Thursday, September 18, 2014

Southern Reach

Look at those beautiful covers!  Be amazed with me!  But it doesn't have to end with the visuals...  If you want to be REALLY amazed, read this trilogy.  It is hard to explain in the most glorious way that I, as an avid reader and librarian, can express to you in typed words.  My most on target praise?  My brain feels bigger, like maybe my gyri and sulci (don't be impressed, I looked it up) are even more ridged and folded.  Perhaps the influence of Area X?  Is this my brightness talking?

Anyway, the Southern Reach trilogy!  We enter the story with the 12th expedition into Area X, a mysterious area cordoned off by unknown means (a la Under the Dome) from the rest of the country for decades.  The first expedition reported an Eden-like paradise reclaimed by nature.  Every expedition after that suffered a horrific fate: suicide, mass slaughter, lethargy, cancer etc.  The 12th expedition is made up of the Psychologist (the group leader), the Biologist (our narrator), the Surveyor, and the Anthropologist.  When you sign up for an expedition, you lose your name and become your job.

Area X's pristine natural condition is immediately creepy and only becomes more so as you get additional background details from the Biologist.  By the time you come to the "topographic anomaly," shit is getting real.  Strange creatures mixed in with the mundane, hypnosis, conspiracy, unknown and unseen forces, mania, insanity, weird unfocused biblical fervor...all the good stuff.

I've read descriptions like "if J.J. Abrams, Margaret Atwood, and Alan Weisman collaborated on a novel, this would be it" and Lauren Beukes described it as "a little Kubrick, a lot Lovecraft," but I would also have to throw in some Jack Finney, the 2009 movie Moon starring Sam Rockwell, maybe something like The Mist, The Shining, The Thing (menacing things, real and imagined, at a distance and then devastatingly close).

I certainly do understand that I'm rambling not a little bit, but this trilogy is so hard to pin down.  It's dark, meandering, philosophical, haunting, ecological, horrific, conspiring, and so many of my other favorite adjectives.  There are no easy answers, not even really any answers in the traditional sense of the word.  If you like an A+B=C story, you *might* have trouble here.  If your idea of a great story is one that is so complex and nuanced (if you enjoyed playing Myst!) that it almost gives you a headache, then we need to be friends.  True story.

Anyway, congratulations to you Mr. Vandermeer!  You have created a stunning world that I would gladly vacation long as I could avoid the Biologist.  And Grace.

To bastardize a movie and sum up my feelings:

Ghosts (maybe) and aliens (maybe) and monsters (definitely), oh my!

Jeff Vandermeer




If you are in the Birmingham, Alabama area, Church Street Coffee & Books stocks them!  That's where I bought mine!