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Saturday, 13 December 2014

Must-read: Jeff VanderMeer's The Southern Reach Trilogy

As usual, after posting my top 10 of the year, I have been seduced by yet another book that I wish I could have put on the list! This time it's Jeff VanderMeer's mysterious Southern Reach Trilogy, which was initially published as three separate volumes earlier this year - Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance, and is now available in this beautifully designed volume:

I must admit my shallow nature: I was drawn to read the trilogy solely based on this design! However! I have been well-rewarded for my weakness for a good book jacket. Briefly, The Southern Reach is about a mysterious "contaminated" stretch of coast (possibly in Florida, although that is never explicit) called Area X, which has been taken back by nature after an incomprehensible "event" that made the place uninhabitable for humans. The Southern Reach itself is a failing/flailing government agency tasked with sending expeditions into Area X in the ever-narrowing hope of understanding and perhaps conquering it. These expeditions are, of course, always doomed, although some more clearly than others.

I ripped through Annihilation, the first installation - it presents us with the journal of a biologist who enters Area X as part of the so-called twelfth expedition. It is a lushly written horror, involving strange wildlife, deep mistrust within the expedition, a threatening lighthouse, and, most terrifying, a pulsing tunnel, or buried tower, which emanates an otherworldly glow.

I'm now making my way through Authority, the second book, which is written as more of a spy novel than a horror, and brings us deep into the knotty bureaucracy of the Southern Reach Agency, as its members struggle to deal with their failing expeditions and their zombie-like returnees who can't seem to remember anything that happened to them in Area X.

The Southern Reach Trilogy is usually described as science fiction - but this is no silver future filled with robots, spaceships, time travel, or even much in the way of advanced technology. Its fantasy and its horror is based instead on mutant funguses, but also on the dark tendencies of humans, and our inability to really understand the environments we live in and destroy.

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