Sunday, August 16, 2015

Acceptance, by Jeff Vandermeer

Acceptance concludes Jeff Vandermeer's Southern Reach trilogy, and does a good job of it.  Though I wouldn't say "concludes", rather "rides off into the sunset".  This volume rotates between four points of view--Control (current Southern Reach directory), Gloria the previous director (who, it turns out, lived in Area X as a child), Saul Evans the lighthouse keeper, and Ghost Bird, who is and is not the biologist from the last expedition.  At the end of the previous volume Area X had expanded catastrophically, and desperation is in the air.  Control and Ghost Bird have gone into Area X and are exploring.

The book brings out the story of each character while moving things forward.  At the heart, there is no comprehending Area X--might be magic, might be an alien life form beyond our understanding (a favored theory), but none of the speculations seem to bring any sort of enlightenment.  So the story proceeds with a sort of melancholy horror, a simple sadness.  There are signs of resistance within Area X, and Control and Ghost Bird find familiar faces.  But resistance appears to be futile.

This is a sort of existential horror/supernatural story, so if you like Camus or maybe semiotics (Vandermeer credits it for inspiration) then you'll fully enjoy this book.  Otherwise it's mostly about the writing.  Vandermeer is a master of describing the points of energy within a rotting system (rotting, as opposed to breaking or otherwise failing).  If the second two books in the series had not  been nominated for the World Fantasy Award I might not have picked them up, but in the end am not sorry I did.  3 stars from me.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Authority, by Jeff Vandermeer

Authority is the second book in the Southern Reach trilogy, and I'm reading it as part of the World Fantasy Awards for this year.  Usually second books are kind of the weak point in a trilogy, but I would say this is not the case here.  I liked this one better.

The first book, Annihilation, seemed pretty simply a horror story, told from one character's perspective and a dry character at that.  The second book introduces John Rodriguez, aka Control (apparently a childhood nickname) as the successor to the previous director of the Southern Reach.  This is something of a rehab assignment--Control has screwed up some previous ones, sometimes badly.  He is a secret agent in a line of secret agents, and has been saved for this by his mother.  Now he is thrown into the insane mess that is the Southern Reach's study of Area X.  Even a high talent would be hard pressed to succeed, but he gives it a try. 

And of course things get weirder and weirder, but I'll leave you to read about that part.  My own opinion here is that Control struggles for control, as it were, because he is a bit too human to be a good agent.  He recognizes his limitations.  He loves his cat, which is a soft spot for me.  He tries to be detached, as good agents seem to need to be, but it doesn't help him enough.  He is utterly in over his head as he tries to get information out of the biologist from the last expedition.

I give this one a solid 3 stars and look forward to the last one.  It's not the greatest thing I've ever read, but he has the weird factor going well.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Where the Trains Turn, by Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen

Where the Trains Turn is my first and last novella read strictly for the World Fantasy Award.  And it's a pretty good one--the story was originally written in Finnish and has that very different sensibility one gets from authors from places that don't normally get attention.  The trope, however, is standard enough--trains going off the rails to do their own thing--that I am thinking I've seen it before.

Our protagonist is the mother of a very imaginative boy, imaginative enough that it seems it might harm him.  The mother tries various tactics to save him from the fate of this overactive inner life, and seems to succeed.  But there are cracks--the boy spends significant time with his father (he and the mother are divorced) and picks up a somewhat supernatural love of trains from him.

The story unfolds somewhat predictably, up until the ending which is a very good twist so I won't spoil it for you.  For that ending I make it a strong contender for the award, though I also like The Devil In America.  Go for it as an entertaining read for a couple of hours.  3 stars.