The Horror of Shadows: Authority Gets Curiouser and Curiouser

After nearly a month of not reading a single word of Jeff VanderMeer’s Authority, last night I sat down in a recliner with a bowl of cereal (oh, how I love me some nutritional brinner) and decided I’d read until the bowl was empty. Then I decided I’d read the next chapter. Then I decided I’d read until it was 7pm. Then 8pm. Then, oh, lookey there, I had 30 pages left. Which was ridiculous to leave all alone and unread. So I read that too.

In some respects, I enjoyed Authority more than Annihilation, but I’ve always been one of those middle-book-trilogy-likers. Authority is slower, which is partly due to my stagnated reading (that and I finished writing a novel, yay! Do a jump of success for me!), and unlike Annihilation where people are whittled down to what their job in life, Authority is full of the details: what position she holds, what her hair looks like, what kind of smile she’s flashing.

While we don’t get many questions answered (mainly because VanderMeer likes to toy with us like rabbits), we do get, what should I call it, realizations. The lighthouse keeper’s identity is pretty much thrown around like the solution to 2+2, but then again, we’re approaching Area X from a whole new perspective. That perspective is from the newly appointed director of the Southern Reach, John Rodriguez aka Control.

Control is driving this crazy car with us readers. He knows more than we do, but that knowledge is really paltry squat from tampered case files. He’s trying to figure this whole operation out just like the rest of us and at times I felt like he was the reader asking the necessary questions from the Southern Reach crew unsuccessfully and to move things along (after all, what’s a middle book for, really?). He’s a ‘fixer,’ but honestly, Control felt more like a train wreck. He lays out his plans to manipulate and create a false sense of security to the reader just like a driver who’s trying to convince his passengers he knows exactly where he’s going in enough detail that screams he’s fucking lost.

Can YOU spot the spelling error?
Can YOU spot the spelling error?

His assistant director, Grace, has such a fixation on the previous director returning that her hatred of Control is almost scary in its intensity. His staff become unhinged before his very eyes. His conversations with the newly minted biologist are frustrating at best, where she throws around some ‘witty’ biology comparisons that he has to look up and we all have an ‘ohhhh, witty biologist!’ moment. Beyond him bumbling around and not being in control of anything really, we learn about Area X in a very Blair Witch Project sensibility. The film of the first expedition has some incredibly unnerving moments, particularly of a mimic and a shadow that’s so big the victim can do nothing but look directly into the camera because no where else is safe to look.

VanderMeer installs Edgar Allan Poe darkness to the novel that resonates more with me than with Annihilation. Some would call it Lovecraftian. I, dear Reader, must confess my education in H.P Lovecraft’s horror is sorely lacking. This, I can admit with all the shame it deserves. Luckily, with such a silly pseudonym as Setera Silence, I can confidently showcase my flaws until I decide to switch to a real website that I actually pay to run and then my shame will be out for all the public to see. I’m a technological hypocrite like that. You should’ve seen me when I finally got texting. I should’ve been on a Verizon commercial due to the 180 I did.

Authority’s scares have a Babadook sense, very much out of sight out of mind until you’re forced to look into the shadows. Our ‘pop-up’ book is actually a walled tableau of creepy melding of man and animal. I won’t quote the scene, because who knows maybe you want to be surprised and I feel like it will ruin the effect if you read it out of context, but let’s just say it also involves a man (no, not an elf) on the shelf. Whet your appetite?

My boyfriend has a tendency to quote Alfred Hitchcock a la it’s what you don’t see that scares you, and in VanderMeer’s case it works. Fear, for me, works much better when it’s haunting. It makes me want to stay away from open windows when it’s dark out in case something might reach in and pull me through. That when you get up to get a drink of water at night and the house creaks, you stand still and listen hard for the creature moving in the dark to move again. We still have no idea what is happening inside Area X. We still do not know what is making the expeditions metaphorically explode and ultimately fail. What we do know is that the shadows are taller than damnation and a leviathan gray fear has risen from the ocean depths. What we do know is that the biologist isn’t the biologist. She’s something else.

Still, Authority transitions between being a horror movie to delving into the mystical. When the border does move, it brings an unpleasant visitor, which, in my imagination, was more of a magical experience than a terror-inducing one. Diving into the relocated entrance of Area X reminded me of mermaids, which I enjoyed, but it didn’t scare me. In all honesty, Authority should be binged. You’re able to sort through all the details of the character’s life and still be entrenched in the eeriness happening at the Southern Reach without having to be pulled out to make dinner or go to work, or I don’t know, actually live your life. Believe me, coming back to it can sometimes be hard after you’ve been pulled out.

I’m on to the third Southern Reach book, Acceptance. I hope we get some resolution to all the spooky mysteries.

Other updates:

Finished my third novel (yay!) and am starting the editing process. And then the agent process. And then most likely the self-publish process. And then the kickstarter process because there ain’t no way I’m putting those words out there that aren’t edited by a professional and that shit is spendy.

Marilyn Manson’s Pale Emperor. I’m in love with three songs on the album and have been playing them nonstop for a good day and a half now. I’m not a natural Marilyn Manson fan, but something about the cover spoke to me and now it won’t stop speaking to me. Ah well. Music is life.

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