets. As Area X expands, the agency tasked with investigating and overseeing it–the Southern Reach–has collapsed on itself in confusion. Now one last, desperate team crosses the border, determined to reach a remote island that may hold the answers they’ve been seeking. If they fail, the outer world is in peril.
Meanwhile, Acceptance tunnels ever deeper into the circumstances surrounding the creation of Area X–what initiated this unnatural upheaval? Among the many who have tried, who has gotten close to understanding Area X–and who may have been corrupted by it?
In this last installment of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, the mysteries of Area X may be solved, but their consequences and implications are no less profound–or terrifying.