Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

There comes a point in a book’s reading life where I can feel deep inside that the book isn’t going to be satisfying. Sometimes this happens early: a gut feeling as characters make flippant remarks about the worthlessness of women. Sometimes it’s right at the very end when I look at the small chunk of pages remaining and know that there’s no space to wrap up everything. But most of the time it happens quietly and somewhere in the middle: some mistake in the weaving that goes unnoticed until later when suddenly all the thread is being to fray and the piece unravels. This is what happened with Dark Eden.

It is the future and a group of 500 or so people are living on a dark planet called Eden. Eden has no sun to speak of, all light emitting from strange creatures and fauna that has developed on the planet, Eden itself warmed from the center of itself, heat and steam rising up from pools of water. The group is all called “Family” because that’s what they are. 5 generations ago, a small group of astronauts from Earth crashed on this planet and while 3 of them returned back to Earth to try to get help, 2 of them, Tommy and Angela remained. Now there are over 500 of them, after years and years of incest, and food is running out in Circle Valley, the place where Tommy and Angela first crashed. A young newhair (teenager) named John Redlantern believes that Family needs to travel up through Snowy Dark (mountains) and cross over to the other side, taking them away from Circle Valley, and the place where Angela promised Earth would return for them.

Right off the bat, I’m hooked. Give me a sci-fi story that focuses around space colonization and humanity having to deal with living on strange new worlds? I am here faster than you can figure out how to farm space corn, which might actually be fairly slow. Point being is that I love this subgenre. I also love the idea of watching how a culture that originated from one identity evolves over time and changes as certain truths and understandings get lost, so more points in this book’s favor on that account.

A thing you’ll notice fairly immediately, and has been brought up time and time again regarding why others didn’t like it that much, is the book’s use of language, specifically how everyone in Family talks. It’s at this point I’m going to mention that I listened to Dark Eden on audio, so expect some spelling mistakes as I heard everything rather than read it. One of the weird ticks that developed after 5 generations away from Earth (comboed with the aforementioned inbreeding) is that the Family of Eden has lost a great deal of nuance when it comes to language. Adverbs in general seem to have disappeared, with no way to qualify greater degrees of a certain emotion, like sadness. So instead of saying “I was very sad” or “I was depressed” or “I felt a hole in my very being so deep that all emotions fell into it and were sucked away until I was empty” the people of Family say “I was sad sad.” Ditto for “He was smart smart,” “I was tired tired” or “she was weird weird.” On top of that, everyone in Family has a very simplistic and childlike way of speaking, given that they only had 2 actual Earth people to teach them language and how things were, and lots of information has been lost generations down the line.

Although it took some time to get used to, I rather liked the strange dialectic that Family had. The narrators all had British accents and British euphemisms were often used (blimey, bloody hell, etc) since Tommy and Angela originally came from London, but they took it one step farther and made everything with an “a” sound be more like “eea.” So it’s “John Redlee-an-tern” or “Fee-amily.” This was a nice touch regarding how language might have developed on Eden, so far removed from Earth. Family also has forgotten how to read and write, having decided against “school” 2 generations ago when food in Circle Valley became more scarce, so the story of Tommy and Angela is passed on only though the Oldest, now. Concepts like “lecky-trickety” “sky boats” and “rad-yoh” are lost on the new members of Family, unable to figure out what these forms of technology could have been.

So what went wrong? If this is a anthropological look at space colonization and a somewhat twisted retelling of the Genesis story, why am I feeling so utterly disappointed by Dark Eden? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. I’ve been scouring goodreads looking for 2/3 star reviews to try to capture what I’m feeling and I just… I don’t know. Many people cite the language style as the reason for their lack of interest, but I loved it. Some say that they found the concept too unbelievable, but I have no qualms with a lack of realism in sci-fi. Some say that the female characters were weak and served only to produce children, but I disagree with that statement wholeheartedly as for the grand majority of the book, Family is a matriarchy and no one knows who their father even is. Women have all the power to slip (have sex with) whomever they like without shame and rape never has occurred on Eden to the point where they don’t have a name for it.

I think the problem for me was less one specific thing and more a combination of elements that just didn’t mesh. For one thing, the characters are overly simplistic and not that interesting. Dark Eden is told from several POVs (but mainly John Redlantern and Tina Spiketree) and although there are definitely differences between them, they all feel kinda samey due to how simplistic Family is in its thinking process. But combined with the flat characters, I don’t know what point Chris Beckett wanted to make with this book. Not every book has to have an underlying message, I know, but sometimes you just feel that the book is trying to tell you something. Dark Eden reminds me a bit of Oryx and Crake, where people make bad decisions and the characters aren’t very likable but Margaret Atwood is clearly using the novel to make a point about human ego and the dangers it poses when mixed with god-like science.

The closes Dark Eden comes to a point, I feel, is in its Genesis roots. Clearly Tommy and Angela are meant to be a twisted version of Adam and Eve (the book is called “Dark” “Eden” after all), and the novel itself has some similar beats found in Genesis: the paradise of Earth that Tommy and Angela find themselves separated from, their subsequent procreation of the human race, the eventual first murder, etc. But the Biblical overlay serves no point other than window dressing, in my opinion. Angela is simultaneously Eve and Mary: the mother of all of Family who is revered like a God herself while also being human. Tommy is a mix between Adam and Noah: father of all of family but also a sometimes cruel father who slept with his daughters. There is a first murder and it is technically between brothers in that everyone in Family is related, but the fill in for Cain has no other connection to the story other than he kills someone. The death is not caused by jealousy, and the one who commits it is seen in the right as the potential Abel was in the process of beating someone else to near death.

What am I supposed to take from these connections? What is the overall point? Dark Eden is not a book that excels in its plot or characters but in its worldbuilding and overall concept. Maybe that is why 80% into the book when we’ve exhausted everything we could regarding the world and Family’s mental and physical journey and instead tell only the conflict between John and other members of Family, that I grew bored and disastified. The characters are flat, the plot boring and the interesting Genesis comparisons are a surface dressing only. I loved the imagery of Eden and learning how this new civilization grew up, but in the end, Beckett still is telling a story about people and his people are simple simple and boring.

Jen’s Favorite Books of 2015: Sci-Fi

Sci-Fi is a bit of a tricky genre to define at this point. What kind of sci-fi are we talking about? Hard sci-fi with aliens and spaceships? Within that, is it military sci-fi like Starship Troopers? Space Opera like Star Wars? Space Colonization sci-fi like Speaker for the Dead? We have realistic sci-fi like The Martian. Sci-fi/horror mixes like the Area X trilogy. Sometimes you even get a Sci-fi/fantasy blend. And where do we house dystopian fiction? A zombie dystopian future is horror but what if it’s parasites originally developed by humans to combat disease and large portions of the book are dedicated to the science of said parasites? What if it’s a dystopian future that’s not necessarily meant to imbue the reader with terror but instead teach us about the dangers of climate change or other environmental science?

The point of all this being, I had a fairly difficult time trying to distinguish what I considered “sci-fi” vs other genres, and my top 3 demonstrates that. It’s not going to be all hard sci-fi and space, and arguments can be made that genres like horror are more prevalent than sci-fi, but in my opinion, these books all should be classified as “sci-fi.”

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Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

Do you listen to podcasts? Do you like strange and weird things like Twin Peaks, The Twilight Zone and The X-Files? Are you interested in a small desert town where time doesn’t work properly and the leading mayoral candidates were a faceless old woman who secretly lives in your home and a literal 5-headed dragon? Do you enjoy listening to or reading short stories told from the viewpoint of this strange desert town’s local radio station host? If you answered yes to most of these questions, you most definitely should check out Welcome to Night Vale! The podcast, that is. I’m sure you could check out the book that is on this list as well, but the book doesn’t work very well as a stand alone.

Welcome to Night Vale has been one of my favorite things since it began releasing its episodes in 2012. It is the perfect mix of other-wordly and strange without ever fully falling into the realm of horror. When I heard there was going to be a novel written, I was excited yet apprehensive. How exactly would this radio show podcast translate into prose? Would it require you to be caught up on the podcast to read it? How well will it serve those unfamiliar with the show? And for the most part, the novel assuaged all of my fears. Instead of keeping with the radio show format, we instead follow two side characters in the show, Jackie Fierro and Diane Crayton as they have their own adventure within this strange little burg. The plot was separate from any current events happening in the show at time of release, focusing instead on one of the lesser mysteries: who is the man in the tan leather jacket holding the deer skin briefcase?

The main downside is that if you haven’t ever listened to at least some episodes of the show, you’re going to be very confused. Night Vale doesn’t necessarily follow any sort of standard story structure, given how strange everything is. If you are unfamiliar as to how things work in Night Vale, or what is considered “normal” within the show (examples include: a sentient glow cloud (all hail) running the school board, a dog park that you must NEVER speak of and certainly never take dogs to, another dimension where radio show host Cecil’s boyfriend is trapped, a secret police monitoring everything you do with black helicopters, and definitely NOT angels), then you’ll probably not understand what in the book should give you tension and what shouldn’t. That being said, as someone who loves the podcast, I adored this book. It expanded upon the Night Vale mythos very nicely, gave me insight into side characters I never would have learned about otherwise, and all the while kept the strangeness of the show completely in tact. If any of this sounds interesting to you and you haven’t listened to the show, try a couple episodes before tackling the book! If not, well, this should probably get a pass from you.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is one of those authors that I had been meaning to read for years and never got around to. Time and time again I had people whose opinion I trusted tell me that I need to read her books, that she’d be perfect for me: dystopian semi-sci-fi fiction generally with feminist undertones (or overtones if you’re The Handmaid’s Tale)? That right there is a perfect mixture for a Jen book. I’ve consistently put off reading The Handmaid’s Tale, convinced that the time is not yet right for me to read this. But, 2015 was the year I finally broke my Atwood dry spell and read Oryx and Crake.

Oryx and Crake begins with a strange hermit named Snowman being pestered by strange almost alien-like children. “Snowman, oh Snowman, tell us about the world Crake has made for us. Tell us, oh Snowman, what these strange items are? Where is our beloved Oryx, dear Snowman? Please tell us when we shall see her again?” As their questions continue, you begin to realize that the place we are on is not some alien planet, but instead Earth, and Snowman is one of the last, if not the last human as we know and recognize them. The story flits back and forth between Snowman and the man he once was, Jimmy, as he relays to the reader the events leading up to the desolate and unrecognizable landscape that Earth now is.

As mentioned, Margaret Atwood tends to write very message filled fiction, and that is clear throughout Oryx and Crake. The book’s plot continually raises questions within the reader, challenging their views on the increase in genetically modification of our food and our lives. What lengths can science go to to help humanity, and how dangerous do those lengths become? What are the ethics of animal testing if it means a positive for humanity? What defines us as human and others animal? Atwood asks us all these questions, all the while maintaining a respect for science. Science itself is not the culprit or evil factor in Snowman’s tale, it’s the morals and decisions of humanity in their use of certain sciences that cause the danger.

If you haven’t read Atwood before, I highly recommend starting with Oryx and Crake, especially if you tend to be a genre reader like me. I definitely am hoping to continue the trilogy this year and read Year of the Flood. And who knows? Perhaps 2016 is the year I finally deem myself ready to read The Handmaid’s Tale.

Ancillary Justice by Anne Leckie

I wrote a full on review for this book so I shall endeavor not to repeat myself too much here. Needless to say, all those reviews Anne Leckie won for Ancillary Justice? Definitely well deserved. It’s the only classic sci-fi novel on this list, but it far exceeds any expectations I had for the genre.

Ancillary Justice revolves around a sentient spaceship AI named Breq who ends up trapped in the singular body of one of her helper cyborgs. The reader follows her on her journey of exploration and revenge as she attempts to learn what happened that caused her from controlling hundreds of ships attached to her central mothership and even more cyborg robots throughout the planet she was stationed, to being all but destroyed.

The prose of this one can be somewhat confusing if you’re not accustomed to hard sci-fi and the worldbuilding therein. Breq’s very unique point of view can be a little difficult to follow for some, as she was used to being in multiple places at once and controls literally hundreds of different entities. There’s also some gender politics throughout the novel, as Breq has problems distinguishing gender differences between anyone she meets. Everyone is “she” regardless of physical description or their own self-identity, which can trip up the reader if not careful.

But those reasons were primarily why I loved the book. I had never read a sci-fi novel with such an interesting point of view, and Breq’s journey was compelling and exciting to read. The alien lore and worldbuilding was a bit tricky for me, but I adored this book. If you are a sci-fi reader accustomed to the styles of hard sci-fi and wanting a fresh take on the genre, I cannot recommend Ancillary Justice enough.

 

That’s all for sci-fi! Next up…. horror.

How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, by Chris Taylor

If you had asked anyone in my high school who was the biggest Star Wars nerd, they probably would have mentioned me. More accurately, they probably wouldn’t have known my name but “that one quiet girl who is always reading the Star Wars books” would be referring to me. As part of the somewhat maligned prequel generation, I was coming of age as episodes I, II and III were being released in theaters, and boy, was I ever obsessed with Star Wars. Padme was my halloween costume of choice for 3 years in a row, I read nearly every Expanded Universe book I could get my hands on (goodreads has logged 35 books but I know there were more that I’ve forgotten by now), my first ever online forum account (not counting neopets because I think every 90s kid had a neopets account) was to theforce.net as “yodarulez,” I even went to high school dressed up as a jedi to celebrate the release of Episode III, an act which alone should clue everyone in as to how much Star Wars meant to me.

I don’t remember when I first watched the original Star Wars in their entirety, although I’m certain it was before the release of Episode I in 1999. But what I do remember is the first scene of Star Wars that peaked my interest, that grabbed my brain and refused to let go throughout my adolescence and adulthood. My Dad was sitting on the couch in the living room, watching one of his movies after dinner like he of so often did and pre-10 year old Jen wandered inside to the tv screen projecting a snowy landscape. An injured looking man was lying on the snow and a large, blue, ghostly figure appeared and started talking to him. “Luke, you must go to the Dagobah System. There you will encounter Yoda, the Jedi Master who taught me.” Little Jen was entranced. Who was this ghost guy? What was a jedi? Was the hurt man going to be okay, he must be very cold out in the snow like that. I vaguely recall my dad somewhat distractedly telling me that this was the 2nd movie and most of my questions were answered the movie previous. Ever since then, I was hooked. Star Wars became the most important series of films in my childhood, my core obsession, and the franchise that continually brought joy to my life.

How Star Wars Conquered the Universe reminded me of how deeply my love of Star Wars runs. It tells the tale of George Lucas’ most beloved creation from pre-THX 1138 to disney takeover, showcasing throughout its pages the expansive reach the Star Wars universe has on the entirety of Earth. We learn about the early drafts and ideas Lucas had for the original trilogy, the immense problems he had pitching the films to movie studios, the bad ideas paired with the good ones, and how fan made creations such as Star Wars kid and the 501st Legion of Stormtroopers began. I’ll admit, I knew a lot of the information detailed in this book, especially regarding the scriptwriting process of the original and prequel trilogy, but I still felt a rush of nerdy glee reading this book.

As the title indicates, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe specifically looks at the ubiquity of the Star Wars franchise. The book starts off with the author attempting to find someone who doesn’t know anything about Star Wars. Not someone who hasn’t seen it, not someone who can’t detail the plot, someone who has never heard of Star Wars. Someone who could be shown a picture of Darth Vader or Yoda or any jedi and have zero clue who these people were. This exercise alone showcases how monumental Star Wars is as a cultural force. We all know someone who hasn’t seen Star Wars (and probably all can recall feeling a sense of amazement that said person has escaped the unstoppable force that is the Star Wars movie franchise) but the odds are, that person still could name some plot points or recognize some characters. Pretty much everyone knows that Darth Vader (or “the evil helmet robot guy”) is Luke Skywalker’s father. Heck, even I don’t remember this being a twist when I first watched the movies. I think even pre-10 year old me who hadn’t seen Star Wars before had picked up at some point this once shocking plot twist.

The book doesn’t necessarily provide a formula as to why Star Wars became the cultural mega-force that it currently is. It does, however, explain the environment and circumstances and carefully structured corporate decisions that kept Star Wars in the spotlight and capitalized on its initial popularity. If you know someone who is a Star Wars nerd and is reading this book, be warned: you’ll probably be inundated with endless facts found in the book. As my family and fiance can attest to, nearly every time I had this book in my hands, there’d be frequent interruptions of me raising my hand and going “STAR WARS FUN FACT TIME!!” And so, here are some Star Wars fun facts I would like to share:

  • In early drafts of A New Hope, Lucas gave names to both the light and dark side of the force. The dark side was called the Bogan and the script had such great lines as Luke telling a depressed Han “Don’t give in! It’s just the Bogan force talking!”
  • All of Boba Fett’s lines in the original trilogy can fit in the space of a single tweet, complete with attribute.
  • The 501st legion of Stormtroopers had a charity fundraiser to allow for Peter Mayhew, the original actor of Chewbacca, to get knee surgery who he could play Chewbacca again in the new Disney movies.
  • Star Wars was one of the first movies to not have credits in the beginning of the movie and George Lucas had to fight the studio tooth and nail to keep the transition from exposition crawl to the Star Destroyer free of meddling text.
  • The Star Wars logo we know and love today was designed by a 22 year old female new hire after George Lucas thought that the original logo designed by a more senior designer at the company needed to be “much more fascist looking.” Also, the Star Wars logo began as Helvetica Black which was then heavily modified (I’ll be honest, this fact is my favorite simply because I’m a designer and typography nerd). Unfortunately for her, she was hired on contract basis and as such has received zero copyright rights over the logo or money for its now infinite usage.
  • Lucasfilm retained merchandising rights for Star Wars related toys over Twentieth Century Fox because it had all rights to things under the name “Star Wars” whereas Fox had rights for the title “The Adventures of Luke Skywalker” which was the running title of Star Wars for the longest time.
  • Tatoonine is never actually named in Episode IV. Luke refers to it as “this rock,” “if there’s a bright spot in the galaxy you’re on the planet where it’s farthest from,” and “back home.” No one ever says the name “Tatoonine.”
  • James Early Jones recorded all of his lines for Episode IV in a single session and was paid only $6500 for his contribution to the film.

I was commenting to Matt the other day that it amazes me how varied Star Wars fans can be in their knowledge, a reflection of how vast the Star Wars universe itself is. I have friends who are experts are Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels, the two canon cartoon shows fleshing out what happened in between the movies. Others know everything there is to know about the Old Republic, an era of Star Wars history occurring 5000 years before the Battle of Yavin. I, myself, have read nearly every post Battle of Yavin through Legacy of the Force books, and can talk to you endlessly about Yuuzhan Vong, Coran Horn, Jacen and Jania Solo and Chewbacca’s death (spoiler, a moon falls on him). Similarly to this variety, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe contains information that will appeal to different Star Wars nerd’s interests. I, personally, read every word about the different drafts of the scripts and behind the scenes process of filming, while skimmed through parts discussing museums of Star Wars merchandise created by fans. You might not be interested in Star Wars Kid or the drama that happened between Lucasfilm and the original effects creator but absolutely love hearing about how the 501st legion was formed. There’s something here for every Star Wars nerd.

Above all else, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe helped solidify my excitement for the new movie coming out this December. Regardless of what JJ Abrahms and Disney creates, for a brief moment I will feel the excitement that child Jen did sitting in the theater waiting for the prequels. And so, I leave you with the ending passage of this book, which for me perfectly encapsulates the joy and emotional outpouring I will experience sitting in that theater once again waiting for a new Star Wars movie to begin.

The screen will go black. Then up will come ten familiar words in blue: ‘A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away…” Then silence. Blackness again. Then an orchestra will explode in B-flat major, and the largest logo you’ve ever seen will fill the entire screen. And no sooner has it appeared than it will immediately begin to recede, slipping away, pulling back into the stars as if daring you to give chase.

Ancillary Justice by Anne Leckie, a review

I, like many others, took notice of Ancillary Justice when it was nominated for literally all of the things last year. Hugo, Nebula, Arthur C Clarke… if it was a notable sci-fi literary award, Ancillary Justice was got the nomination. And then proceeded to win all of the awards. Ancillary Justice was the Taylor Swift of sci-fi books last year, it won pretty much everything.

But upon actually looking into the plot of Ancillary Justice, many of my bells started ringing. We have a book about a former spaceship AI who used to control hundreds of ships and cyborg like entities but due to political machinations and possible betrayals, that AI is now restricted to one cyborg body. And due to her being an AI, she has no concept of gender and refers to every person she meets as “she” regardless of visual descriptors or pronouns other characters use.

There has been lots of talk about how this book is confusing, and it’s easy to see why. We’re used to reading characters with a similar perspective to that of ourselves, beings that have one body, and understand the distinctions between gender. On top of that, the race of aliens our AI hero Breq originates from have very unhumanlike views on morality and what constitutes one’s sense of self vs. the community. Ancillary Justice is most definitely a book you’ll need your thinking cap on to fully understand.

However, what was the biggest hiccup in my reading experience was not Breq addressing everyone as ‘she’  despite having beards or saying that she did one thing while her other body did something else. Instead, what kept confusing me was the world building aspects to the book and trying to keep all the different alien races straight.

Within the first 50 pages we have: the concept of Ancillaries, a planet or city called The Nilt and it’s inhabitants called “Nilters,” Radchaai, a planet called Shis’urna, the concept of annexation by the Radchaai empire, a city called Ors, the concept of Esks which are the cyborg equivalent of Ancillaries, the fact that Breq when she was a ship was called Justice of Toren, either another alien race or a subsect of the Radchaai that are called Gareseddai, the Radchaai religion and how it believes fate decides us all, and a God called an Amaat.

You can see how, even for a frequent reader of sci-fi/fantasy novels with deep world building, this level of lore thrown out of the gate can be confusing to a reader. There’s no glossary, no cheat sheet to reference if while reading the book you, for example, get confused about what the Rrrrrr is (answer: another alien species… I think). My brain was able to reconfigure itself and understand Breq’s extremely non human perspective, but I still felt that I was being pulled along, barely comprehending the Radchaai culture and how Justice of Toren was even created.

But for all of my confusion, I still ended up loving this book. Breq’s journey of revenge was very engaging once the pieces started falling into place, all the while we see the events leading up to Justice of Toren’s dissolution into only Breq. Radchaai culture, for as confusing as it is, is quite fascinating once you start to wrap your brain around it. There’s political intrigue and subterfuge and all the while you’re half wondering if the person you’re seeing interact with Breq and the world is actually female or if they’re being misgendered. But it doesn’t matter. None of the characters genders matter. Is Lieutenant Awn really a woman? Is she a man? Her gender plays no role in how she’s viewed within Radchaai culture, does nothing to determine her worth or how capable a soldier she is. We learn through visual cues that Seivarden is male, but that distinction does not change our opinion of him and his actions, does not make him inherently better or worse than female officers Breq served with.

Ancillary Justice is well worth the praise and awards it received, in my opinion. If you’re not particularly familiar with the sci-fi genre, this might not be the book to start off with, as all the aliens and worlds and cultural customs was confusing for a sci-fi veteran such as myself. It won’t be a fast and easy read, but Ancillary Justice is worth the amount of brain power expended keeping track of everything and understanding Breq’s unique perspective.

Authority by Jeff VanderMeer, a review of sorts

Authority is a very difficult book to review. The more I read of the Southern Reach trilogy, the more I feel they should have released one omnibus edition to begin with instead of three smaller installments over the course of several months. I’m done with Authority but the book doesn’t feel finished. Asking me to review Authority is like asking me to review a book I’m not done reading yet.

To refresh, Authority is the second book in the Southern Reach trilogy, following the events of Annihilation. As with all reviews on later installments, expect spoilers for Annihilation. Although, to be fair, the “spoilers” I’ll be talking about are still very confusing and nebulous for people who have read the book, because the Southern Reach trilogy is all about the element of mystery. And I don’t mean the standard Agatha Christie mystery structure where you’re trying to discover the key piece of information to solve the puzzle. With the Southern Reach books everything is about the unknown. You don’t know if you can trust the information the biologist is observing in Area X in the first book, you don’t know if you can trust the information Control is relating about his conversations with people and the data they’ve picked up. You don’t know if Area X is an alien force, if it’s sentient plant life or even if it’s just a regular forest that everyone is hallucinating about.

As such, there’s not a lot to spoil. I can outline the overall plot and what events happen when and what Control discovers, but I’m not sure what any of that information means, whether or not it’s worth anything. If you go into Authority expecting Area X and the events of Annihilation to become more clear, you’re going to end up disappointed. There are no answers, and I’m not sure we ever should have expected answers.

That brings me back to the difficulty to review Authority. We now have two different perspectives about observing Area X and what it does: one from the biologist inside Area X and one from Control, the new director of the Southern Reach organization, after the biologist and other people “return” (if you recall, Annihilation ended with everyone seemingly dead or lost and the biologist walking purposefully away from the border. So… who are these people returning?) But even with these two perspectives, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with this information. I’m not done with this trilogy, and ergo not done with this overall experience VanderMeer is sending us on. I don’t think the trilogy is meant to have us figure out Area X and “solve” it, but until I read Acceptance, I can’t say for certain what VanderMeer is intending with this trilogy.

Did I like this book? I guess on a certain level I did. I love the premise of the trilogy, love the otherworldliness of Area X and not knowing what to believe. But the change of setting from Area X to the Southern Reach was not as compelling to me. I’m not saying it was a bad choice, I think the new perspective certainly was interesting, but in the end I preferred Annihilation. I understood (or felt that I understood) Annihilation more than I did Authority. I don’t know what the book is trying to tell me, I have no idea what actually HAPPENED in Authority. Maybe I’ll understand a bit more when I read Acceptance but maybe not. This trilogy is such a strange one, I’m unsure how to properly respond to it. The content and meaning behind the words seems to be as nebulous as Area X itself. What is important? Should I trust the observations dictated to me or are they contaminated or unintentional red herrings? I have no idea, and have a feeling I never will fully understand.