So last week I raved about Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer and since that time and now, I bought and devoured the rest of the books in the series, Authority and Acceptance. When I read the first book, I was concerned that the deep dive into a single character’s mind couldn’t be reproduced successfully and I am happy to report that I was wrong. These two books are just as good and fit very nicely with the first book.
If you don’t want spoilers, then stop reading now.
As someone who reads a lot of series and is used to massive franchises, I fully expected the Annihilation sequel to follow the same route as so many sequels. The book would either strip out the psychologist bits and present a move evidence based book. The characters would go in just as blind as the reader was of the first book, encounter much of the same thing and perhaps react differently to it. This is how every Alien movie runs as well as every slasher movies. Sequels do their best to try to recreate the magic by repeating the same magic tricks. The reader gets a smug satisfaction of knowing more than the characters while seeing variations of much of the same.
Instead, Authority treats us to the view of a new person brought in to run the mysterious agency that sends these doomed missions to Area X. We get a dive into the new Director’s mind but we also get a very large overview of everything the Agency knows or doesn’t know. The dive inside the new Director is just as deep as it was with the biologist and he is just as terribly flawed in his own way. The same level of intimacy is achieved with the Director as we received with the biologist in the first book. It is an amazing feat to pull off twice.
The director isn’t the only thing we examine in detail as we get to see the tragically flawed agency that literally learns less with every expedition. We meet scientists who don’t have a clue and the administrators engaging in their personal feuds and breakdowns. the Agency is just as broken as the biologist and the new director, and maybe more so. the biologist at least wants to gain knowledge while the Agency is too self-destructive to really achieve anything. That doesn’t stop them from sending people into the meat grinder of Area X, though.
What is excited for me is that unlike most sequels that plays the same odd things over and over like a highlight reel, this book adds new mysteries and weirdness. The reader is given a lot more information and yet still Area X remains an enigma. It is the rare sequel that works hard to not repeat itself and this feels more like part two of an investigation rather than a regurgitation of the facts so far.
Acceptance expands even further. We get the viewpoints of several characters, both in the past and the present. People thought as villains, like the old director, are given a chance to show their point of view and their actions become understandable if not sympathetic. We are given a look at the lighthouse keeper, a character so central to the mystery but until now was just a photograph. We see the fate of some characters like the biologist and the new director. Hell, we even get an explanation for what the fuck is going on in Area X.
It is a paradox of a book that gives us almost every anwser you could want while at the same time maintaining a lot of the mystery even after you have the answers. We know the Seance and Science Brigade caused the event but we don’t know how. We know what the intelligence in Area X is trying to do but the means and how is beyond us. Lowry, the bastard of the second and third book, sabotaged so much of what the Agency was trying to do but he might have somehow been manipulated by Area X all along.
Each character’s story is a mini-novel that will linger on my mind for quite a while: The lighthouse keeper’s brush with alien intelligence. The old director’s personal quest to find her mother and old friend. The copy of the biologist trying to reconcile what is a part of her and what belongs to the person she duplicated. It is like having three great books in one.
The ending is ambiguous but you know, that’s okay. After telling the reader so much, the book is allowed to keep a few secrets.