Book 2 of the Southern Reach trilogy changes gears, switching from the first person perspective of the biologist to third person and switching between several characters, though focusing primarily on John “Control” Rodriguez, the newly-appointed erstwhile director of the Southern Reach. While Annihilation explores deep within Area X itself, Authority focuses on the organization investigating the area.
Perhaps not surprisingly, much of the Southern Reach is as weird and off-kilter as Area X itself, the product of 30 years of mostly fruitless efforts to reveal its mysteries, along with the after-effects of excursions both official and unauthorized.
VanderMeer peels back the layers here, and where Annihilation is steeped in mystery and things out of reach, here things are a lot more pointed, right down to nearly every character having an ironic name. Control is rarely seen to be in any kind of control. The assistant director, Grace, is cold and ruthless. Severance, Control’s mother, is…well, you get the idea.
The strength of this book, for me, comes in two parts. One is the interaction between Control and the biologist (referred to here as Ghost Bird, a name originally applied to her by her late husband) as he tries to wrestle information from her and comes to sympathize with her instead, the other being the increasingly frustrating attempts to understand or, well, control, what is happening in Area X, coupled with the feeling that it could get a lot worse without any notice.
The book ends on another cliffhanger, with the fate of the biologist and Control seemingly intertwined.